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The Historic Gardens at Villa Bologna, Malta

by Anne R. Welles
photographs by Anne R. Welles

Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No 82, October 2015

As a landscape historian Anne Welles participated in a field study programme in landscape preservation on the island nation of Malta. The programme focused on Villa Bologna, a Maltese nobleman’s estate with extensive gardens of the Baroque and early 20th century periods.

Anne writes: “Villa Bologna, a Grade 1 National Monument, has undergone 270 years of environmental and man-made challenges. The gardens have survived the often punishing Maltese climate, World War II bombings and the pressures of modern-day urbanisation.  Yet the villa and its gardens continue to thrive and tell a remarkable story. …Villa Bologna is located in the centre of the island, in the town of Attard, which is also home to Malta’s presidential palace. Like most of the country’s important estates, it is surrounded by high walls made of the limestone that is the island’s principal building material. … As I passed through the big blue gates I was immediately confronted by the imposing façade of the villa. The building is classically Baroque in style, with a regional influence evidenced by the uniquely Maltese design of its balcony. A few steps further and the Baroque garden came into view.”

View of the front façade with balcony

Baroque garden looking back at the blue gates

“The few remaining construction records indicate that this garden was made in 1747, probably by the same (unknown) architect as the villa. It has a formal 18th-century design of axial paths delineating parterres. Gardens of this period concentrated ornamental plantings in these parterres, while woody plantings were used mostly to emphasise the geometry of the space. 
Remarkably, the citrus groves in this part of the property are the very same trees that were planted when the garden was created.”

Citrus trees dating back to the creation of the garden

Lord Strickland, sometime Prime Minister of Malta, lived and gardened at the Villa Bologna with his wife Margaret Hulton. Under her guidance the landscaped areas of the villa property were significantly expanded during the 1920s and 1930s.

Anne writes: “… behind the villa a large garden is dominated by the beautiful Art Nouveau-style Dolphin Fountain. Considered a national symbol, dolphin images are ubiquitous in Maltese culture. The garden is criss-crossed by paths, and bordered by beds of colourful perennials and flowering shrubs. Dwarf palms (Phoenix roebelenii) punctuate the design at locations where the paths meet.  The two primrose trees (Lagunaria patersonia) that tower over the fountain are the oldest and largest examples on the island. These veteran trees eloquently convey an understanding of place, however caring for them is a difficult responsibility indeed. As impressive and beautiful as they are, nearby plantings are affected by the dense shade they create, and they drop a prodigious amount of leaves during the dry months.”

Dolphin fountain with Lagunaria patersonia trees towering behind

View of the rear of the villa from the Dolphin fountain

Other areas of the garden from the twentieth century.

On a higher level terrace the Sunken Pond garden where water-lilies
(Nymphaeaceae) and other aquatic plants create a tranquil oasis

Ornamental gates and soft planting

Stone pergolas in a citrus grove
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