|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Italian Branch of the MGS
Just 15 days after the inauguration of the multi-million-euro Garden of Biodiversity at the Botanic Garden of Padua, MGS Italy visited with a group of about 20 members.
The glazed façade of the great new greenhouse measures 100 x 18m. The building is “solar active”-designed to maintain and transform solar energy; it also incorporates a complex rain- harvesting system and a computerized ventilation- and light-modulation system.
It is a stunning complex from outside and inside where the visitor is led through the evolution of plants on the four continents of Africa, America, Europe and Australia.
However, it was in the historic, walled sixteenth-century garden (Padua has the oldest botanical garden in the world and it is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site) that we found more appropriate plants for our mediterranean gardens among its 6000 specimens. All was well tended and every plant was well labelled. A useful garden to visit through the seasons.
After tea we transferred by tram to the magnificent Cappella degli Scrovegni, where member Dinah Southern, an art historian specialising in Italian Renaissance art, talked us through the highlights of this masterpiece. Then onwards to Treviso for dinner.
Day two was spent at the impressive Nursery Priola in Treviso, undoubtedly a market leader in Italy for perennials, but now also producing grasses, ferns and unusual shrubs. Participants stocked up on plants and participated in the mediterranean-themed day featuring a presentation by MGS member Alessandra Vinciguerra, Director of La Mortella Gardens, Ischia. This is the garden that will host the 2015 MGS General Assembly; over 150 slides gave a magnificent impression of it and its creator, Susana, Lady Walton. The presentation was extremely well received by an audience of more than 100. The popularity of the “mediterranean” seems to be growing.
Lastly, but not at all least, on day three several of us remained to hear a wonderful talk by Lauro Marchetti, Curator of Ninfa Gardens, who highlighted the challenges of caring for “the most romantic garden in the world”. This garden too will feature in the AGM 2015 programme.
Text Angela Durnford
When MGS member, Gary Jo Gardenhire, painter, and his partner Tim Rees, a landscape designer, began to develop the garden at Campitello-sul-Clitunno, they could not find any suitable sculpture. So Gary started to make his own.
The result is an eclectic range of striking pieces of art which give decoration, focus and ‘wit’ to the charming hillside garden. The sculptures are made from ‘found’ objects, such as welded metal tools and discarded bottle caps, or cast cement using kitchen utensils as moulds. The display is not static: sculptures are replaced regularly and coloured pieces get their paint refreshed each year.
Gary walked us round the garden to explain his work, how each piece had evolved, and how he had selected its location and aspect.
Tim then gave a talk about hard landscaping and planting around the garden sculpture, also giving examples of gardens he had worked on in France which had provided inspiration. He illustrated the role of sculpture through the gardening year with changing light and plant qualities, sometimes even with snow.Member Carole Cross then talked about which Mediterranean plant textures and palettes can be effective with different materials. Member David Dickinson, who gardens on a terrace in Rome, told us about a small-scale project. Matteo di Civita gave a talk on wild peonies of the Mediterranean, and Julia Perry told us about a new initiative to use antique Italian tiles in the garden for table tops and decorative features.
The Italian Branch of the MGS visited Villa Trecci, a garden of three hectares created by Adelmo Borlesi and his wife Cinzia Sorlini, and the nearby garden of Steven and Susan Kiviat designed by Adelmo. The purpose was to investigate a structural approach to dry gardening on clay.
Villa Trecci is set among olive trees with an east-facing view of Montipulciano - a fantastic backdrop.
The garden is on a clay/tufa (limestone) base, but Adelmo has completely changed the structure of the soil in order a) to grow a wide range of plants without irrigation in summer drought, and b) to avoid losing plants to poor drainage in wet winters.
The grey garden has been raised by a series of stone walls and the beds are further sectioned by 10 cm irrigation tubes. These are wrapped in tessuto non tessuto and placed at the base of the walls on a 10-cm-deep layer of gravel, then covered with 10 cm more of gravel and covered with at least 30 cm of prepared soil.
The clay soil has been transformed with a mix of 50% soil, 20% manure, 10% small gravel, 10% coarse river sand and 10% garden compost.
The pasteurized manure is a mixture of horse and cow, although apparently horse manure is preferable. The soil ends up with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. With the exception of the roses, which are given manure every year, Adelmo does not further fertilise or water.
