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Gardens of the Tyrrhenian Sea: A Tour Preceding the 2016 AGM

by David Parker
photographs by David Parker

Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No 84, April 2016.

Five wonderful days exploring Naples and the Amalfi coast began at Naples Botanical Gardens.
David Parker writes:
“Exploration of the garden included the Mexican hot-house with its startling iridescent blue-flowering Clitoria ternatea, the citrus and fern groves, the medicinal herb collection and the cycads. One of the cycads was more than 200 years old and several were in pots to be removed to a site under cover for the winter. Elsewhere, a Styphnolobium japonicum (syn. Sophora japonica) with its weeping form and the arid garden with its collection of aloes, agaves and cactus were eye-catching.”

Naples Botanical Gardens – 200-year-old cycad (left),
potted cycads and Araucaria araucana (right).

“On the following day we travelled to the Royal Palace of Caserta. During the coach trip, Helena Attlee, who was leading us, explained that one of the features of the tour was to demonstrate the influence of English garden design on Italian gardens, so what better place to start than Caserta where aspects of both forms can be seen side by side. Fed by water from a long aqueduct were fountains, cascades and pools that stretched into the distance from the rear of the palace and together formed the major feature of the Italian component of the garden. Beside the uppermost fountain of Diana and Actaeon was an entrance to the English garden with its extensive lawns, spreading trees, pines trimmed in Italian style and simple water features, including a gracious stone bridge and Venus contemplating the world. It was designed by Carlo Vanvitelli and John Graefer in the 1780s at the suggestion of Sir William Hamilton, then British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples.”

Palace of Caserta - Statues of Diana and Actaeon

Palace of Caserta - English Garden

“On day three, the group travelled from Naples to Marina Grande, Capri by ferry and headed west into the mountains to Anacapri and Villa San Michele, where Axel Munthe built his villa in the last decade of the 19th century on land that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea, with views as far as Mount Vesuvius. Villa San Michele consists of several parts, the villa and museum, the loggia, the chapel and the terraced garden. The sphinx, which is reported to be some 3,200 years old, now sits on the parapet high above the marina with spectacular views towards Naples.”

Villa San Michele – loggia

Villa San Michele - Sphinx with view to Mt. Vesuvius

“An overcast day greeted us for our visit to Pompeii. The houses we visited reflect something of the gardens that existed before the eruption of Vesuvius, the ways in which they were incorporated into the lifestyle of their owners and the use of water. Among them was theCasa e Thermopolium di Vetuzio Placido. The thermopolium (food shop – usually hot food) opened on to the street and behind the shop lay a series of rooms including a triclinium or dining room with brightly coloured frescoes, an outdoor triclinium possibly shaded by vines and an adjacent garden. A triclinium consists of a U-shaped ‘couch’ that extends around three sides of a table, on which diners reclined on cushions to eat.”

Casa e Thermopolium di Vetuzio Placido - summer triclinium

“… we came to the rear of Casa di Octavius Quartio. Here was a much larger residential site with a correspondingly larger garden where there would have been ample room for an extensive orchard, a vegetable garden, vines, ornamental trees, pergolas and walkways covered with vines or creepers. What we could see (peering over the back fence) of the irrigation system showed a series of large holding tanks linked by irrigation channels.”

Casa di Octavius Quartio - garden and irrigation system

“The rain and mist which enshrouded us when we arrived in Ravello lifted to provide an opportunity to visit the garden of Villa Cimbrone. At the turn of the 20th century Ernest William Beckett, Lord Grimthorpe, purchased the abandoned property and set about developing it as a mixture of English and Italian landscape architecture. ………Our path led through less formal gardens to Mercury’s seat, the Temple of Bacchus and the bronze statue of Hermes at Rest where one can pause, sit and contemplate life in this serene garden. Cupressus sempervirens and lavender lined the pathway leading to the Temple of Bacchus where Lord Grimthorpe’s ashes are buried.”

Villa Cimbrone - Cupressus sempervirens and
lavender leading to The Temple of Bacchus

“The lemon orchard, Valle dei Mulini, is situated on the steep slopes behind Amalfi. In traditional style we were treated to a sizeable slice of lemon, peel and all, to eat as a welcome to the property. Even Helena who was used to this treat pulled a face at the sourness, but Sal Aceto was not to be discouraged and offered seconds. Sal gave up his career as an economist because he wanted the growing of fruit and the traditions of this hillside lemon grove to be strengthened and maintained. Because of the steep terrain, terraces supported by high stone walls were established where lemons were trained to grow along head-high trellises formed by timbers harvested from nearby chestnut forests. Shade cloth is used to protect the growing fruit from hail damage during winter. The Amalfi lemon (known as limone femminello sfusato amalfitano) tends to have a spindle form, a thick skin and very juicy flesh. The EU has recognised the quality and uniqueness of the fruit in this region and granted it the status of Protected Geographical Indication (IGP), the equivalent of DOC in the wine industry. At the end of our visit we were treated to a glass of lemon fruit juice and a slice of cake (lemon of course) and later a glass of limoncello in the family’s shop.”

Valle dei Mulini - Sfusato amalfitano lemons
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