Exploring Claude Monet’s greenhouse

Seasoned horticulturist Claude Monet had a greenhouse built beside his second studio during his first few years of living at Giverny. Let’s take a look behind the scenes!

“Throughout his life, Monet was passionate about flowers and his enthusiasm never waned,” notes Sylvie Patin in her book entitled ‘Claude Monet, sa passion pour les fleurs’ (Edition des Falaises). His passion was such that, when he built the greenhouse, he stayed up all night to ensure the boiler was working properly! Monet also loved new horticultural creations and cultivated exotic plants in his garden. “Orchids, which he collected and were highly fashionable during his lifetime, as well as orange grove plants,” adds Rémi Lecoutre, our deputy head gardener.

When Gérald Van Der Kemp tackled the task of salvaging the abandoned estate in 1977, he discovered a greenhouse eroded and destroyed by time. Cuénot was the company given the responsibility of rebuilding it to its original design. Gilbert Vahé, the garden’s restorer and long-time head gardener who bowed out in spring 2018, continued the orchid tradition in the greenhouses. “He also included numerous other green plants, which he decided to lay out on a flat structure,” explains Rémi Lecoutre. “Today, we use the pyramid technique. The plants grow better because they aren’t competing for light.” Over the years, numerous improvements have been made to this building. “While some systems haven’t changed, today the roof and side vents are automatically controlled.” 

At the greenhouse entrance, the first room is a veritable production facility and often houses biennials and annuals. Its light and temperature conditions are optimal! “This part of the greenhouse is sometimes empty because it’s used for short-cycle plants.” The second room, in the middle, houses many small plants. Here, we can currently find Begonia coccinea, Asplenium nidus, Clivia miniata and even asparagus fern. Epiphyllum brasiliensis, a climbing plant that flowers at night and early in the morning, is currently flowering and will soon be moved back to the greenhouse. What is the purpose of that plant? To provide flowers for Claude Monet’s house and the shop!

Two other small greenhouses lie alongside their big sister. “In the first, Gilbert Vahé used to set up seedlings in trays. This greenhouse is special because it is quite shaded since it adjoins the other. The lack of sunlight encourages the plants to send out their first roots.” The second greenhouse currently houses impatiens from New Guinea and begonias. 

As for the frames around these greenhouses, some hold seedlings in micro plug trays and others hold extra Pelargoniums. Alternating between storage spaces and plant growing areas, the greenhouses are essential tools for our green-thumbed gardeners!