The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Day at Ninfa

The river running through the medieval ruins are the bones of the garden

Gunnera manicata along the banks of the river

Crystal clear waters of the quietly flowing river

A grove of bananas at the edge of Campo della Gloria

Cypresses add vertical punctuation with the Lepini Mountains beyond

In the summer of 2000, I visited Tuscany with my wife's family and I had the opportunity to tour several Italian gardens including the iconic Villa Gamberaia, Villa Massei, the garden of fellow blogger Paul Gervais, Venzano and the garden which has been called the most romantic in the world, Ninfa. Ninfa is a picturesque garden built on the ruins of a medieval town near Rome which was sacked in 1381 and later abandoned during a malarial epidemic. It was restored when the Pontine marshes surrounding the village were drained in the 1920's by Prince Gelasio Caetani, whose family has owned the land since 1298.

The plantings on the ruins were developed by a succession of gardeners in the family. Marguarite Chapin, an American, who married Roffredo Caetani, gave Ninfa its natural English-influenced style. Lelia, the last of the Caetani gardeners, who died in 1977, was responsible for the final version of the artistic planting that we see today. Ten years after her death, the Foundation Roffredo Caetani di Sermoneta was founded to ensure the preservation of Ninfa.

Ninfa has a wide range of unique flowering trees, shrubs and perennials planted on the property to create a spontaneous and luxuriant scramble of plants that feel decided unplanned. Lauro Marchetti, the youngest son of Ninfa's estate manager is now the guardian of the preservation and development of the gardens. I was very fortunate indeed, to have my friend, Lynden Miller, make arrangements with Mr. Marchetti to see Ninfa when I was in Italy. In fact, I visited Nina on a day when the garden was closed to the public and I had the entire garden to myself for the afternoon. It was an magical day that I will not soon forget. At that time, I did not have a digital camera and I would talk a series of photographs and tape them together to create panoramic views of gardens. These pictures are copies of those original photographs. If you are interested in reading more about Ninfa, Charles Quest-Ritson has written a beautifully illustrated book called Ninfa: The Most Romantic Book in the World which I highly recommend.


  1. There is something quite mysterious and magical about gardens among ruins, and they are something I am drawn to. I think I remember seeing Audrey Hepburn visit Ninfa in her Gardens of the World series on PBS. Your pictures are best enlarged and reminded me of diptychs and triptychs.

  2. I've always loved Italy and been there several times, but somehow Ninfa has never been on my route, which I really regret now, living in the US. But some day, some day... I've heard that it has become almost too popular now, but I think I could take that, just to get to see it. Wonderful pictures, and a lovely arrangement of them.

  3. Les and IG,
    I totally agree about ruin gardens. In many ways, Ninfa couldn't be more different than Villa Gamberaia, for instance. What they both have is excellent structure. One is very formal and the other very informal. It confirms in my mind how essential structural elements are to the ultimate success of a garden. I am pleased and surprised with how the photographs came out. They add to the mysterious effect in some way. Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  4. I wish I had known about this garden before I went to Rome. I spent too much time there & ran out of sights to see. I have similar pasted-together photos in my albums. I haven't learned to paste digital photos together.

  5. Jordan,
    It is an amazing garden. Maybe your next trip to Rome!?? Let me know when you learn how to paste digital photos together. Great to hear from you.

  6. Michael - looks amazing! And has just been featured on Monty Don's new programme here, so very much in the public eye in the UK. You must be about to leave on your trip. Enjoy! Charlotte

  7. Charlotte,
    Nice to hear from you. Yes, it is amazing. I hve never seen a garden like it before or after. I will be in the UK in about 2 weeks! Can't wait. Thanks.

  8. The "recovered" photos do have a mysterious quality. Beautiful garden. You do get around!

  9. James,
    I am very fortunate to have been able to visit so many intriguing and inspiring gardens early in my gardening life. Seeing them in person has raised the bar for what I hope to achieve in my garden and the public gardens in Peterborough. I hope to "get around" some more. I have never been in the Southern Hemisphere yet. As you have documented, there is a lot to be learned south of the equator. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Wow, lucky you!
    In fact I'm jealous!

  11. Robert,
    Yes, very lucky! Thanks.



Related Posts with Thumbnails