Tag Archives: garden

The Science of Monet

Before we left New York City, we finally made it to the New York Botanical Garden. What finally kicked us into gear to make the trip was a special exhibition about Monet’s Garden at Giverny (It closes October 21).

Though Monet can sometimes loom on the edge of a giant Impressionist cliche, I’ve always been a fan. In college, I slept under a comforter covered in one of his famous garden bridge scenes. And during college, my roommate and her mother went to Giverny on a summer trip. “If you get the chance,” she said, “just go.”

I took her advice nearly 5 years later as I traveled in France with friends. We were in Paris for a few days, and I’d spent time in the city before.  So one day while they did some city sightseeing, I hopped on a train to Vernon and a bus to Giverny.

Though I’m sure the garden is amazing throughout the growing season, it washed over me in waves of color delight in May, like eating a multi-course artisanal meal. Monet harnessed as much creativity in his garden design as he did as he when spreading those paints across the canvas. I’d always imagined that some of the pinks and purples that worked their way into the water lilies were enhancements, creative license that Monet took in his paintings. But the day I was there, the cloudy sky and the surrounding blooms imbued the water with rosy hues that were factual rather than fictional.

My brain didn’t quite make this leap as I wandered through the garden, but over time I’ve realized that– though I’d never describe him that way first– Monet was a scientist. He experimented with a garden, and his paintings are his lucious lab notebook.

The NYBG does a nice job of recreating his garden and framing Monet as a botanist. It’s a stunning exhibit, and a good proxy of the real thing (Though if you’re in France, as my roommate said, just go!). But the analogy is far broader– he was a creative observer. To top it off, almost any art history discussion of Monet talks about his declining eyesight and the increasing abstraction in his work. He’s a classic example when psychologists talk about color perception. Monet was scientist, observer, case study, and an amazing artist all in one.

All photos are mine taken in May 1999 and May 2012.


Of tomato plants, iPods and Darwin’s great-great granddaughter

my tomato plants in late June
my tomato plants in late June

Could a voice actually matter in making plants grow? Most of the scientific-sounding explanations I’ve ever heard about response of plants to people have invoked the additional carbon dioxide in the plants’ vicinity. But over the weekend I heard about an unusual study carried out by The Royal Horticultural Society. The researchers played different voices through headphones to 10 different plants over a period of a month (mp3 through headphones), according to the BBC. The best growing plants were listening to Sarah Darwin, a botanist and descendant of Charles Darwin. She read from her famous forebear’s groundbreaking text, On the Origin of  Species.

Of course, some outlets have taken this story to an extreme: Women’s voices ‘make plants grow faster.’

I can’t find the study, so I can’t see how it was constructed or how valid it is other than as an amusing anecdote with a connection to botany and Charles Darwin. My more skeptical side asks: Really? Headphones on plants? Where do you attach them? I’d really like to see a photo of a tomato plant with an iPod.

So I doubt that the study actually has much to say about how plants respond to human beings. However, if plants actually do like Sarah Darwin’s voice, I can understand why. Hear her melodious voice on the accompanying  video from the BBC.