Sunday, October 26, 2014

Italy, part the first: giardini

We got back a few days ago from a two-week trip to Italy, during which we saw quite a lot - though of course only a fraction of what's available. I took some photos, not the best and not of the right things, but so it goes. I'm trying to remember with more than the camera these days.

I'll break this into two parts because it would be far too long otherwise, and will start with more formal garden visits (the second part will embrace serendipity).

Our first stop was Venice, but I didn't take plant-related photos there, and there aren't a lot of plants to see; people have small private gardens in back of the larger houses, or window boxes outside of apartments, but public garden spaces are infrequent. We did wander around the Giardini della Biennale to see the architecture exhibits, but as a garden it's not inspiring. I adored Venice nonetheless, but there really isn't space to grow things.

We made a brief stop in Padua (Padova) during our journey to Rome, and of course I visited the Orto Botanico di Padova, which is the oldest botanical garden in the world still operating in its original space.

Araucaria at Padua

I had an etymological discussion after my recent East Coast travels, first about why some gardens choose to call themselves "botanical" and some "botanic" (and some plural or singular garden(s)), but then about what the term means. I think for the most part, in this country, those who run gardens call them botanical to indicate a degree of seriousness, and perhaps to imply that they actually label the plants, but I believe that the original meaning was more along the lines of "does something to improve knowledge of botany," and few public gardens value this goal over aesthetic impact. The Tower Hill garden in central Massachusetts, which I visited last month, has a systematic garden, arranged by plant families, which is highly unusual and educational (they also manage to make it pretty). But the more usual approach is to focus educational efforts on practical horticulture and design - how to grow, rather than what it is you're growing, where it comes from, and how it's related to other plants.

Anyway, Padua's garden was originally created to educate students about medicinal plants, and then evolved to represent the world's botanical riches. It's not arranged in a purely systematic fashion, but it does have sections that demonstrate purpose and origin, and collects broadly. I was happy to see, in the midst of the collection beds with far more glamorous specimens, this:

Yup, it's a potato
Aesthetics is not the primary goal here; where plants are arranged at all, they are pretty much just plunked down, Here are some cacti:

But while my Italian was poor enough to flounder on the ticket-buying exchange, inside the garden the primary language was botanical Latin, which created a sense of familiarity and camaraderie, and there's also so much history here (most of which I don't know, but it would be fun to read about). There are a few really old trees left in the arboretum, including a plane tree dating from 1680. I photographed the giant ginkgo:

which I note is only 35 years older than the specimen at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia; at least when you're dealing with late-discovered trees, Europe does not necessarily mean far more ancient!

From Rome, our next stop, we took a bus journey out to Villa d'Este and Tivoli Gardens, which is horticultural elegance on a grand scale, with fantastic use of water:

including lots of quirkiness and humor:

The garden makes lovely use of the stunning verticality of the landscape, and was beautiful even in October when not much was in bloom. Most of it is green and gray anyway.

And finally, on the Sorrento leg of our trip, we took a boat over to Amalfi on the other side of the peninsula, and walked from there up to Ravello (many many steps, oh dear) where we visited Villa Cimbrone (now a luxury hotel; we sat on the terrace and experienced the expensive cocktail menu, which is probably worth it for the view). The gardens there are not at their best (time of year plus less than perfect maintenance) but still charming.

Lots of unexpected twists and turns and corners and vistas. The best and most famous part of the complex is the Terrace of Infinity, which looks like this:

And yes, that is a pretty steep drop-off on the other side; I'll have another picture in my other post.

No comments:

Post a Comment