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Angela Durnford

Versione Italiana

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The Italian Branch of the MGS

Past Events   2017   2016   2014    2013    2012    Older

October 2015
Post AGM Tour in Lazio

A group of 25 participants joined the four-day Post AGM Tour organised by Italy Branch Head Angela Durnford. Participants came from Australia, California, UK, France, Greece, Cyprus and Italy.

The tour included visits to Mannerist/Baroque Gardens at Villa Aldobrandini and Villa D’Este, the Roman garden Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), the romantic garden Ninfa - winner of the 2015 award for the most beautiful garden in Italy - and the impressive and beautiful gardens at Villa Barberini, the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo - opened to the public by Pope Francis in March 2015.

A full write-up by Northern California member and Past President, Katherine Greenberg can be found in TMG 84, April 2016 and here.
Some photographic highlights by Italy Branch member Sergio Ungaro:

The Group

The majestic façade of Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati

Ninfa - water and romance are everywhere

Ninfa – autumnal colour was only just beginning

Hadrian’s Villa – elegant statuary at the Canopus

Hadrian’s Villa – gigantic proportions at the large baths

Villa D’Este - only gravity is used to power the awesome fountains

Villa D’Este –  the Hundred Fountains are a delight

Villa Barberini –the impressive garden is kept immaculate by 26 gardeners

Castel Gandolfo – our last lunch above the crater and lake

September 2015
20th-century influences in gardens at Fiesole and Settignano, Florence.

We met our guide Jane Zaloga, a Fulbright Fellow who teaches art and architectural history for Syracuse University, in Florence, and walked from the central piazza at Fiesole down the steep Via Vecchia Fiesolana to reach the small wrought iron gate into Villa Le Balze or “The Cliffs”, the Georgetown University property set on a steep hill overlooking Florence.

This is the same door that Charles Strong, the American philosopher who owned the property and who commissioned Geoffrey Scott and Cecil Pinsent as garden designers in 1914, would have used as he was confined to a wheelchair. In the past, all visitors would have entered the garden down steep steps to the magnificent Rosa banksiae pergola that extends for the entirety of one axis of the garden.

The site is long and narrow and is divided into a serious of formal garden rooms and a terrace. You never see the entire garden at one time but come upon it room by delightful room, and this perhaps accounts for the fact that when you leave, you have an impression of a garden much larger than it actually is.

Villa Le Balze sits on a long, narrow site

In the two garden rooms nearest the villa, the designers chose to hide the views over Florence to create peaceful, inwardly-focused green spaces perfect for their contemplative owner. It is only from the terraces in front and to the sides of the villa that the wonderful view of the city is fully seen.

Ville Le Balze, a peaceful garden room perfect for contemplation

Views of Florence from the terrace

Just across the road, we entered Villa Medici. Built in the 1450s for Giovanni de' Medici and inherited by Lorenzo the Magnificent, the villa belonged to various English owners in the 1700s and 1800s. In 1911 it was bought by Sybil Cutting (mother of Iris Origo), who commissioned Scott and Pinsent to direct renovation work. The villa sits in a commanding position on its hillside.

Ville Medici occupies a commanding position

The garden is on two levels, on the first of which there is a limonaia - oranges and lemons are known to have been grown here in the 1450s – where now we find large lawns, two huge Paulownia trees, roses and espaliered bitter oranges. The size of the garden is imposing and grand.

Villa Medici is on a much larger scale than La Balze

The site is incredibly steep, and Pinsent and Scott linked the lower garden, divided into four beds with lawn, magnolias and box, by another huge pergola of Rosa banksiae.

Villa Medici pergola with Rosa banksiae

Villa Gamberaia, described by Georgina Mason as a perfect example of a Tuscan villa garden, is a few miles away at Settignano, surrounded by the still beautiful unspoilt hills of Florence, where olive groves, cypresses and warm stone walls are the motifs.

Guide Carol Smith and other members with beautiful Tuscan countryside as backdrop

There was a building on this site in the 1500s and the garden was started in 1610, when Zanobi di Andrea Lapi built the villa. It was owned by the Capponi family in the 1700s and 1800s until it was bought by Princess Ghyka in 1896. In 1910 she commissioned Luigi Messeri and her head gardener Martino Porcinai (father of Pietro Porcinai, the great landscape artist) to create the modern garden at Gamberaia which became a model for many other gardens.

The princess built a water parterre to replace the 18th-century parterre de broderie, a belvedere of cypresses and borders of lavender, iris, lilies, roses and oleanders.

