Poetically overlooking the Tigullio Gulf, the Abbey of Cervara is a former monastic complex, still today a place of catholic worship, along the coastal road between Santa Margherita Ligure and glitzy Portofino. It was built in 1361 as a monastery dedicated to Saint Girolamo and what used to be the monks’ vegetable garden is today the extraordinary Italian-style monumental garden, the only one in Liguria which plunges into the Mediterranean sea. The prestige of Saint Girolamo of Cervara and the abbey’s beautiful position made it immediately a privileged destination for illustrious travelers, whose visits are attested among the pages of the local chronicle: from the poet Francesco Petrarca to Saint Catherine of Siena who stopped by whilst returning from Avignone, from Pope Gregory XI to Don Giovanni of Austria, famous leader who defeated the Turks in the battle of Lepanto in 1571. The garden, pride of the place, reflects the best canons of topiary art with box hedges skillfully pruned to form geometric designs. There are an innumerable number of plants and floral species, including the American agave, the Chinese palm, the colorful strelitzia, a century-old pink pepper tree, Aleppo pines, bouganvilleas, citrus fruits and a monumental ancient wisteria which shades the silent courtyard. The Abbey still bears the charm of the original hermitage and is today part of the esteemed circuit of the Great Italian Gardens.
“There is something unearthly about Ninfa which possesses and absorbs every sense” wrote the 19th century write and Italophile Augustus Hare as he visited this romantic and enchanted garden, nestled amongst the ruins of a medieval town. The name Ninfa derives from a Roman temple dedicated to the Nymphs Naiadi, divinities of spring waters, located in the current garden. In the 14th century, the city was destroyed and it was only in the 16th century that the members of the Caetani family, owners of the estate since 1298, decided to create a garden with precious botanical varieties. However, it was only in the 19th century that Ada Bootle Wilbraham, wife of Onorato Caetani Duke of Sermoneta, began working to reclaim the marshes, planting cypresses, holm oaks, beeches, roses and setting the grounds for what became one of the world’s most magnificent gardens. In its 8 hectares are 1300 botanical species: 19 varieties of deciduous magnolias, water irises, Japanese maples, spectacular cherry trees which bloom in spring, apple and tulip trees, without mentioning the hundreds of varieties of roses which rampage over house walls, festoon over church towers, cascade through tree branches and tumble over the ruins. The luxuriating microclimate is created by the river which is at the heart of the garden and drifts lazily past huge umbrella pines, slipping under the roman bridge draped with wisteria. The care of the garden has bene lovely continued by the descendants of the Caetani family, up to their last heir, Leila, who added several species and established the Roffredo Caeatni Foundation which still takes care of Ninfa and the castle of Sermoneta to this day.
On the promontory of Zaro, in the northern part of the island of Ischia, lies an Eden. The history of this enchanting private garden, considered among the most fascinating in Europe, has its roots in 1958, when the Argentine wife of the English composer Sir William Walton decided to devote all her energy to creating a refuge where her husband could compose in serenity and isolation, inspired by the sounds of nature and the magical atmosphere of a verdant green oasis. It took Lady Walton 50 years to complete the garden, initially relying on the advice of the well-known English landscape designer Russel Page, then following her own inspiration and artistic streak. The extraordinary aspect of Mortella is that, when the Walton couple purchased the land in the early 1950s, they found themselves in front of a barren and unpromising land, so seems even more incredible to think how today that same land can house thousands of rare and exotic plants. Certainly the result of Lady Walton’s determination and a particularly humid and shady microclimate, typical of that part of the island, which has allowed these plants to find the right condition to grow and flourish. In 2003 she left the entire property of the garden and the house to the “Sir William Walton and La Mortella Foundation” which today has the task of preserving the gardens and promoting the work of the English composer, hosting in the enchanted open spaces of the garden musicians from all over the world, who come to pay homage to music and this extraordinary place.
Located very close to the city center of the refined town of Verona, close to the Roman theater, yet hidden from the eye of the hasty and districted visitor, Giusti Garden is a corner of Verona that induces slowness and meditation. The Garden looks like a green oasis where rare flowers, antique Roman statues and even a labyrinth, amongst the oldest in Europe, offer visitors a peculiar and unexpected experience. At the end of the fourteenth century, the Giusti family moved to Verona from their home in Tuscany to buy a piece of land and gave birth to one of the most important wool-dying factories, Verona’s main source of wealth. The factory buildings were replaced during the course of the sixteenth century by an elegant palazzo with a formal garden, laid out according to the fashion of the age: low hedges, cypress trees, fountains and grottoes. The driving force behind these transformations was Agostino Giusti (1548-1615), an erudite man with a passionate interest in music and painting with many contacts among Europe’s ruling families, such as the Medici and the Habsburgs. That’s also the reason why the Giusti Garden has a Tuscan allure as the gardens of the Medici family provided an aesthetic reference point for the educated elites of the period.