It was May and I was travelling through Italy enjoying a feast of gardens from Sorrento in the south to Lake Como on the north. That’s late spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but the weather was still chilly and, surprisingly for that time of the year in the Mediterranean, it was also wet. But rain didn’t dampen my visit to a garden billed as the most romantic in the world – the Garden of Ninfa south of Rome.
When you are on a garden tour, the garden highlights come day after day. When you’ve a high expectation about a garden you particularly want to see, you worry that it may not live up to your expectations.
The Garden of Ninfa didn’t let me down. Romantic it is with crumbling ruins, cascades of wisteria, roses and star jasmine in fragrant bloom, fast-moving clear streams and waterfalls tumbling their way through the soft green grass.
Ninfa is more than a garden, however, for this lush oasis is built in and among the ruins of a once-prosperous medieval town with a history stretching back to Roman times.
The town was destroyed in 1382 after a sorry history of fights, invasions, sackings and malaria. It was left in ruins until the 1920s when descendants of the Caetani family set about reclaiming the town from the ruins.
For almost a century members of the family worked to create a whimsical garden among the medieval ruins. The last owner, Lelia Caetani, left the garden to a trust as a garden and wildlife refuge.
Particularly romantic are the streams running through the garden, each decorated with flotillas of ducks, harbouring a rare trout and edged with arum lilies in full flower and overhung by the giant leaves of Gunnera manicata.
The garden’s success comes from its setting, the dedication of the family that created it, its very special microclimate and the fertile soils. It is fragrant with flowers and alive with chattering birds and scurrying, green-backed lizards.
Take a slideshow stroll through Ninfa with me……………….
The Garden of Ninfa is a wonderful garden to visit and one that you feel is off the beaten tourist trail. It isn’t easy to get there without your own transport, or the aid of a garden tour, but put it on your list. There are few amenities but meals are available along with superb views from the village of Norma, which is perched on the cliff tops above Ninfa.
If you want to visit the Garden of Ninfa, plan ahead. It is open for booked groups or to the general public on the first weekend and third Sunday of each month from April to October. Entrance tickets can be purchased from the WWF offices in Rome or at the garden (although numbers can be limited). [More info at Garden of Ninfa.]
A book published recently on the ruined gardens of Ninfa is called Ninfa: the most romantic garden in the world. It is written by UK garden writer and traveller, Charles Quest-Ritson (RRP $69.95AUD) and is available in Australia from Florilegium.