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How Does Nature Inspire?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Diarmuid Gavin is well known for his magical skills at turning a back yard rubbish dump into something resembling the hanging gardens of Babylon. For him planning and designing shape, colour and form are the vital ingredients to a perfect garden. So Ever Wondered sent him out to see how two famous artists pushed the boundaries in their garden design…

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Bluebells Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team


First stop: Barbara Hepworth’s open air museum in St.Ives...

Diarmuid: This is fantastic, there’s so many pieces here in the garden: how many are there?

Brian Smith Brian Smith: I think it’s about 20-25 pieces. They were done over many years. This is a selection of her work probably from the 1950s through to her death in ’75.

Diarmuid: So in a way these would have charted her own artistic development right through her life?

Brian Smith: Exactly yes, you can see a change in style. Most of the works out here are bronze, but there are also stone. Most of them change appearance after they’ve been in the garden for a while.

Diarmuid: In some areas, the sun is having a big effect on them, the remarkable shadows cast link into the sculpture and forms a complete picture. And yet in other areas you have bamboo as a background.

Sculpture Brian Smith: She was very fond of bamboo. She liked to plant anything that would blow in the wind easily and make that wonderful sound. Despite the fact that there are so many sculptures here they work very well in relation to all the planting, they don’t dominate the planting, each works equally well.

If you would like to find out more about the use and meaning of visual images then have a look at course D850 The Image and Visual Culture.

Next stop France to see one of the most famous gardens in the world. Monet’s garden in Giverny which inspired some of his most renowned impressionist paintings.

Diarmuid: My first impression of the garden is that it’s quite spartan but maybe that’s because of all these tulips standing to attention and, there’s no attempt to blend colours into each other, why is that?

Tim Marlow Tim Marlow: I think this is Monet’s palette to a certain extent. The other thing is that when he was making this garden, he was virtually blind, he had chronic cataracts that were only sorted out three years before he died. But I think if you actually squint your eyes, you actually see a garden that’s been created by a blind man who only sees dazzling areas of colour.

Garden at Giverny Diarmuid: It is exhilarating being here and seeing it all, but the odd thing is, I feel I know this garden and everybody who comes here must say that because everybody in this world knows this scene.

Tim Marlow: Very much so and it’s not just because Monet painted it a few times and those images have been endlessly reproduced; he paints it over and over again, as if to chart the movement of time, the change of season, how light changes, but, because he’s old and successful and selling a lot of work, instead of going out into the natural world he decides to construct his own vision of the natural world, and then he paints it.

Painting of the gardens at Giverny Diarmuid: How much of that magic is what he created, or how much of it is in this beautiful view. Should we just regard it as a beautiful garden?

Tim Marlow: No I think you should regard it as the first great installation work of the 20th century. Monet diverts an entire river, the River Epte which is a tributary of the Seine, it takes him 10 years to construct this garden. He had an army of gardeners who built it for him and there’s an army of gardeners who maintain it. After Monet had tired of painting trees and the bridge he became obsessed with the water itself, and he saw an entire world reflected in the water.

If you would like to find out more about art in general then have a look at course A103 An introduction to the Humanities



Diarmuid Gavin Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team Next stop Monet’s series of water-lily paintings...



Monets water-lily painting Tom Marlow: Monet did this as a monument to a young man who died in the First World War. There’s such energy here: these aren’t the brush strokes of a decrepit old man there’s a real energy and vitality in them. When you get close up to these paintings you’re drawn into them. They are so multi-layered as well you know I’m not sure sometimes whether I’m looking at a painting of a tree or of a plant or whether I’m looking at their reflection in the surface of the water and of course I’m looking at both.


It’s as if we’re on an island in the middle of a giant lake surrounded by water and we can’t see the far shore. In some ways I think the ambition in these paintings is comparable to the ambition of creating the garden itself, because Monet has to nurture and tend and re-work these from sketches, but they’re in his studio and he’s painting them and over-painting them, and they take years to create.

Diarmuid: How important was his work to other artists?

Tim Marlow: Very important. I think that the origins of large scale abstraction in the 20th century with artists like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock can be traced back to Monet. So really the seeds of the modern art movement were sown in Monet’s garden.

If you would like to find out more about Claude Monet or Barbara Hepworth here are a few suggestions:

Books you can read

"Barbara Hepworth", Penelope Curtis, Tate Gallery Publishing, ISBN 1854372254

"Art and the Garden", Anne de Charmant, Academy Editions, ISBN 0471977454

"Monet", Paul Hayes, Harry N.Abrams, ISBN 0810926105

"The Garden as Art", Mara Miller, State Univ. of New York Press, ISBN 0791413780

"Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painters Gardens", Elizabeth Murray, Pomegranate Artbooks, ISBN 087654443

Links You Can Surf

For more information on the St.Ives Tate Gallery

For more information on Monet’s garden in Giverny

For more information on Claude Monet’s House and Gardens

Also on this site : you can join Jenny Agutter as she finds out why artists have been attracted to Cornwall and Matthew Collings as he looks at the modern interpretation of self-portrait.

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.


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