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Travel: The Private World of Monet’s Garden at Giverny


   To enter Monet’s private world you must first walk through a dark tunnel under the busy road that separates the house and front garden, the Clos Normand, from the famous water garden. Yes, that water garden. The place with mysterious, reflective, pools and graceful willows whose branches hang low over the water, where the elegant wisteria-covered Japanese bridge frames the view of the beautiful water lilies Monet painted time and again. 


   In Monet’s time, he could walk out the front door and cross a small footbridge to reach the gate, but tourists are another matter. With all the grace of migrating wildlife, they are a hazard on what is now a busy road, so the tunnel gets them safely to a space that draws hundreds of thousands each year.


   Stepping out of the tunnel and into the filtered light of the water garden is to step back in time. Thanks to the archivists, benefactors and a team of gardeners who have worked to restore the garden, the landscape is not much different than it was when the painter was there, when he walked the winding paths or sat on a bench to study the play of light and shadow on water. Turn a corner and the view is somehow familiar. You have the feeling you have been here before. 


   Monet’s gardens are as much a masterpiece as any canvas he created. He did not move into a house in the Normandy countryside in 1883 and simply settle down to paint what was there. Instead, he approached the land around the house he continued to improve and enlarge the way he created each painting, methodically, with layers and and an obsessive attention to color and light. He set out to create the garden he wanted to paint and it soon consumed him.


   As I strolled—I was there in early September, just after the height of the tourist season, and there were fewer people sharing the paths with me than might have been a few weeks before—I marveled at the construction of what surrounded me. What seemed to be a riot of plants was as carefully thought out and orchestrated as the brushstrokes on one of his paintings.


   Vine-covered arches over the central path, thick with trailing nasturtiums, frame the entrance to the farmhouse creating a vanishing point at the front door. Giant dahlias, with blooms as big as cantaloupes, towered over me. The garden welcomed me. It embraced me.


I stopped to watch one of the gardeners, almost hidden by the plants as she crouched to remove spent blooms, and a passing guide noticed. We chatted for a few minutes and then she said something that stays in my mind.


“For Monet the garden was not about any one flower. It was about the effect, the way the colors and textures and light worked together.”


   He called it painting with nature.


   Monet never stopped working. At the end of his life, his vision clouded by cataracts, his focus narrowed to the water garden. He built a studio for the purpose of painting large canvasses of the water lilies that covered the mirrored pond. The paintings that still hang in the Orangerie in Paris today.


   I have been to France a number of times, I’ve gazed at his work in museums all over the world, and yet I’d never visited Monet’s gardens just 50 miles from Paris. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there.






Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at


Still and present in the moment

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap) 

The one thing I didn’t have was time. I had more to do than there would be productive hours in the day to allow. I had a thousand words to put onto paper, a house that needed tending to, emails to answer, errands to run and, on this particular week, an infant to care for. The baby is my grandchild. My first. And she has been spending several hours with me each day.

    It’s been a while since I was the sole entertainment of a four-month-old baby. I did it for years but my four babies are all grown now. I’d forgotten what tyrants the little creatures are, how they demand your full attention with no concern for your to-do lists and deadlines. But then I’d forgotten how beguiling the little creatures are, how they make you babble and kiss and coo, delighting you with a smile, bewitching you with the feel of velvety skin and hair, hypnotizing you with the way their fingers curl and wave, like ribbons in water, before wrapping around your hand as you hold them close and offer a bottle of mother’s milk.

    This day, this busy day, I woke up overwhelmed. I opened my eyes thinking about deadlines and emails and story ideas. But, of course, baby had other ideas. She would be held. She would be fed. She would be entertained. She would be comforted, cradled and soothed.

    By mid-day, the sun came out and called us outdoors. Why not? I wasn’t getting anything else done anyay.
We sat quietly on my patio, I still fidgeted a little, worrying over words and sentences, but perched on my knee, my hands wrapped around her the solid warmth of her, she sat as alert and watchful as a doe. Nothing escaped her. She lifted her head to track the progress of a plane across the sky, then turned to follow a swallow’s sweeping dive over the Lilacs. When the wind ruffled the roses climbing along the fence she kicked her legs and batted her hands. When the dogs chased one another across the lawn she laughed a short and unexpected chuckle. She startled and blinked when a Dragonfly landed on the Wisteria vine beside us.

    Watching her take in the world, instinctively still and present in the moment, I rubbed my cheek against her ear and, finally, finally, recognized the gift I’d been given.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Inspired by a Garden

    There is a garden near my house. It is a sprawling, rolling series of gardens, really. From the pond at the bottom of the hill, to the sunken formal garden on the other side of the rise to the rose garden at the top and the meadows all around - 90 acres in all -  Manito Park has been sculpted and planted and in some places groomed to create individual spaces.

    Most evenings, just at twilight, I leash up the dogs and we go for a  walk. It is my way of shedding the petty irritations and stresses of the day.

    I am almost never alone. There are usually others - no matter what the weather - walking along the paths. Stopping to pick up fallen rose petals in the summer or leaves in autumn, reading the identifying tags at the base of perennials or sitting in the gazebo, simply letting the world move around them.

    That is the power of a garden. It draws us, relaxes and inspires us. It slows us. It brings us to a stop. A garden moves us.

    I was recently in Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville, if you weren’t aware of it, is home to one of the loveliest gardens in the world. The gardens at Biltmore Estate.

    Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the patriarch of American gardens, the 125,000 acres that comprise the grounds of Biltmore, the grand country estate built by John D. Rockefeller, consist of one beautiful acre after another.    

     I was there in late spring, just at the peak of tulip season. Row after row of brightly colored flowers made a colorful carpet across the grounds. It was a weekday afternoon, but there were people everywhere. Families were posing and taking photos, serious photographers were intent on shooting close, almost abstract images of the interior of the flowers. The Great Smoky Mountains in the distance formed a violet band,  a lavender border around the beautiful grounds. Dogwoods draped, heavy with blossoms, across pathways and hidden places. Wisteria hung like a fragrant garland over weathered wood arbors. Orchids bloomed in the greenhouses and ornate wrought iron benches were irresistible, making it impossible to walk past without stopping to breathe in the perfume and take in the view. It is an exquistitely beautiful place.

    Biltmore itself can be overwhelming. The house - often called the American Castle -  is the largest in the country, taking a team of craftsmen six years to build before it was finally opened in 1895.

    Today, people come from all over to take a tour, to peer into the more than 250 rooms, awed by an opulent lifestyle most of us can only dream about. No one, looking at the sprawling mansion, situated in the seclusion of a private park in a small, vibrant city at the foot of the appalachian mountains, can really imagine living like that.

    Ah, but out in the garden, it is another thing altogether. Who doesn’t secretly believe that he or she, if so inclined, could create a paradise? It doesn’t take 100,00 acres. It doesn’t take a bottomless fortune. You don’t need a gardner or even any particular talent. Making a garden takes only the desire to make a garden. A seed, some water and the sun do the hard work. The rest is only maintenance.

    A garden, unlike a castle, is possible. A thing we secretly believe that given the time, we could manage.
    I left the gardens at the Biltmore Estate with a camera full of photographs.  I leave the garden near my home each evening with the fragrance of flowers still on my hands.
    I leave my home each morning with daydreams of what I could do to my backyard tucked into a corner of my mind.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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