After an enjoyable lunch on the terrace at La Fattoria Pulcino, we were served refreshments by member Luise Gregory in Stephen and Susan Kiviat’s charming garden.
They had planted all the usual grey plants in classic Tuscan style, but lost them three times to poor drainage. Adelmo’s new structure, soil and plant list were installed in the autumn of 2013 and the garden already looks completely established.
A full description by Janet Bell of the soil preparation techniques, gardens visited and plant lists is available from Branch Head Angela Durnford.
“In Taormina one finds everything that seems created on earth to seduce the eyes, mind and imagination.” With Guy de Maupassant’s words in mind, the Italy branch chose Taormina as the base from which to explore the gardens of eastern Sicily.
Our tour leader was Clare Littlewood, author of Gardens of Sicily and long-term resident.
The prospect proved so attractive that the visit was held twice – with 65 participants in all, from MGS Branches in six different countries.
And we were not disappointed. Even the Hotel Villa Schuler, where we stayed, had a sumptuous garden with fabulous views across the sea to Mount Etna.
The programme started at the Catania Orto Botanico with its interesting collection Hortus Siculus, an area entirely given over to Sicilian plants displayed in their native habitats of Mediterranean plants.
Then to cocktails in the secluded monastic gardens of San Domenico Palace Hotel at sunset. A magnificent view of Etna from this enchanted spot, where D.H. Lawrence wrote of Etna: “she trails up in a long, magical, flexible line from the sea’s edge to her blunt cone ... Remote under heaven, aloof, so near, yet ever with us...”
Day 2 started with a visit to the aptly named Villa Paradiso, where Giulia Gravina has created an iconic Mediterranean garden amongst lava formations of an extinct volcano overlooking the Bay of Catania. Here we were treated to home-made candied kumquats.
Then to the 400-year-old estate of Villa Trinità. Here the garden has been coaxed out of the lava bed on which it stands by the passion and hard work of the latest in eight generations of owners, Baron Salvatore Bonajuto. The property also features an ancient Arab system of irrigation canals or saie.
Valeria Ciancio was the next to receive us into her very private garden around her nineteenth-century home, retaining a small portion of the original orange groves and with natural landscaping, which she uses to great advantage as backdrop and base to her many plants, as well as hiding places for her numerous grandchildren.
Nearby was Le Stanze in Fiore, where Rossella Pezzino de Geronimo’s life journey has inspired her to create her garden of interconnecting and informal rooms on the terraces surrounding her neo-classical villa; the result was surprisingly calm and private while only a step away from the traffic noise of Catania.
Day 3 started with excursions to Mount Etna or Taormina, followed by a visit to Villa Cuseni. The Arts and Crafts villa and garden were built by Robert Kitson in 1905 and lovingly tended by his niece Daphne Phelps for over 50 years until 2005, it is now a national monument.
Day 4 saw us at the private estate and garden of San Giuliano, home to the family of the Marquis Paternò Castello di San Giuliano for 800 years. The stunning ‘grapefruit walk’ and collection of cactus were shown to us by head gardener Rachel Lamb.
Our last stop was at Lentini, where Princess Maria Carla Borghese shared her “garden that wasn’t there”. Il Giardino del Biviere has been transformed by the Princess since the 1960s from a drained lake into a lush and exotic garden.
A full description by Clare Littlewood of the gardens visited – and the recipe for candied kumquats – are available from Branch Head Angela Durnford.
Chantal Guiraud, who runs the MGS Seed Exchange, came from France to give us an excellent talk on how seeds can be collected, carefully catalogued and stored, before the appropriate time for planting. She explained how seeds differ in size, texture and requirements, demonstrated the various planting media, pot shapes and sizes, and gave guidance on the immediate aftercare of newly planted seeds.
After the talk, we walked around Dorisanne Henderson Agro's well-tended, lovely garden in the spring sunshine before enjoying the delicious lunch she had prepared.
We then drove to Keay Burton-Pierconti's home in the countryside south of Velletri. Here the garden is to be savoured rather than admired. It has developed over more than 20 years around olive and fruit trees planted long before she moved in, it has a natural feel, and it isn't very tidy!