Monday, October 27, 2014

Italy, part the second: serendipity

I like visiting gardens, but I like even more just coming across plants and gardens in unexpected ways when I travel, so that's what this post is about. Of course, I'm the one who's always going to take photos of ferns growing out of old buildings:

Santissimo Nome di Maria, Rome
or ironic failures of upkeep:

either Romulus or Remus is dead here
While we're on Rome, here's a nice juxtaposition of ancient and modern, wild and cultivated:

Newer (if not very new) building, with potted trees on the balcony, constructed around the ruins of Roman baths, with sprouting weeds from the stones. Cool!

I'm also always thrilled to come across vegetables, whether in markets or in gardens or growing wild. Being able to cook on vacations makes me feel much more human, and since we had a kitchen in our Rome hotel room, we bought vegetables and pasta at the Campo de Fiori market and made lunch. These zucchini, cut up with their flowers, look like the Costata Romanesco type, but could be something else similar.

Vegetables and fruit are not necessarily encountered only in reality but also in art. We didn't visit a lot of museums on this trip, but we did go through the Villa d'Este (see other post for Tivoli Gardens shots) and I snapped these portions of murals:

which do have some recognizable edibles in them.

On the Sorrento leg of our trip, we encountered lots of growing fruits and vegetables, including the citrus trees right outside our little cabin:

On the long trek up the stairs and pathways from Amalfi to Ravello, we walked right under a trellis of netted pumpkins (my son's photo; I was too exhausted to lift my phone camera):

and then much later, up at the Terrace of Infinity in the Villa Cimbrone gardens, I was thrilled (and dizzied) to look down from the heights:

and to actually spot the trellis and the more tan-orange of the pumpkins on it. You can't see it in this photo because the resolution isn't good enough, but it's there.

Also in Ravello, one of the hotels had an organic vegetable garden near the path:

closeup of cucuzzi gourds

On Capri, the very long chair lift journey up Monte Solaro took us right over people's gardens:

In this one I can spot amaranth and kale and beans and squash climbing the hillside. Kale (or an older generic brassica relative) grows wild in the Mediterranean region; this is a view from the top of Monte Solaro with kale in the foreground:

Another view from the top:

including the agaves in which people unfortunately inscribe graffiti:

For more perspective (if fewer plants), here's the chair lift going down:

Don't do this if you are afraid of heights!

I failed to take many photos in Tuscany, mostly through fatigue, and partly because the iconically beautiful landscape as we first saw it, afternoon sun glinting across the green hills and the orange roofs and the lines and angles of vineyards and olive plantations, looked so much like a painting that it didn't seem real. No cell phone camera photograph could do it justice, certainly, though maybe when we upload the photos from the real camera there will be something. But here's the landscape near Arezzo, where my younger son is studying this semester (you can see the yellow villa where he lives, off in the background):

And, speaking of serendipity, a final shot of random artichokes in the grass outside a gas station somewhere in Tuscany:

By accident? On purpose? Who knows. Just accept that they are there.

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.