Sunday, September 30, 2012

La Mortella, Ischia

The island of Ischia just off the coast of Naples has been a popular resort with its famous hot springs since the bronze age, when the Greeks founded their first colony here in 770 BC. 
We came here with the Mediterranean Garden Society to visit a very special garden: La Mortella created by Sir William and Lady Walton as a sanctuary for the composer's musical creations. They arrived in 1956 on what was then a barren rocky outcrop with no fresh water supply. Susana, Lady Walton, then went on to create a lush tropical paradise with plants raised herself mostly from seeds she had brought from her native Argentina and had found in other places on her travels. The lower 'valley' part of the garden was designed by Russell Page but the inspiration for the planting was entirely Susana's.
The lush vegetation and the interplay of light and shade, water splashing and quiet depths give this part of the garden a magical feel. It is also quite difficult to photograph as the vistas often run from dark to light. The Walton's house was built into the rockface and is completed obscured by creepers so as not to impact on the garden - a revolutionary idea in those days.
We were very lucky to have as our guide MGS member Alessandra Vinciguerra, who has been curator of the garden for 15 years and head of the Foundation La Mortella since the death of Susana in 2010. Not only does she know every plant individually but she was the close companion of Susana and is able to share many entertaining and inspiring stories about this most remarkable gardener.
The garden now reaches up to the top of the cliffs with increasingly native 'maquis' style planting where there are memorials to Sir William and Susana with views across the Bay of Naples. 
The gardens are not 'static' but continue to evolve. I recommend that anyone who is in the Naples area takes the ferry across to Ischia and spend some time in this eartlhy paradise - lunch in the tropical surroundings of the tea room was excellent. I also recommend a visit to the nearby thermal springs of La Negombo, where the hot pools have been designed to appear as an ancient part of the natural scenery and gardens.
One word of advice however: do not take any unnecessary valuables or wear jewellery - a mugger tried to wrench the watch off my wrist as we were in the car and despite a furious struggle he only let go when I bit his hand! 

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