Villa Gamberaia water parterre

The central element is a great grassy avenue, known as “the bowling green” which ends in a nymphaeum. To one side, a garden room links the limonaia to the wilder areas of the garden, and the limonaia garden has roses and peonies.

June, 2015
Umbria: Il Lavandeto di Assisi and Fondazione Barbanera

This was a perfect day to visit Umbrian gardens - flawlessly sunny, but green after recent rains.
Our first visit was to the specialist nursery Il Lavandeto di Assisi with a guided tour by owner Gino Perticoni.

The nursery, which holds the 'Festa della Lavanda' every June, was divided into garden rooms containing different types of lavender, and the fields of lavender stretched away towards Assisi.

Lavender with Assisi in background

The first garden contained ‘English’ lavender, never allowed to become woody, and pruned drastically down (12-16 cm) into the green every year. Grown from seed, the many different kinds of Lavandula angustifolia flowers from mid-May, and they are serious sun lovers.

The ‘French’ lavender, L. x intermedia 'Grosso' (long-stemmed, long flowering) had the strongest scent; this was used for perfume in Provence. If cut down promptly after the first flowering, it could flower twice. Here Gino recommended leaving about 2 cm of 'green' when pruning back. The harvesting time for scent is from the end of July to mid-August; for making lavender bags, you pick the flowers at the beginning of flowering.

x intermedia garden

Lavandula dentata had been tried, but so far had failed in their soil, possibly due to too much clay and cold winters. The herb and perfumed garden contained many unusual varieties of salvia as well as some unusual colours in non-scented perennials such as Gaura.

A delicious lunch at Spello (Ristorante La Bastiglia) was followed by a most unusual tour to the garden of Editoriale Campi, publishers of Italy's celebrated Almanac Barbanera, which has been in print for more than 250 years. We heard that in the countryside, even where the contadini might not be very literate, the farmers would have and use and swear by the almanac’s advising on the weather and when to plant. The garden is planted and managed according to the principles of the Almanac Barbanera, including the phases of the moon.

Fondazione Barbanera

First we toured their organic vegetable garden, learning about the importance of encouraging all kinds of insects, with Isabella dalla Ragione, esteemed agricultural historian, as our guide.

Insect hotel aimed at attracting insects to the garden

The gardens at the Foundation included a wonderful herb garden, as well as a lavender and rose garden. The most spectacular feature was the collection of hydrangeas, including an extraordinary 15-inch white-flowered variety - Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’.

Aromatics, Barbanera

Beautiful pergola

Mrs. Campi with hydrangea

Finally, the Foundation Barbanera’s archivist showed us round the collection of old Almanacs and other interesting ephemera with copies dating back to the mid-1700s. I wondered if it was by chance that the almanacs for 1805 and 1815 had been preserved, and what they had predicted for such momentous years in European history.

We very much appreciated the hospitality and the chance to learn about the plants and their history in both gardens.

Text: Anna Bramwell
Photos: Sergio Ungar

May 2015
Romantic Gardens of Lazio

A group of 25 of us gathered at the entrance to Ninfa, ‘the most beautiful garden in the world’ according to The New York Times (June 16, 2002), with growing anticipation. We were met by our guide Giulia who led us through a rather small and unpromising gate into the garden where we found ourselves in an entirely different world. First impressions: the absence of all sounds other than glorious bird song and running water and tantalizing 360° vistas of the beauty to come.

Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate' in the Ninfa garden with the 12th-century fortified tower in the background

The garden was laid out in the 1920s among the ruins of the small medieval town called Ninfa. The name derived from a small Roman temple dedicated to the nymphs which was built near a spring. Today a river runs through the garden from a slightly elevated lake just to the north and it is the abundance and purity of this water that permits this luxuriant and green garden in such a dry climate. Moreover, the rich, well-drained and moist soil makes plants grow extremely rapidly. The incredible height of trees planted as recently as 2000 bears testimony to the fertility of the soil and the mild climate (tempered by the mountains to the north and sea breezes to the east), as does the plant list of no less than 1300 species and varieties from all over the world.

Ninfa has been transformed since the 1920s by three generations of Anglo-American women and the English influence in the garden is clear - it has a free and informal style. The only straight lines one can find are the avenues of cypress trees lining the old town streets and a lavender hedge that traverses the wide open Piazzale dell Gloria, where we particularly admired the rock garden created by Donna Lelia, with its abundant plantings of anemones, verbenas, hebes, salvias, alyssums and eschscholzias.

Ninfa - rock garden

The whole sits within nature perfectly. As one looks up through the soaring trees, views of the slopes of the Lepini mountains create a soft backdrop so that nothing disturbs the eye. The scale is imposing - understory plantings here are large - we might have them as the canopy in our gardens.

