2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travelers’ Gardens: Villa D’Este, Italy

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The View from the street level

Rome is a lovely place to visit, and I would jump at an opportunity to go back at any time of the year, but in the heat of summer, sometimes the sultry streets are too much, no matter how much gelato is put in your way. The antidote is a trip to Tivoli, a small town about an hour to the north, to visit the gardens at the Villa D’Este.

Commissioned and built in the 1550s by Ippolito D’Este, the villa and gardens are still much as they were then. Built into the side of a very steep hill, the Villa is hardly recognizable as such from the street; you goe through a small, rather unassuming door, and suddenly you are in a mansion with frescoes, gilt molding, and even an indoor fountain. It is grand and impressive, but as soon as you walk outside, it pales in comparison with the garden.

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The garden is not what you might expect in that there are very few flowers; certainly no effervescent flowerbeds or rows of neatly planted annuals. Instead, different shades of green and textures of leaves combine to give a sense of peace and coolness. The garden is very formally laid out, with long, curving staircases and winding paths, and the plants act as frames for the garden’s most impressive features, the fountains. There are hundreds of them, and the sound of water permeates the atmosphere as much as does the spicy perfume of the bay hedges.

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The fountains also date back to the 1550s. The water that they use comes from the nearby river, travels along underground aqueducts, and then stored in multiple cisterns before being pumped up to the fountains via hydraulics. As one looks at them all, it is hard to remember that no electricity is being used to run them. And, let me say again, there are hundreds of them. First, you must walk along “The Walk of 100 Fountains”, which is well named because it consists of a mossy wall with scores of stone lion’s heads and other openings through which the water flows. Next is the Fountain of the Organ, which is built so that when water is forced through its pipes, it makes a sound that resembles  that of an organ.  Nearby is the Fountain of the Birds, which includes several bronze birds that have pipes inside so that they warble when the water courses through. Every so often, however, a bronze owl swings in front of the birds, and when he does, the birds go silent, and all you hear is the hoot of an owl. And remember – no electricity!! This is only the tip of the iceberg; I only wish I had space enough to do the other fountains justice.

You can spend a delightful day there, discovering each fountain and its story, walking the shady pathways, and working up an appetite for the tremendous Italian meal that is sure to follow. When in Rome… But first, check out the Villa D’Este!

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2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

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If you are in the mood for a fun, colorful way to spend a day while in Copenhagen, then Tivoli Gardens is for you. Founded in 1858, Tivoli is the oldest amusement park in the world, even acting as inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disney World. There is a bewildering array of stomach-dropping, vertigo-inducing rides all destined to separate you from your lunch, as well as arcade games, and more sedate rides, but what makes it different is that it all takes place in a garden.

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As a landscape designer, I am always interested in how (or if) a garden relates to its surroundings; in this case, the many rides, stalls, buildings, and restaurants. This was particularly interesting to me as, even had there been no plants at all, Tivoli would be a riot of color, as there has been no holding back when it comes to colored paint. Also, the vastly different areas of the park call for different plantings, with separate feelings, color schemes, and functions. How to make it a cohesive whole, especially when it was already rather visually chaotic? In my view, the plants and the design had a rather difficult role to fulfill, that of peacemaker.

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But it has been done… and done well. In front of the Indian Taj Mahal-like building which greets one at the entrance, is an elaborate formal garden, with clipped hedges, a pool with fountains, immaculately pruned roses, and crowds of Allium, which add a modern feel to the formality. The effect, despite its complexity, is calming, and suits the building perfectly. Not far from there is a large pagoda, with red and gold and lions carved out of stone. Next to it is an oriental garden, monochromatic and cool to look at in its shades of green, with stepping stone paths disappearing around corners, trickling waterfalls, and bridges going over dry streams. Connecting the splendor of India with this peaceful garden is a shady area filled with azaleas and two boxwood rings out of one of which, if you watch long enough, comes a short jet of water which appears to jump out of  one ring and land perfectly in the center of the other. A miniature train winds its way through the plantings. Across the path are more Allium. These Allium, however, are not freely standing about like the others, but have been corralled by a privet hedge several feet high.

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Although it is true that more and more garden space has been eaten away over the decades to make more room for rides and games, Tivoli Gardens is still very much a garden, or, at least, a series of them. They are important players in the overall party, not just window dressing for the “main event”, those things that make money. Somehow, they all blend together without being jarring, and although they add to the overall riot of color and general visual chaos, the effect is not unpleasant. The design could have gone so wrong… but it didn’t. 

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Even if you aren’t interested in the rides, go just for the gardens. They are worth every Krone. The Danish pastries are worth the trip, too. But that is another story…

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