For many years, Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny were maintained by one man, Gilbert Vahé. In 1977, he was hired away from Versaille, where he was head gardener. Of course, the two gardens could not be more different. Vahé, who had only worked with tightly-structured garden design, says he only planned on staying at Giverny during the restoration, maybe for a year or two. But he fell in love with the place, and instead stayed for the rest of his career. Vahé worked tirelessly until his (first) retirement in 2011. He was then replaced by an English gardener, James Priest. After barely 6 years, Priest left mysteriously and abruptly in 2017, and Vahé was asked to come out of retirement. When journalists contacted the Giverny Foundation to ask why Priest left, the Foundation refused to discuss the man’s work or his departure. They simply stated, “We do not keep records of Mr Priest. He is gone”. I had no idea the gardening world could be so juicy!
Gilbert Vahé stayed on until a suitable replacement was found in late 2018. I imagine it must have been a bittersweet return for him, and an even more bittersweet second departure. This man was lucky enough to spend his working life surrounded by one of the world’s most beautiful, bountiful gardens, and was blessed with the talent to care for them the way they needed. I like to imagine him as the most satisfied gardener in the world.
If you’re interested, there’s a great article about the history of the garden and its caretakers on Normandy Then and Now. Enjoy!