A neglected garden below our apartment in Panicale, Umbria, was an unexpected pleasure when we spent two weeks there earlier this year. The adjacent villa had been purchased, we were told, by an American, who for whatever reason,-probably money- had not begun renovation. There are many similar houses, but I have seen few lost gardens such as this. Beautiful in its slumber. But if we had a week, how we could bring it back….at least make a start…
The remnants of wisteria were budding over the dilapidated pergola; two midnight blue iris had lifted their wings above the weeds; scraggy, gray lavender swept over broken bricks. And a sleepy, white cat stretched out in the sun on the stone step.
I had always wanted to see the real Bramasole, ever since we all dreamed of Italy in “Under the Tuscan Sun”. So in April, a drive around Cortona brought us to the turnoff down to Frances Mayes famous home. I was quite nervous actually as we neared the house- was it on the left or right, would I recognize it, was anyone home! No one was
unfortunately, as I had planned to invite ourselves for wine and cheese. Wishful thinking.
But in truth, it was better this way- the peachy plastered walls with the crack running up on one side;the dark grey green shutters framing the windows;the stone walls that those Polish fellows could never have built; and the tiny shrine by the side of the driveway. Yes it is there, but on the house side of the road. I don’t think Frances could ever have seen the elderly gentleman leave fiori in the vase. But I left some. Tiny wildflowers in a glass jar.
Several weeks ago, while still away on our annual Italian holiday , we spent an afternoon at the famous gardens of La Foce. Begun by the American heiress Iris Origo and her Italian husband during the 1920’s, they carved a stunning modern garden around a 16th century villa. The designer of the garden was a British architect, who continued to be involved with the project for many, many years. Hundreds of local citizens from an area of extreme poverty as Tuscany then was, worked on the redevelopment of the villa, outbuildings and landscape. Today La Foce offers tours of the garden, only on Wednesday afternoons. Several of the workers cottages have been restored and are available as rental apartments. So interesting to learn that a Brit was responsible for part of that iconic Tuscan landscape of zigzag roads and cypress trees!
La Foce, Montepulciano
Although this is a website promoting our landscape business, garden strategies, I can’t help returning in my mind to the cultural past here in Italy that has simmered in our pysche for hundreds of years- and that has impacted almost all segments of western living. Last spring we had the special experience of visiting a nursery in Viterbo, Lazio with a contractor friend from Bagnaia. There were rows upon rows of olive trees potted up for sale – even very ancient olives which had obviously been dug by tree spade- waiting to go to new homes on old estates.
The most incredible sight- to me, anyway- were the needle thin cypress trees crowded in what I thought were too small pots. My romantic eye saw them lining the back roads in Tuscany, but truth be told, they were all awaiting shipment to Morocco!
This nursery was well known for it’s 400 or so varieties of roses, which were beautiful, but it was a small plant in a 4″ pot sitting alone on the perennial bench. It was a dandelion! Can you imagine that at your local garden centre in Ontario!
The sun is shining on the snow today, and the scant heat from its rays sends tiny drips from the eaves onto the yew bush below..where it freezes again into a glistening ribbon of silver. Looks beautiful, but I’m sure the plants below don’t like it!
I fell in love artichokes this this Spring while we were staying at the Villa Guilia in Fano on the Adriatic coast…plump, luscious green chokes cooked in a light cheese sauce…if only we could grow these princely orbs here in Ontario!
A view from Pienza
Off to Verona tomorrow – Italy in the Spring is pink blossoms, wildflowers and the scent of fresh earth in the vineyards! Juliet, the Giardini Giusti and Villa Lante await!