Category Archives: Gardens

Villa Gamberaia and Its Gardens

vgaVilla Gamberaia
Via del Rossellino, 72
50135 Settignano (FI)
39-055-697-205
http://www.villagamberaia.com
info@villagamberaia.com

Just kilometers from the city of Florence, a narrow country road (with narrow escapes) leads us from the center of Settignano to Villa Gamberaia, a Tuscan villa par excellence, elegant in its architectural simplicity overlooking both city and countryside. Inside the main gate, a graveled walkway flanked by cypresses leads us to the villa but gives no hint of the splendid gardens that await us.

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The Citrus Garden

In order to build Villa Gamberaia in 1610, a huge terrace was leveled on the slope and a high wall was constructed behind the villa to support a citrus garden and the woods, where many of the trees have stood for centuries. Within the foundation are wine cellars and agricultural store-rooms which can be reached directly from the house or from the fields below it, uniting the house with the land and surrounding countryside, achieving both practical and aesthetic qualities. An open air drawing room links the ground level of the house to the upper level of the garden. In 1717, an open loggia on the south side of the villa was added, to allow a view of the broderie parterre and the cypress belvedere which were created at this time. The inner courtyard of the villa is open to the sky, an unusual characteristic of the architecture and from here one can enter a large salone on the ground floor that overlooks all of Florence.

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The Open Drawing Room

Today is filled with brilliant light, perfect for exploring the garden, one which had its beginning in the 17th century as an orchard, followed by a broderie garden a century later, when broderies were made popular by the French. These gardens were “embroidered” with varying layers of shaped boxwood and embellished with broken shards, glass and stones, to create intricate designs, enjoyed best when viewed from above. The real transformation of the garden began in the 20th century when the property was purchased by Princess Ghika, her particular design luring scholars and landscape architects from around the world to visit and study its characteristics.

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The Water Parterre

The water parterre created by Princess Ghika is located south of the villa. The enclosed beds of the broderie parterre became pools of water with borders of lavender, iris, lilies, roses and oleander, introducing more color to the garden to be reflected in the pools. Rows of tiered boxwood, spheres and other topiary shapes give this peaceful garden a symmetrical, sculptural dimension. Over the decades the boxwood grew to overtake the flowering plants giving the garden a predominantly green appearance, but recent plantings of flowering plants have brought back shades of color once again. A circular pond graced with water lilies and water irises rests tranquilly in front of the cypress belvedere at the far southern end of the water parterre.

Beneath an arched opening in the hedge are two chairs and a small table, inviting us to sit and gaze back at the villa gleaming in the late morning sun. We have brought a small picnic with us and this is a perfect spot to contemplate the history of this villa that was almost completely destroyed during WWII. Upon purchasing the ruined villa, its new owner, Marcello Marchi, used existing prints, photographs and maps to restore the villa to its original design and furnished it with tasteful period pieces that reflect what the interior would have once looked like. The villa is available for rent and for events such as weddings.

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The Bowling Green

Our apartment was built into the structure that was once used for indoor tennis. It faces a central element of the garden, the famous bowling green, a 225-meter expanse of grass along the north-south axis. On the northern end is the Nymphaeum, a massive fountain carved into the hillside surrounded by cypress trees. The southern end overlooks the Arno valley. The east-west axis is 105 meters long and runs through the center of the villa and leads one to the cabinet di raccoglia, also known as an open-air drawing room, an intimate oval shaped garden linking the villa to the upper citrus gardens and the woods. Curved walls are covered in stones, pebbles, shells and rocks, with niches, terracotta urns, statuary and fountains. There is a large limonaia that houses the lemon and citrus trees during the winter months. The facade of the house offers a uninterrupted view of the city of Florence.

I have chosen to sit in the shadow of the Nymphaeum and write these notes. I lean against an ancient wall that looks as if it might crumble into my lap. If only walls could talk, perhaps help me describe the beauty I see before me. I am not well versed in garden talk, but I know poetry when I see it! And a symphony when I hear it!

Visiting the Gardens of Villa Gamberaia

The gardens are opened from 9 am to 7 pm (last entry 6 pm) on weekdays.
On Sundays, the gardens are open from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry 5 pm).

Please note that from time to time the gardens are closed for a private event. It is recommended that you always contact the Villa to be sure that a visit is possible on a given day.

