BELLA FONTANA! Seductive Beauty: The Villa d'Este, near Rome, Has Inspired English Gardens for Centuries

Daily Mail (London), May 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

BELLA FONTANA! Seductive Beauty: The Villa d'Este, near Rome, Has Inspired English Gardens for Centuries


Byline: Jane Owen

GLASS of Prosecco in one hand, a deep-pink English rose cupped in theother, I wandered between Etruscan tombs, Roman ruins and voluptuous flowerbedsin a castle garden near Rome.

Italian gardens and fountains have been seducing gardeners since the 17thcentury, and continue to do so today.

Their influence extends to British gardeners who will be unveiling their workat the Chelsea Flower Show next week.

Paul Cooper's Simply Italian Garden is based on a trip to Venice, and TrevorTooth has used plants from Tuscany for his Travellers' Retreat exhibit.

The tradition of Italian-inspired English gardens goes back to the so-calledEnglish landscape style of the 18th century. This vogue captured the essence ofRoman gardens and resulted in the creation of places like Rousham, Stowe,Claremont and Stourhead.

In the 19th century, a new Italian style gripped England after John Loudon, thefather of middle-class gardening, returned from a tour of Italy. The style gaveus gardens such as Shrublands in East Anglia, Renishaw in Derbyshire, Trenthamin the Midlands and Buscot in Oxfordshire.

Back to our Italian roots, I spent a long weekend being seduced by gardensaround Rome.

I started at Castel Giuliano's rose garden in the Tolfa mountains, apicturesque drive from Fiumicino airport. Here, the display of roses drifts onuntil early June.

MARCHESA Umberta Patrizi created this spectacular rose garden around herfamily's castle at the centre of the village.

The lawns are so lush they invite you to kick off your shoes and push your toesinto the soft greenness.

Volcanic soil and quenching springs keep the garden fresh.

The Marchesa is also responsible for the gardens at nearby Hotel Stigliano,where I stayed the first night. Ruins of Roman thermal baths give Stigliano'slandscape its structure, while the hot springs that once supplied the ancientbaths now supply the hotel's spa and outdoor pools.

I floated in the chalky-white sulphurous water, admiring the gardens andfeeling the pressure of a working week wash away.

Hotel Stigliano is a good base for all the gardens on my whistlestop tour but,for the second and third night, I stayed with friends near the pretty hill-toptown of Orvieto, which is filled with hotels, guest houses, cafes, shops and anexquisite, 13th-century cathedral.

Day two took me, and my gardenmad friend Phil, north to Palazzo Farnese atCaprarola.

The 16th century fortressturned-palace is magnificent rather than lovely, butwe had to join a tour of the palace in order to see the gardens.

It was a relief to cross the moat into box parterre gardens and enjoy the coolshade of evergreen oaks. A grotto carved into the hillside revealed Pan-likegods morphing out of the stonework..

Pan usually signals carnal love and I wondered what this grotto had seen overthe centuries.

Half an hour later, after trudging through a chestnut wood in the dusty heat,we arrived at Caprarola's highlighta secret garden. Fountains suddenly appear, and beyond them wide steps lead upto a summer house guarded by 28 statues.

Our truculent guide decided that we were enjoying ourselves too much. He bootedus out of our Eden and into the steep streets of Caprarola, where we sat onsome steps to eat bread and salami washed down with Prosecco.

A short drive later, we arrived at the garden that I return to year after year:Villa Lante. Its terraces are carved into the top of a steep hill above thelocal town. …

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