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La Mortella: A Life’s Work

by Maurizio Usai
photographs from Fondazione William Walton Giardini La Mortella

Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No 81, July 2015

The 2015 Mediterranean Garden Society General Assembly is to be held at La Mortella, Ischia, the garden created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of the English composer Sir William Walton.

Maurizio Usai writes that the piece of land bought by the Waltons in 1956 was on the face of it very inhospitable: “It was a rocky gully, up against the naked lava wall of Monte Zaro to the north and strewn with great volcanic rocks to the south… it nonetheless possessed two essential qualities. The first, of primary importance, is that one can watch the sun setting in the sea to the west and thus enjoy a constant and prolonged exposure to light. The second quality was that the valley seemed extraordinarily private, intimate and secluded. Looking up the valley, today lush with tropical vegetation, towards the high rock faces that dominate it, it is not difficult to appreciate their reasons.”

View of principal fountain with Tetrapanax papyriferus, backed by the lava rocks of the valley

“As the years passed the aspect of the valley changed ever more drastically. In particular, the introduction of the fountains and of the canal, together with the constant irrigation and the growing shade of the trees, by now impressive specimens, created an unusually damp and cool microclimate. The garden acquired an atmosphere of deep peace and a contemplative dimension in sharp contrast to its original state, or even only to the more recent areas of the garden which were developed on the hillside.

Fountain with Geranium maderense

The designer Russell Page was involved in making the garden from its beginning until his death. During this time Susana Walton herself became a remarkable plantswoman.

“…after the deaths of Russell Page and William Walton in the early 1980s, Susana continued creating new areas of the garden. Unlike what happened previously, the garden on the hill developed without an overall unifying design but by successive additions, linked by Susana’s personal and sometimes surprising style.
Some of these areas came into being quite casually, such as the Crocodile Cascade and the garden surrounding the Thai Hall.

Crocodile Cascade

Thai Hall with Nelumbo nucifera

“Others, such as the Temple of the Sun, the Nymphaeum and the Greek Theatre, as well as the Victoria Greenhouse in the Palm Court of the lower garden, were precisely planned… these parts of the garden are as straightforward and spontaneous as their creator.

Temple of the Sun

“In her garden Susana expressed her devotion to life and to William, her eclectic joie de vivre, and her exuberant vitality. Together they both created a living tribute to William’s memory and, incidentally, to her own. What they created is an exceptional composition consisting of spaces endowed with great poetry, a musical progression of elements that exalt one another, foliage, rocks, fountains, flowers, rills: a luxuriant, harmonious simplicity.”
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