Cost of the entrance for the garden visit:
€ 15 per person, regular and groups
€ 12 per person, students

copyright Ginda Simpson   http://www.rooms-withaview.com   http://www.gindasimpson.com

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Who’s afraid of Monsters? Il Sacro Bosco

b17Il Sacro Bosco
The Monster Park
Località Giardino
01020 Bomarzo (VT)
Tel: 0761-924-029

Our granddaughters are too worldly to be afraid of monsters – they take more delight in poking fun at what we old folks might call scary. The Monster Park of Bomarzo, known as the Sacro Bosco or Sacred Grove, we discover, is delightful. Located in Bomarzo in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome, this 16th century garden is anything but frightful, but it is awesome. Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio in the Mannerist style of European art that emerged around 1520 in Italy, the garden is best described as surreal.

Dispersed among the dense woods and vegetation in the valley below Castle Orsini, larger-than-life grotesque sculptures of mystical figures and animals inhabit the space, some of them sculpted right into the bedrock. In a once barren landscape, the garden was commissioned by Pier Francesco Orsini as a means of expressing his grief at the loss of his wife, as indicated by an inscription that explains this intention: sol per sfogare il Core – just to set the heart free. It is hard to connect the individual works into any organized plan, or fully understand their symbolism; the statues or buildings rather seem intended to astonish us, by their size, or subject, or by their unexpected appearance as we round a corner. There is even an purposely constructed leaning house, intended to disorient the visitor. Giants, monstrous fish, a war elephant, and the iconic monumental monster face all play their part in this bizarre wonderland.

Over the course of the centuries, the park fell into neglect and the garden became overgrown with vegetation. In the 1950s, the Bettini family began a restoration program that lasted twenty years, and today, although still private property, it is open to the public – to amaze, to delight, but definitely not to frighten. Even the giant screaming mouth welcomes you inside, perhaps to picnic, if you so wish.

The park is open all year long from 8.00 a.m. until sunset .

Entrance fees :
Individual 10,00 Euro
Children from 4 to 13 years 8,00 Euro
Groups minimum 30 people 8,00 Euro (with the letter of the promoting Organization)
Student 6,00 Euro (with the letter of school) and one free entrance for every 15 people

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaivew.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

La Scarzuola – one man’s portrait in stone

La Scarsuola (9)

La Scarzuola
Località Montegiove
05010 Montegabbione
Province of Terni
Tel: 0763-837-463
http://www.lascarzuola.com
info@lascarzuola.com

Designed by the Milanese architect, Tomaso Buzzi, La Scarzuola is an architectural complex in a garden setting intended to represent his vision of the “ideal city.” From humble beginnings as a monastery founded by St. Francis in 12l8, to a fantasy-land in stone, La Scarzuola is a place both sacred and surreal. Tomaso Buzzi purchased the monastery and land in 1957 to build Buzziana, his secular city, beginning his project with the restoration of the monastery and the recovery of the gardens, what he saw as a “holy city.” We enter the grounds by way of the small church of the monastery in the town of Montegiove in the province of Terni. Little remains of the church save for an early 13th century fresco portraying St. Francis.

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We begin our walk along stone paths in what was once the monk’s giardino, a traditional tranquil garden, with box hedges, flowers, statuary and vine-covered pergolas. It is a peaceful sanctuary and does little to prepare us for the imaginary city that lies ahead, a jumbled landscape of stone structures strewn across a paradisaical playground. There are temples and towers, reflection pools, theaters, and a natural arena. Architectural details have been extracted from every art period of the past and blended into elements of the Neo-Mannerist style. There is a sense of unbalance and disproportion that bends one’s mind. Buzzi’s city is a complex of seven theaters, with the focal point being the “Acropolis,” a chaotic arrangement of buildings with elements borrowed from such structures as the Arc de Triomple, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Vesta, all vacant but not lacking stairways and bridges.

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I find myself seeking some sort of visual and spiritual balance and I find it in the natural landscape that surrounds these structures – the tall cypresses, the vast expanses of lawn, the hedges and olive trees – elements that seem more comprehensible, more enduring. One would have to have known the artist to understand the workings of his mind to understand the complexity of his vision and its subsequent execution. Of this, I have no clue, but like all magic, one need not understand how it was done to enjoy it. Such is La Scarzuola.