Wending our way back round we came upon the river, just one of many clever watercourses and waterfalls traversing the garden. It has uniquely crystal-clear water - so clear as to be almost luminous – offering reflections of roses, arum lilies and aquatic irises and ruins topped by wisteria, valerian and tecoma.

In all, an achingly beautiful garden that takes one’s breath away.

Ninfa - river with roses and ruins

Ninfa - luminous water

The garden of Tenuta La Torecchia Vecchia nestles against the crumbling ruins of a medieval village and castle, perched on a volcanic hilltop, and commands spectacular views of the large, unspoilt estate. In 1995, the owners Carlo Caracciolo and Violante Visconti commissioned Dan Pearson to design the 15-hectare garden with the brief of creating a cool oasis to alleviate the surrounding harsh summer conditions. The colour palate was restricted to blue, white and contrasting greens.

La Torecchia – flowering vegetable garden and orchard

Another garden designer, Stuart Barfoot, took up the reins in 1998 and continued to develop the garden, experimenting with a style he calls selvatico-curato, which he defines ‘as the tenuous equilibrium between wild and controlled’ and more colour was carefully introduced.

La Torecchia - digitalis provides subtle colour

The day we visited there was no sun, which suited this restrained palette, but there is nothing restrained about the plantings which are arranged in enormous swathes and which benefit from the same fertile soil as Ninfa. Water plays a part here too as it drops down the steep slope of the garden, appearing here and there in the form of a pool, stream and lake all connected by pumps and hydraulics.

Torecchia - Gunnera, Arum and Nasturtium officinale (watercress)
in the foreground along the banks of the small stream

We were accompanied by Angelo and Angelo, who worked under both designers and continue to maintain the garden.

La Landriana is to be found just up the coast from Anzio, the site of the famous Allied landings and a huge World War II battle. The garden was started in 1956 by Marchesa Lavinia Taverna, a plantaholic who developed the unpromising site from scratch – including supervising the removal of undetonated mines. In 1967 she invited Russell Page ‘to impose a structure on this disorder’, and his designs still form the basic layout of the garden with hedging dividing a succession of garden "rooms" (30 in all). Each is characterized by original plant groupings chosen for both colour and form.

Landriana - the densely under-planted White Walk designed by Russell Page

The Valley of Roses was phenomenal and it is completely under-planted with erigeron, which contrasts wonderfully with the wide variety of old roses - apparently Russell Page would allow his dogs to run around before setting his paths which here are wide and grassy and allow good views of the deep beds.

Landriana – the Valley of Roses

Lovely too was the immense lake with its vast expanses of Nymphaeaceae and swathes of yellow aquatic iris, and we enjoyed the Olive Garden which had a great selection of mediterranean plants in yellows greys and mauves offset by wonderful old olive trees.

Landriana - lake with water-lilies and iris

Text: Angela Durnford, photos: Sergio Ungaro

April 2015
Gardens, Masseria and Landscapes of Puglia

Our visit to Puglia began with a guided visit of the Roman, medieval and baroque Lecce with Fabio Ippolito, Direttore of Orto Botanico di Lecce. We learned some of the history of Lecce and all along the route we looked at flowering balconies and courtyards. We also visited the lovely garden and some rooms of the Palazzo Tamborino Cezzi.

Lecce: courtyards and balconies in bloom

The following day we toured the Parco Della Costa Otranto-Leuca, 56 km of breathtaking coast consisting of different areas of botanical interest: scrubland; dry meadows; sandy and rocky coasts and wetlands. We stopped often to identify native plants flowers (see list of plants identified below).

Parco della Costa Otranto–Leuca

Wild flowers of the region

Afterwards to Salve on the most southern tip of the heel of Italy and Masseria Santu Lasi. This fifteenth-century fortified masseria has been sensitively restored with reclaimed materials. Accompanied by the owner, Professore Vincenzo Cazzato, we toured the garden of olives, walnuts and other fruit, while he explained the history of the farm. Finally, we were treated to the most delicious lunch in the courtyard, made from produce of the farm.

Santu Lasu garden

Vincenzo and team

In the afternoon a visit to La Cutura Botanical Garden where the owner, Salvatore Gessi, escorted us around the garden with its many different areas: mediterranean, rose, Italian, aromatic, and a collection of over 2000 succulents and tropicals. He explained that many of the succulents were fasciated (result of abnormal growth with flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue) producing new or strange forms, but always very fascinating.

