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BRANCH HEAD
Angela Durnford

The Italian Branch of the MGS

Past Events

September 2011
Visit to the Corsini Garden in Porto Ercole
The Argentario is one of the most picturesque coastal regions of Tuscany. Almost an island but connected to the mainland via a causeway, it combines a rugged coastline with the exotica of the marinas of Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano where the multi-million Euro yacht is commonplace.  Immediately adjacent to the marina of Porto Ercole is the nineteenth-century garden created by General Ricasoli, a good friend of Lord Hanbury. After a somewhat chequered history, including being bombed by the allies towards the end of the Second World War, the garden, and what is left of the Villa, is now owned by the Marchese Corsini. The Marchese hosted the visit of the Italy Branch of the MGS in what was a delightful tour of the Corsini family, the Argentario and the gardens themselves. The collection of palms and eucalyptus together with a multitude of other species making a total of 1350 trees was stunning. The Marchese returned from America only six years ago and has already made extensive renovations to these historic gardens. Although private, the gardens are accessible by appointment.


The Corsini garden.

May 2011
Visit to the Rose Garden of Helga Brichet
Our spring event was held at the private garden of Helga Brichet, a former President of the International Rose Federation. She personally guided us around her garden in the depths of Umbria and it was immediately apparent that roses were her passion. Many of her specimens were discovered by herself in the Far East and she enthused over each one as if it were a child, highlighting its likes and dislikes. Many specimens, particularly the Rosa gigantea, were grown through cypress or olive trees to provide support, although the use of olive trees for this purpose must cause some eyebrows to be raised in the local farming population.

After lunch at Bevagna, the Branch held its AGM.


Helga Brichet's garden.

April 2011
Annual Plant Sale
On the 16th April this year, over 45 members of the Italian Branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society held their Annual Plant Sale within the lovely courtyard of an old Tuscan farmhouse belonging to Paul and Luise Gregory. Views of the ancient town of Montepulciano provided a magnificent backdrop to their beautiful garden set amongst mature olives and an immaculate vineyard complete with roses just beginning to show their first early flowers.

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!
Steve Elliot

September 2010
Florence
A few kilometres into the countryside to the north of Florence was the venue for the September outing of the Italian Branch. More than 30 members met at Villa della Petraia, one of the Medici villas in the area of Castello.

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.


Villa Petraia


Villa Castello


Limonaia at Villa Castello

Text and Pictures by Keay Burton-Pierconti

June 2010
Piano Grande
The June visit, with nearly 50 members and guests, was to the Piano Grande in the Sibillini National Park in Umbria – a vast extinct volcano 10km in diameter which at this time of the year is one vast field of wild flowers. It has to be one of the seven wonders of Italy if not of the world. The season was very late and the weather forecast bad but fortunately the sun came out and there was a reasonable show of wild flowers. The view across the plain to Castelluccio was stunning.


Castelluccio on the Piano Grande


Wild Flowers on the Piano Grande

May 2010
Grumagnano, Garden of Jon and Astrid Parker
In May the visit to the garden Jon and Astrid Parker was preceded with weeks of continuous rain and which even welcomed over 40 members on the day. Fortunately at about 11.30 the rain did stop and Jon and Astrid were able to show everybody the progress that they had made since their last visit to a bare canvas some five years earlier. Jon and Astrid have mastered to art of gardening on a cliff. A formal garden surrounds the house with a delightful series of footpaths and plantings on the natural slope below. A superb lunch was laid on at the nearby Villa Delia with a visit to its garden when at last the sun did finally grace us with its presence.


Gramugnano, the formal garden


The View Down the Slope at Gramugnano

April 2010
Bosco della Ragnaia
In April we returned to one of our favourite venues; the magnificent, amazing, creative masterpiece of complementing nature with creative art – that of the Bosco della Ragnaia  (bird-catching woods) of Sheppard Craige  at San Giovanni d'Asso near Siena. We were there four years earlier when he was only just starting the design and planting up of a new 3-hectare canvas - a vast open bowl beyond and below the woods - and wished to see how his plans had progressed … stunning.


The Woods at Bosco della Ragnaia


The Park at Bosco della Ragnaia

March 2010
Orto Botanico at Viterbo
Our 2010 season opened in March with our AGM in the fascinating research 'garden' of the Orto Botanico dell'Università della Tuscia at Viterbo. Here we experienced experimental collections from desert through tropical to marshland with surprise that such a variety of plants could exist in the same ambience.


Steel Sculpture at Viterbo

October 2009
Plant Sale
October saw us gather for our Annual Plant Exchange which Gary Gardenhire kindly hosted at his home and beautiful garden at Campello sul Clitunno in Umbria. In the morning, Gary had organised a visit for us to the gardens and estate of the nearby 18th-century Villa della Genga where we also saw their olive oil production facilities and a small proportion of their 13,000 olive trees. Over 40 members attended and we had the record donations for plants of 358 euros.

September 2009
Padova
We started the calendar in September with a fascinating visit near Verona to the specialist Grasses Nursery "Strano ma Verde" of Enrico Carlon. Never before had any of us seen such a variety of grasses, all in all over 100 different varieties from dwarf to over 2 metres tall with their elegant plumes flowing like waves in the wind - the Miscanthus cultivars being the queens of all. Many of us stayed overnight for a visit to the stately Villa Pisani on the Riviera del  Brenta, whose massive gardens border the extension of the Grand Canal of Venice.


Villa Pisani

Text Jon Parker
Pictures Steve Elliott

June 2008
Thanks to the very able organisation of Madeleine David 15 members enjoyed visits between torrential storms to two spell binding 18th century  classical Italianate gardens in the Piceno region of Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.

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.


The villa


The terraces

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.


The Secret Garden


Cypress avenue

May2008
Some 26 members enjoyed two days of memorable visits to gardens in the Lazio area south of Rome, thanks to the able organisation of Rory Stuart.

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.


Gathering in courtyard


Entrance to swimming poo


Raised pool with wild flowers


Field of Camomile/Nigella

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.


Entrance with Rosa bonica


White rose walk


Italian garden

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.


Entrance


The rock garden


The river

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.

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