|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Italian Branch of the MGS
After lunch at Bevagna, the Branch held its AGM.
This part of Tuscany has been associated with the tradition of cheese-making since the age of the Etruscans, so it was with great interest that the meeting continued with a visit to a local restaurant and farm specialising in organic sheep and goats’ cheese. After lunch, there was an opportunity to view the cheese production; the aroma of the maturing cheese together with the scents of spring grass and the bleating of the goats in the distance made a memorable beginning to the MGS year.
With one of our best attended events of late, the Plant Sale was particularly successful with very little left for the compost heap at the end!
In 1576 the architect Buontalenti was commissioned by Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici to convert an existing castle into the villa. The sixteenth-century Italianate garden is beautifully maintained. The historical archive of fruit and flowers, recently moved here, was especially opened for us by Dottoressa Ezia Pentericci: we enjoyed an interesting time looking at the collection of books and illustrations. A guided tour of the villa took us through the glass-roofed courtyard with its outstanding frescoes. Over the centuries the contents of the villa were removed to decorate other villas but now some have been brought back and, with other items of the period, furnish the rooms, together with paintings (including a Botticelli, on temporary loan) and statues.
Villa di Castello (also known as Villa Reale) was our next stop. The villa was embellished by Lorenzo the Magnificent and restored in the eighteenth century. It is now home to the Accademia della Crusca, an illustrious group of academics, who over the centuries studied the Florentine dialect and now concentrate on the Italian language.
The garden contains impressive fountains and statues but the most important element is the truly amazing collection of over 500 citrus plants, each watered by hand, some surviving three consecutive winters unprotected when the limonaia (lemon house) was converted into a field hospital during the First World War. The plants (some of which date from the 1700s) in their enormous terracotta pots are brought out of their winter shelter in April and in October the arduous task begins to place them once more under cover in the heated limonaia, the operation taking a month to complete. The process, and the history of the collection of citrus, was explained in the most detailed and interesting way by the Curator, Paolo Galeotti. He also showed us the Grotto degli Animali, the Secret Garden, the statue of Appennino and turned on the enormous Fountain of Hercules and Antaeus especially for us, explaining that there is now insufficient water to run it continuously – the water system goes back to the times of the Medici but was originally Roman.
Text and Pictures by Keay Burton-Pierconti
Text Jon Parker
Il Giardino Buonaccorsi near the village of Potenzza Piceno is a near perfect example of the garden of its period. In the early 1700s Raimondo Buonaccorsi set about creating the garden started by his father; by 1726 he was the father of 18 children, which explains the many 'giochi d'acqua' including puppets, a grotto with a popping out devil and water jokes everywhere waiting to ambush you. However, amusing as these are, the original formality of the Italianate garden, still today as it was when created some 300 years ago, remains the most striking feature.
The five terraces are dominated by 200 lemon trees in a formal pattern interspersed with obelisks and fountains, stepping to an intricate pattern of stone-edged beds all filled with a myriad of bedding plants, as in the parterre of the terrace below: each year the 80-year-old gardener and his son raise between 14,000 and 16,000 plants. Below this is an avenue of bay trees, succeeded by the scented garden flanking the beautiful 'limonaia' on the lowest terrace.
Surveying all are 105 statues commissioned from the sculptor Orazio Mariali that range from Roman emperors, Commedia dell'Arte figures, mythological deities to masked dwarves and the family's dogs.
In the afternoon we proceeded to the fascinating Villa Scariglia.
The Italianate garden was added to the villa in 1700, designed and planted by the architect Giosofatti. It must be one of the most esoteric of all gardens. From a wide paved entrance flanked by manicured lawns one looks through the vast open entrance hall of the Villa to 'il giardino segreto' beyond, which cannot have been more than 15m square. It was simplicity itself, all green except for splashes of red from the occasional geranium, dominated by lemon trees, one in each of the eight squares of box and espaliered on the high surrounding walls. On all three sides above were balconies as if in a theatre, each containing its own parterre and its own particular statuary and from which one can look down on 'the stalls' as well as on other intimate gardens such as the rose garden and the rolling hills beyond, or up into the woods through a cypress-flanked avenue.
We had the further privilege of having a free run of the interior of this most beautiful, historic, lived-in family home, overseen by the charming housekeeper.
For those staying overnight or living in the area Madeleine had organised a guided tour of the historic and charmingly beautiful town of Asconi Piceno.
We could not claim that we had really experienced the Mediterranean garden in the truly academic sense of the word but nonetheless we were still in the Mediterranean experiencing the magic of the classical Italianate garden and I am sure I can speak for all of us in saying that it was a truly inspirational and memorable visit. Once more, thank you Madeleine.
All three gardens had a similarity in that they were very well established, large and all rooted in the inspiration and dream of one person.
