Johnny rode in on the eve of Good Friday and, to start with, the conflict between the anticipated tranquillity of the gardens and the reality of hordes of other varmints jostling to take photographs was hard to take. Yet before long he relaxed and, somehow, managed to shoot the wonderful spring flowers and foliage without Chinese elbows or German sunhats intruding into frame. And the perfume, seriously, is heady and all-pervading.
To avoid the queues, it’s as well to book tickets in advance here (fondation-monet.com) and print them off. The house lies at the top of the garden and atop flights of blue-painted wooden stairs, so is inaccessible to wheelchairs – hence there’s a hefty discount on the admission price. However, there is a virtual tour on the website and anyway, he seen a house once. The gardens are in terraces but the slopes are quite manageable.
We took the D5 trail from Vernon and, as we approached the Claude Monet Foundation, came across a roundabout offering parking to both left and right. Johnny steered ol’Blackie right but the better option is left, as that’s closest to the garden. There is a pedestrian underpass though, so it’s just a bit further to push.
Follow the signs from the proper car-park to the Group Entry desk and have your printouts scanned. Then the glorious serried ranks of flowers will assault your senses. For the setting of the Water Lilies you need to re-cross the road but, with a wheelchair, you can bypass the underpass through a pair of manned gates; just catch their eye and they will shepherd you across the busy road and save you a few metres. Doing both sides is a must.
It’s well worth a visit if you’re en route south from Caen or Le Havre. Again, on any given day (the garden is closed during the winter) there it is very busy but in the half-dozen landscapes I took, spookily, you can’t see anyone. The lilies themselves were just starting to grow again but, from the path surrounding the ponds, there are several points from which to view the famous bridge.
There’s a café, water-colour artist-in-residence and a souvenir shop. Johnny bought some seeds from the latter. There was nothing to say they were taken from the actual garden but, are you callin’ him a liar?