 

It was Tomaso Buzzi’s wish at his death in 1980 that nature take over his unfinished city, leaving it to be a city of haunting ruins. His nephew, Marco Solari, however did complete his uncle’s vision and thankfully, these gardens are open to the public today.

Visits by appointment only.
Call or send request by e-mail.

Copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Il Giardino Bardini – no longer a secret garden

Bardini Gardens (4)

I Giardini Bardini
Villa Bardini
Costa San Giorgio, 2
50125 Florence
Tel: 055-2006-6206

Email: info@bardinipeyron.it
Website: www.bardinipeyron.it

Everyone who visits Florence is familiar with the Boboli Gardens, but few are aware of another magical garden nearby. I Giardini Bardini remained hidden, so to speak, until a thorough restoration of the gardens and the villa by the city of Florence brought them back into the light and open to visitors in 2010. Even though I have been visiting this art-encrusted city off and on for over fifty years, I had never heard of the Bardini Gardens. Today Florence in her abundant generosity spills out another gem from her treasure chest.

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The 10-acre gardens are divided into three terraced sections, just above the banks of the Arno River near Ponte Vecchio. The Belvedere at the top offers extraordinary views of the city, without the crowds of Piazzale Michelangelo. In fact, just about every part of the garden offers an unobstructed view, for you alone, to enjoy – The Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s rooftops and bell towers with the shimmering river leading your eye from treasure to treasure, memory to memory.

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The garden dates back to the 13th century when it was owned by the Mozzi family. It was most probably a fruit orchard to supply the family’s needs for food rather than beauty. It remained in the family until the last of the family members died in 1880. Over the course of the centuries, the gardens were expanded and modified to include statuary and flowers. The stunning Baroque staircase was added in the 17th century, then embellished with statues and fountains in the 18th century. It remains the focal point of the garden and offers heart-stopping views of the city. When the property came into the possession of Stefano Bardini in the early 20th century, the gardens continued to blossom into the masterpiece they are today.

 

 

 

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By Nemo bis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We are here on a sunny October day, celebrating my daughter’s 40th birthday, and the garden offers us gifts at every turn. First to enchant us is the Fontana del Drago, part of an early 19th-century Chinese- inspired garden with a water channel running along its one side fed by the “dragon.” We savor the silence of the fruit orchard, that reminds us of its simple past. Each terrace offers separate gardens, delightful even if we have missed the colorful blooms that painted them earlier in the year – azaleas, roses, irises and over 60 varieties of hydrangea, giving us every reason to come back in the springtime. To stroll beneath the wisteria-covered pergola and see the city gilded by the late afternoon sun, or better yet, at sunset would be reason enough to come back.

The original villa was constructed in the 14th century and was restructured and enlarged in the 17th century. As new owner, Stefano Bardini enlarged it again, adding the loggia and the limonaia, or lemon house. Known as the “Belvedere,” it now houses two galleries, one displaying fashions and the other hosts a permanent exhibition of paintings by Pietro Annigoni. The loggia serves as an outdoor café, where one can enjoy an aperitif and drink in the views. Or shall we wander and, sip by sip, savor the views as sustenance for our souls?

Open daily with hours:
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)8:15 to 17:30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (in April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during June, July, August)
Closed 1st and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December

Entrance fee:
7 € for the Bardini Gardens
10 € combined ticket for both the Bardini and the Boboli Gardens

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Villa d’Este – a garden that stuns and soothes

Villa d'Este (4)

Villa d’Este
Piazza Trento, 5
00019 Tivoli (Rome)
Tel: 39-041-271-9036
http://www.villadestetivoli.info
villadestetivoli@bestunion.com

A UNESCO World Heritage Site,  belonging to the Italian State that oversees its restorations and maintenance, Villa d’Este and its gardens were built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in the early 16th century.  Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio and realized by Alberto Galvani, the villa and gardens are located in Tivoli, outside of Rome.

For me, a walk through the garden is always perfumed with nostalgia, a longing to go back. In my case, it would mean going back more than fifty years, when I was first introduced to the gardens by my father. Actually, it was not without the loving companionship and assistance of my mother that we made these trips with my eleven siblings in tow. But it was my father who had a way of making me feel as if he had brought me alone to see the beauty that he so deeply appreciated. He made it a place of joyful learning.

