Monet’s gardens reopening, a picture-perfect pandemic tonic

GIVERNY, France — Beneath the scudding clouds and amid the luscious blooms, the gardeners tend the flowerbeds that were the pride and joy of impressionist painter Claude Monet, with pink and white striped tulips, diaphanous peonies, sky-blue forget-me-nots and myriad other flowers together creating a living art work.

The frustration for the gardeners has been that they’ve had no one to share their handiwork with. Like theater shows that weren’t seen and symphonies that went unheard, the splendors of Monet’s house and gardens were locked away while the coronavirus pandemic raged in France.

After a closure of more than six months, the gardens at Giverny that inspired Monet’s world-famous paintings of water lilies and other masterpieces reopen on Wednesday.

They join French cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums in being allowed to once again welcome customers and visitors who are eager for life to resume. For the moment, they’ll have to settle for meals and drinks served outdoors and limits on numbers. Still, after months of privations and restrictions, it’s a start. The virus has killed more than 107,000 people in France.

The riot of color, perfumes and birdsong at Giverny is an electroshock for senses dulled by months of hunkering down, a tonic for pandemic and lockdown blues. The gardeners were preening their canvas this week, furiously weeding, mowing, sweeping and planting to make the gardens picture-perfect.

In his prized water garden where Monet, enchanted, spent hours contemplating the reflections of light and color, the wisteria that he had planted is blooming on the Japanese-style footbridge, in a delicate violet cascade into the pond. The scarlet of the azaleas is eye-searingly vivid. The frogs croak choruses of approval.

Early spring blooms — daffodils, hyacinths, early flowering tulips — have already come and gone, enjoyed by the gardeners only.

“It’s frustrating because the garden has its meaning when we are sharing it,” said Claire-Hélène Marron, on the team of 11 permanent gardeners. “We put a lot of effort into making it spectacular and trying to recreate the impressionist paintings.”

With stunning success. Now blooming and competing for attention, irises in all hues from deep purple to light blue look like they were painted by Monet himself. Other flowers add dots of red and yellow to the tableau, as he did with his brushes.

In 2019, before the pandemic, 717,000 visitors streamed through Giverny during its seven-month season from April 1. Half came from overseas.

From Wednesday, Giverny will initially be allowed to welcome only 200 visitors to the house and gardens per hour, fewer than normal. As bees busy themselves on the blooms and spring breezes tickle the pond and its water lilies, they will be guided on a one-way route through the splendors, starting at the water garden, finishing in the souvenir shop and surely emerging reinvigorated, the world and its worries momentarily set aside.

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