Interview with James Priest, chief gardener of the Giverny garden

Interview with James Priest, chief gardener of the Giverny garden

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It is through his numerous paintings - including the famous "Nymphéas" - that the painter Claude Monet made his property in Giverny known to the whole world. Passionate about gardening as much as colors, he designed his flower garden and his water garden like real paintings. James Priest is today the chief gardener of this magnificent historic space, and continues the painter's work drawing inspiration from his art. From his journey through obstacles and pleasures, he tells us about his exciting daily life in the middle of a mythical garden. Interview.

Tell us about your gardening journey…

When I was young, my father once told me "I can't imagine you working for a minute behind a desk". It was through one of his friends that I went into horticulture, a world that I never even suspected existed! Being very curious by nature, I quickly fell in love with plants and I tried every day to know more about plants. After my studies, I traveled around the world and visited many gardens to supplement my knowledge. I finished my journey in France at the Abbaye de Royaumont, where I stayed for 17 years, then I worked in large private properties. Little by little, my name was mentioned when it came to finding a successor to the chief gardener Gilbert Vahé, who was leaving Giverny. I obviously accepted the offer with joy!

How is your daily life since your arrival in Giverny?

After a first year spent observing the garden in detail, I started several major projects: replacing used equipment, painting the main structures of the garden, moving dozens of roses ... Today, while trying to continue the work of my predecessor, I try to follow the original plans of the garden in order to best respect the spirit of Monet. I am inspired by photos, his paintings, but also memories that tell me people who knew Giverny in Monet's time. However the most important for me remains above all to feel the soul of the garden, as Monet did with all his sensitivity and his emotions.

How does a garden so renowned compare to a private garden?

We are eight gardeners working in Giverny all year round. Contrary to what one might think, the fall period is one of the busiest of the year ... There is no dead time! The fact that the garden is also famous does not put any particular pressure on my shoulders, on the other hand I know that it is looked at from every angle and criticized ... whether it is positive or not. But any criticism, when it is constructive, is good to hear, so that does not bother me at all. In addition, there is a budget to respect and fairly impressive quantities of flowers to grow each year! To give you some figures, this represents 30,000 pansies per year, 10,000 wallflowers, 15,000 forget-me-nots… and 2 million seeds to sow.

A little word to conclude?

When I visited Giverny for the first time in the 80s, I never imagined working there later! It is an honor to cultivate this legendary space, and I take great pleasure in it every day…
Claude Monet Foundation 84, Rue Claude Monet 27620 Giverny More information on //