He would patiently explain its wonders and I would be ensnared in that magical net. Where else in the world can one see such an extraordinary system of fountains, fifty-one to be exact, with a profusion of spouts, waterfalls, grottoes, basins and channels, all in a liquid dance that worked entirely without pumps, dependent on gravity alone? The water is supplied by the Aniene, a 62 mile-long river that flows westward before it joins the Tiber in Rome.

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Villa d'Este (1)A long panoramic terrace leads us from the villa and its loggia to the upper levels of the estate and then what is known as the Cardinal’s Walk, a shaded path, takes us from one end of the garden to the other. I could not possibly list the marvels of the illustrious fountains that make this Italian Renaissance garden so famous. And so, I will revisit some of my favorites. I can see my little brothers propelled ahead of us to be the first to discover the next new treasure or to distance themselves enough to get into some watery mischief. We older children are lagging behind them, intrigued by the Hundred Fountains. Constructed between 1566 and 1577, the fountains have close to 300 spouts fed by three levels of canals running side by side, each sending its water to the canal below. Many of the original sculptures that adorned the walls along these channels have deteriorated or disappeared altogether, leaving their replacements and the walls covered in vegetation and a velvety moss.

Oval Fountain

My younger siblings have beat us to the Fontana dell’Ovato, one of the first and most famous of the garden. I recall vividly the thrill of walking beneath the cascade of the Grotto of Venus, both wishing for and dreading a gust of wind that would have us all soaked through. I imagine the Cardinal’s guests, who used this space on hot summer days felt the same way. The original statues of the grotto are now in the Capitoline Museum, and visitors are currently not allowed to walk beneath the cascade.

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Surpassing the enchantment of the Fontana dell’Ovato is the spectacular Fountain of Neptune with water jets reaching over 40 feet into the air, flanked by other jets and multiple cascades. It commands a view of the three massive rectangular fish ponds which originally served to provide fresh fish and ducks for the Cardinal’s table. Designed to connect the Fountain of the Organ and the Fountain of the Seas, they offer perhaps the most temptation to small visitors to get splashing.  Is that my little brother leaning over the edge, water up to his armpits, in an attempt to catch a fish?

Villa d'Este (7)One of the sculptures removed from the Organ Fountain is the Statue of Diana of Ephesus, now placed at the end of the garden. Even though it appears ancient, it was made in 1568 by a Flemish sculptor, who was inspired by the ancient statuary found in other Roman villas. Known also as the Fountain of Mother Nature, it has jets of water spurting from each of her many breasts, so my father explained, to represent fertility. Now, fertility is something we understand as members of a large family, but it made us giggle nonetheless. We may have even counted to make sure there were twelve breasts!

Over the decades since my first introduction to the Villa d’Este, I have enjoyed the gardens over and over again. The artist in me is always revitalized by the many fountains that delight the eye and sooth the spirit. It is not without gratitude that I think of the Cardinal, the architect and landscape artist, the sculptors, engineers, gardeners and grounds-keepers who have made this experience possible. And thank you, Dad, for the memories.

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Full ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket: € 4,00

Guided Tours:
Guided tours of the garden and villa are available.
Prices:
Guided tour in the Italian Language (max. 25 persons): € 90. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.
Guided tour in other languages (English, French, German, Spanish) (maximum 25 persons) € 110. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

La Foce – A Tuscan estate with a unique history

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La Foce
Strada della Vittoria, 61
Chianciano Terme
39-0578-69101
http://www.lafoce.com
http://www.dopolavorolafoce.it

I knew within the first few pages of Iris Origo’s book War in Val d’Orcia that I would have to visit this 15th century Tuscan estate and see for myself the place where Iris and her husband fought to save the lives of so many during the Second World War. Knowing their story of a hidden war within a war gives an added significance and appreciation of La Foce, its villa restored by Iris and Antonio Origo in the 1920s and the gardens that are considered some of the finest in the country.

 

Located in Val d’Orcia near Montepulciano in the southern portion of Tuscany, La Foce was surrounded by a vast landscape of poor, bleak, unihabited, unworked soil. British born, Iris was 22 years old when she married Italian nobleman Antonio Origo. When they purchased the property, their dream was to change this territory into fertile farmland, and at the same time improve the living conditions of the contadini. Strong-willed and caring, she never flinched when faced with this barren wasteland, but went to work, creating in the end, a veritable paradise. At its peak, the estate included 57 farms spread out over 7,000 acres.

