Rose spot­ting in Italy

Italy has some truly mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens, writes Alice Spenser-higgs

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GAR­DEN tourism is bloom­ing, and Italy seems to have joined France and Bri­tain as a de­sir­able des­ti­na­tion, given its splen­did Re­nais­sance gar­dens, art and his­tory and, of course, re­gional Ital­ian cui­sine.

Last year Lud­wig’s Roses of­fered its first Ital­ian gar­den tour, with an em­pha­sis on roses, and in­cluded cook­ery lessons with two ac­com­plished young chefs who dou­bled as tour guides.

Marco Guisti and Clau­dio Bernar­doni of Al Fresco re­peated their suc­cess­ful recipe last month with a 10-day Tus­can ex­pe­ri­ence, led by Lud­wig Taschner’s mul­ti­lin­gual wife Pamela, who is plan­ning two tours in Septem­ber.

What is so en­tic­ing about a gar­den tour? For me it is about a fresh in­jec­tion of ideas and en­ergy, of step­ping into an­other world where peo­ple gar­den dif­fer­ently be­cause it is, quite sim­ply, a dif­fer­ent coun­try with a dif­fer­ent cul­ture and way of liv­ing.

The Ital­ian love af­fair with roses is ev­i­dent in Tus­cany. They are every­where, used with a rus­tic rugged­ness in tune with the agri­cul­tural na­ture of the area.

Climb­ing roses are trained along fences that bor­der the road or stand as mag­nif­i­cent flow­er­ing shrubs in back­yards, along with bales of hay and chick­ens.

Even in small-town gar­dens, roses are used as stand­alone spec­i­mens, along­side other shrubs, rather than as a bed­ding plant. Al­ter­na­tively climbers are trained up to frame a front door.

In many vine­yards roses, usu­ally red, are planted at the end of each row of grapevines.

Mon­tepul­ciano wine maker, Si­mona Fabri­oni Rug­geri of Villa S.Anna, ad­mit­ted the prac­tice was more aes­thetic than prac­ti­cal — as a dis­ease-preven­tion pro­gramme.

In the me­di­ae­val sec­tions of towns such as Bag­naia, Mon­tal­cino, or San Quirico D’Or­cia with their dark, nar­row streets with limited light, it was amaz­ing to see how climb­ing roses are coaxed up walls and onto bal­conies.

Be­sides the roses, res­i­dents in th­ese labyrinth-like streets, make use of ev­ery inch of space with pots, troughs and win­dow boxes filled with flow­ers such as petu­nias, pan­sies or vi­o­las, as well as herbs and veg­gies. Like their rose grow­ing, they have made an art of con­tainer gar­den­ing.

The tour itin­er­ary in­cluded the fa­mous and sub­limely ro­man­tic Gar­dens of Ninfa, es­tab­lished in the ru­ins of a small Ro­man town and re­stored by the aris­to­cratic Cae­tani fam­ily who took over the land in the late 19th cen­tury.

The gar­den was started by Rof­fredo Cae­tani’s mother, an English woman, Ada Wil­bra­ham, and con­tin­ued by his Amer­i­can­born wife, Mar­guerite Chapin. It is now man­aged by the Rof­fredo Cae­tani Foun­da­tion and is listed as one of the world’s top 1,000 gar­dens to visit.

Climb­ing roses scram­ble over gen­tly de­cay­ing ru­ins, wa­ter­falls tum­ble into steams banked with wild irises, and path­ways me­an­der around the gar­den, with a sur­prise around each cor­ner.

About 1,300 dif­fer­ent species of plants from around the world, in­clud­ing many of our own, pop­u­late this 8ha gar­den.

An­other land­mark gar­den was Villa Lante, re­garded as one of the best ex­am­ples of a for­mal Re­nais­sance gar­den. The lower, main gar­den is square, con­structed as a parterre and from there, ter­raced gar­dens progress up­wards. Ev­ery sec­tion is linked by wa­ter, which cas­cades down­wards through rills, chan­nels and foun­tains.

A gar­den with a more re­cent his­tory was La Foce Val d’Or­cia that was built be­tween 1924 and 1939 and de­signed by Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Ce­cil Pin­sent for the Origa fam­ily. Re­claimed from a bar­ren hill­side, the house and gar­den were the life­time’s work of An­to­nio and Iris Origa, and were al­most lost dur­ing oc­cu­pa­tion by Mus­solini’s troops.

To­day, the gar­den’s at­mos­phere is one of seren­ity. A se­ries of ter­races over­look the d’Or­cia val­ley, with hedges of bay and Cyprus, lead­ing the vis­i­tor through gar­dens are filled with banks of wis­te­ria, lemon trees, laven­der, roses and peren­ni­als.

This same tour of gar­dens, which in­cludes guided walk­ing tours of Siena, Pienza and Mon­tepul­ciano, the monastery of San’Antimo, the hot springs of San Filippo, and fin­ishes in Tivoli with its mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens of Villa d’Este, takes place from Septem­ber 21 to 30.

An ear­lier tour, from Septem­ber 11 to 20, starts in Pisa, and in­cludes guided walk­ing tours of Florence, Lucca, Livorno, San Gimignano and Viareg­gio. The base will be the Var­ramista wine es­tate in Tus­cany, with day trips to gar­dens such as Villa Gam­beraia and Villa Gar­zoni.

What an en­trance! Climb­ing roses grow­ing in pots and some win­dow boxes make up the sum to­tal of this ‘gar­den’ in the vil­lage of Pienza.

Roses and San­tolina (cot­ton laven­der) com­ple­ment the Tus­can scenery of rolling wheat and sheep fields out­side Pienza.

A sea of rose blos­soms off­sets one of the many ru­ins that give the Ninfa Gar­dens its unique at­mos­phere.

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