Giardino botanico La Cutura: succulents

On the third day to the Parco Regionale Porto Selvaggio with a walk along a coastal path, taking in all the wild flowers along the way until we arrived at a belvedere looking over the cliffs and coves of the Ionian Sea. We visited the frescoed fourteenth-century Capella Santa Maria de Alto, where we were wandering through the garden filled with classical mediterranean plants.

Then to Nardò where we visited a working farm, Masseria Brusca. Built in the sixteenth century, today the masseria produces organic olive oil, vegetables and dairy products. The owner escorted us around the lush, shady garden called ‘Il Giardino dei Continenti’ for its elegant, feminine statues representing the four continents. Then the farm where we were treated to a demonstration of caseificio where mozzarella balls were made for us to taste. A superb light lunch was served made with produce from the farm.

Brusca: statues with Keay and Ferdinando

In the afternoon to Masseria Brancati near Ostuni. Here there are 30 hectares of ancient olive groves where some trees are between 2000 and 3000 years old, including 800 recorded as natural monuments, which are protected by satellite surveillance and are set to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The olive grove was planted by the Romans, which is apparent as they are set out in a grid system. The trees were amazing, like grand old men, some with supported limbs. The owner, Corrado Rodio, explained to us the history of the farm, which dates back to the 16th century, and still has much of its old equipment on site. We were shown how this oil pressing equipment was used in an ancient underground mill, and afterwards we were treated to a tasting of the olive oil.

Masseria Brancati: olive tree

Finally to a private trullo complex, Casa Tumbinno, near Locorotondo, fully restored and offering a glimpse of an historic trullo site consisting of eleven 'cones'. Here we were treated to a demonstration by Signora Violetta on how to make morbidino, a local uncooked sweetmeat: delicious.


Our last morning was spent at La Lama degli Ulivi near Monopoli. This botanic garden was created in a unique natural setting, in a lama, a karstic depression typical of this area between hills and the sea, created over the centuries by the watercourse which runs through the area. The particular lama where the garden is situated is rich in caves and boasts a rock church dating from 1200.

The garden was designed by the owner and nurseryman Stefano Capitanio as the ideal place to host the different plants from all over the world, collected by him during his travels. We were shown around the garden by Francesco Intini, the garden’s curator, who pointed out the notable examples from some 2000 species of rare palms, cacti, trees, bushes and perennials adapted to a mediterranean climate. There was also a nursery here with many plants to tempt us.

Lama degli Ulivi

The other wonderful thing about all these days was the amazing and varied food served at lunchtimes and at the local trattoria in the evenings, accompanied by excellent wines - perfect fuel for our strenuous days out.

Wild flower listAnacamptis pyramidalis, Anthyllis vulneraria subsp. rubriflora (syn. Anthyllis vulneraria subsp. praepropera), Asphodelus microcarpus, Buglossoides purpurocaerulea, Campanula versicolor, Glebionis coronaria (syn. Chrysanthemum coronarium), Cistus creticus, Cistus monspeliensis, Crepis rubra, Dorycnium hirsutum, Euphorbia dendroides, Filago pygmaea (syn. Evax pygmaea), Galactites tomentosa, Knautia integrifola, Malva sylvestris, Matricaria chamomilla, Leopoldia comosa (syn. Muscari comosum), Ophrys bertolonii, Papaver rhoeas, Phlomis fruticosa, Plantago lagopus, Serapias orientalis, Serapias vomeracea, Tordylium apulum, Tragopogon porrifolius, Trifolium incarnatum, Trifolium stellatum, Trifolium campestre, Umbilicus chloranthus, Urospermum dalechampii.

Text: Janice Thompson
Photos: Angela Durnford, Janice Thompson, Sergio Ungaro

March 2015
Rome - Container gardening for terraces, patios and courtyards: a case study focusing on work in progress at a terrace

Eugenia Conti and Roberto Campanozzi are master gardeners and design professionals with years of experience in creating garden spaces. Gardens and plants are their passion. After years of gardening experience in New York City and London, they both decided to return Italy and base their company in Rome.

We met them on Brent’s large new terrace which was filled with hundreds of plants that he has inherited from friends and acquaintances, but which he had deliberately left in no particular order prior to our workshop. The terrace is large – about 100 m2 divided in two parts with an interconnecting balcony with good views over the city and hills beyond. On one terrace there was a large pergola left by the previous owners and on the other a Jacuzzi.

Robert and Eugenia started by examining the key elements: size, shape, light and shade and Brent’s functional requirements. Then they talked about the hardscaping (paving, structures, pots and planters) and the specific landscaping (trees, shrubs, perennials) that would be appropriate on the terrace. They also talked in detail about planting in containers and aftercare. Participants had lots of suggestions to give on both the structure of the terraces and on plants that work well for them.
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