In 1939, the Origos built the Dopolavoro, which translates as After Work, creating a meeting place for their workers to enjoy a glass of wine together, play bocce, and share news. Country dances and plays were held here. They also built a kindergarten, school and clinic on the estate – all this to care for their working families, during very difficult socio-economic times.

It would be easy to forget the hardships, the sacrifices, and the terror the Origo family endured during 1943 and 1944, when the war was being fought right on their doorstep and each day tested their divided loyalties. Germans occupied Tuscany and the Allied forces were advancing from the south. The Origos harbored war orphans, refugee children and a steady stream of downed Allied pilots, Jewish refugees and escaped prisoners of war who hid out on their property, aided by the local populace, who provided food and clothing when possible. All at tremendous personal risk.

 

But today, we feel the blessing of a beautiful garden, graced with stillness and peace. The golden sunlight flickers on the brilliant purple of the wisteria-covered pergola that runs along the upper terrace. It glints and dances with glee on the yellow and orange of the citrus trees potted in tubs amid the hedges. Making the most of the estate’s striking position, British architect Cecil Pinsent designed the grounds and the farmhouses, an endeavor that began in 1927 and took twelve years to complete. Cypresses and rows of clipped boxwood divide the gardens into neat sections, leading the eye to wander to the distant views of the untamed countryside that holds La Foce in its embrace.

 

The postwar years were marked by continuing challenges, as the sharecropping system that had existed in Italy since the Middle Ages came to an end. Many of the tenant farmers left the land to find work in the cities, abandoning the farmhouses that eventually fell to ruin. In spite of this, the estate as seen today is a living testament to the dreams, the tenacity, and the love of two individuals who made a difference. The Dopolavoro has been brought back to life as a restaurant, where one can taste typical Tuscan country fare, flavored with the herbs and olive oils of La Foce, in an atmosphere seasoned with a real sense of history.

La Foce

La Foce’s garden is open for guided tours every Wednesday afternoon and every weekend from mid-March to November.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

I Giardini dei Tarocchi – a mosaic garden

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I Giardini dei Tarocchi
The Tarot Gardens
Località Garavicchio,
58011 Pescia Fiorentina, Capalbio
Province of Grosseto

This past summer I introduced my granddaughters to the art of making mosaics. Ours were simple designs made with the broken pieces of ceramics that nearby building suppliers happily let us clear out of their lots. Ours were not fine, highly finished creations, but they were FUN! And we soon learned that the process of making mosaics is downright addictive.

So it was only right, that we make a family trip to Il Giardino dei Tarocchi in the neighboring region of Tuscany, where the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle devoted her limitless energies to creating a fantastical mosaic garden inspired by both Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona and the nearby Parco dei Mostri, or Monster Garden, in Bomarzo. Obsessed with the idea of designing a monumental sculpture park, she purchased a piece of land in 1979. About 100 kilometers north-west of Rome, set amid olive groves and farmland, the estate began to fill with massive figures representing her vision of the mysteries of the Tarot. It was to become her raison d’etre, a reflection of unleashed, manic artistic expression that spanned decades of her life.

The 22 figures were constructed of reinforced concrete, plastered, and finally covered with mirror shards and ceramic fragments. Large enough to be walked through and climbed over, they are a delight to every child who visits. In fact, during the many months of the garden’s construction., the artist took up residence in the Empress, a sphinx-like sculpture with shocking blue hair topped by a crown. Inside, the interior is covered in a dizzying arrangement of splintered mirrored tiles.  It is so colossal a monument that her bedroom was located in the figure’s breast.

There is no doubt that making mosaics could possibly lead to madness (or the other way around). It certainly can distract one from his or her other duties, as in the case of the local postman, who early on was involved in the mosaic work, frequently forgetting to deliver the mail. The townsfolk were suspicious and quite alarmed by the growing presence of the whitish ghost-like figures in the garden, until their surfaces were covered in brilliant glass and ceramic pieces.

Niki de Saint Phalle, who suffered from mental illness, died in 2002. She left behind a dazzling monument to the art of mosaics and an enduring testament to the passion and tenacity of one artist and her dream. “How DID she do it?” we asked ourselves, over and over again. The answer is simply one tile at a time

Opening Days and Hours

Opening dates: from April 1 to October 15
Open Daily from 14:30 to 19:30

Ticket Prices

Adult € 12.00
Student (with ID) € 7.00
Over 65 € 7.00
Under 7 Free
Disabled Free

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com