The first one was Torrecchia, the property of Principe Carlo Caracciolo, reached by an impressive 5 km drive through the wooded and pastured 650-hectare estate. After making our way a further 1 km up hill on foot, we entered through the arch of the medieval ruins of a castle into a charming shady courtyard in front of the 15th-century granary, now the principle residence.
Beyond stretched the two hectares of paradise surrounded by the remains of the wall of a 2nd-century encampment. The influence of Dan Pearson is very evident in the design and layout of the garden into many 'rooms', now so ably maintained and constantly artistically redesigned by the resident English gardener, Stuart Barfoot. One passes from the classical to the more modern/romantic part with Podranea ricasoliana tumbling up and over the ruins of the 13th-century medieval village.
Our principal memories are: the acres of immaculate lawns linking and carpeting the 'rooms'; a mass of David Austin roses; the pergola cascading with climbing 'Iceberg' roses; a raised rectangular pool in the ruins of a courtyard surrounded by a profusion of annually sown wild flowers – daisies, poppies, nigella and allium, quite magical; the waterlily-covered lake with ruins towering above and water cascading over boulders, surrounded by massed planting of Iris foetidissima and arum lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica; and, to crown it all, the return walk to the granary through a field sown with chamomile interspersed with the flecks of blue of Nigella damascena.
After a more than ample lunch, we proceeded for 40 minutes across the boring coastal plain to the oasis of the next garden, La Landriana.
In one sense this is the opposite of the previous garden: the preoccupation of those now managing the garden is to maintain it exactly as the founder planned it to be. Hence a general impression was that the garden was a bit tired and needed some new planting. The property was bought in 1956 by Marquese Gallarati-Scotti at a forced sale/auction; it was then totally devoid of any vegetation whatsoever and had to be cleared of mines before planting could begin. It was by chance that his wife Lavinia received the gift of a packet of seeds and for fun she sowed them: the event was sensational and so began the garden. Russell Page was called in in 1967 and we see his strong influence in the overall design – similar to that of Torrecchio - with many 'rooms'.
The initial impact is striking with a long entrance walkway flanked by a walled bed of the rose 'Bonica' underplanted with Australian Violet, after which the rooms continue. The memories of this garden are the very strict identity of each 'room'. Those that come into mind the strongest are: the Orange Garden underplanted with Lysimachia; the White Walk, a striking 100-metre descent flanked by white roses – 'Sally Holmes', 'Penelope', 'Swany' and 'Iceberg'; the Italian Garden with immaculately trimmed bay hedges in squares and rectangles infilled with Euonymus and lilac-coloured verbena; the Spanish Pool, an idyllic calm space of water surrounded by camphor trees; the lake surrounded by Swamp cypress, Taxodium distichum, water iris and Gunnera manicata and surmounted by the Valley of the Old Roses. A striking feature of the garden is that it is practically one hundred percent underplanted, predominantly with Ophiopogon japonicus but also with Lippia repens (syn. Phyla nodiflora). I have mentioned only a few of the 'rooms'. Lavinia died in 1997 but her influence and ideas for the garden continue to be rigidly followed, not necessarily to the best advantage… nothing in life can stand still.
Most members participating in the Saturday visit spent the night in a hotel in Sermoneta, a magical medieval hilltop village nestling under its castello: it must be one of the most beautiful villages in the world. The evening was rounded off with dinner served by the butcher and his family in the old macelleria.
And so to the miracle of Ninfa which must be one of the great gardening experiences of one's life. It is breathtakingly beautiful, elegant yet natural, with the amazing juxtaposition of ancient Roman and medieval ruins with water and garden: the towering remains of a cathedral draped with Pandorea (jasminoides?). The important medieval town was razed to the ground and abandoned in the late 1300s and remained so until 1920 after the surrounding swamps had been drained. It was Ada, the English wife of the direct descendant of earlier owners, Duke Onorato Caetani, who with her son Gelasio had the vision and passion to create this masterpiece, followed by her daughter-in-law, Marguerite, an American, and in turn her daughter Lelia, the latter having the greatest impact on what we see today. When Lelia died childless, she left the estate to a Foundation controlled by her adopted son, Lauro Marchetti.
The romanticism of the experience comes from the artist in Lelia, as if everywhere has been brushed from a palette on to a canvas. It is difficult to relate any individual parts of the whole as all parts gently flow into one another. The most remarkable aspect for this particular season was the abundance of roses. It was particularly interesting to see more temperate trees from northern climates such as beech growing into enormous specimens alongside their Mediterranean cousins such as holm oak. Probably the greatest impact was that of the water: water everywhere, in lakes, streams, waterfalls, weirs, gushing down rills, flowing at up to 2,000 litres a second and all so artistically landscaped. One came away as if from a dream.