Wednesday, September 29, 2010
When we think of castles we hardly think of them as viable homes. We imagine drafty, torchlit, lofty halls, and beyond these, armories and musty cellars with the buried remains of eliminated usurpers. But this, above, is the castle of Montemagno in Piemonte, home of the counts Calvi di Bergolo. It stands at the ancient center of this tiny town, upon on a hill (Monte-magno), and it's built around its first, ancient fortification, which was once the fief of the Marchesi di Monferrato.
The castle was heavily reworked in the 14th century, but its final transformation took place in the 18th century, when part of it was converted into an elegant country home surrounded by a multi-level park. Today's warm and homey rooms date from that period.
The medieval moats and drawbridges are still here. Extending from the first fortification, which later became this imposing castle crowned with Ghibelline battlements, are twelve alleys lined by the remains of an "old enclosure." The structure was enlarged and reworked over the years, but this is how it looks today, endlessly evocative from every viewpoint!
Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo. Perhaps the artist's best work celebrates the beauty of his much loved Piedmont countryside, its farm houses in a context of yellow grain and vineyards and pale blue, placid skies, but he was also adept at cityscapes, the regal architecture of his home town, Torino, with its harmoniously laid out streets and neoclassical palaces. And he was a great chronicler/illustrator of his own family life—something of an Italian Fairfield Porter. In this family sitting room shown above, little is changed from the era in which Calvi di Bergolo lived and worked here. A selection of his portraits of family and friends hang informally and unframed on the far wall just as they might have done in his studio long ago.
Monday, September 27, 2010
So often visitors here stand on the shepherd's terrace and look down into our Giardino all'Italiana and say, "Oh what a wonderful maze!" But this, in fact, is not a maze at all! Nor is it a labyrinth. In colloquial English labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices of path and direction, while a labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to its center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to follow and is not meant to confuse you. The garden above is inspired by the old Italian gardens of the Renaissance, though its origins are in ancient Persia. It's center is life, the spirit, the source, and your way to it is self-evident.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Long awaited, this handsome new book by the very talented husband and wife team, Helena Attlee and Alex Ramsay appeared moments ago on my door step. There are so many books by now about the gardens of Italy, and our garden, Villa Massei in Massa Macinaia, has been featured in too many to list here, but Italy's Private Gardens takes a fresh approach. Most of the truly famous Renaissance gardens are not included in this volume relinquishing their long-held territory to us upstarts or minor players on the grand stage of Italian horticulture. I wonder, however, how obvious it might be to readers who know my garden well that that's us on the cover—a narrow, seductive view of our "Orange Garden."
here. In the UK, here.
here. In the UK, here.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
My pot, called Ulm, has this beautiful impression/stamp, which reads Paul Gervais for Archeo, meaning that I designed the piece for Archeo, a great terracotta pot maker in Pistoia, just outside of Florence. They use the clay of Impruneta, but the actual work is done outside of Impruneta, in an industrial zone that has far less glamor than does the Chianti area where most of the best terracotta pots come from. But when the quality is so obviously high as this, who cares?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
And the jasmine faint, and the sweet tuberose,
The sweetest flower for scent that blows;
And all rare blossoms from every clime
Grew in that garden in perfect prime.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
This bulb produces tall flower spikes with numerous tubular blooms and a fragrance that is rich and sultry. With Mexican origins it's not hard to understand how this plant is ideally suited to warm weather gardening. I remember reading, perhaps in Tender is the Night, about a sea-facing garden in the South of France in which the scent of the tuberose was as intoxicating as all the vin rosé they drank. I've been in a lot of Riviera gardens but have never run into this bulb in flower. In fact, the tuberose, Polianthus tuberosa, remained a mystery to me until I grew a few bulbs in a pot this summer. And it's true, its perfume dazzles!
Sunday, September 19, 2010
As flower shops go this is genuinely new, Gartenbau Lederleitner at the Romische Markethalle in Vienna. This vaulted, vast underground space in the center of the old city attracts people in droves with its suggestions for living with flowers acted out for you in endless variation and creativity.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
A mountain retreat is the perfect antidote to long months of hard work and to the dullness of all that convenient living we've arranged for ourselves in rooms in which the walls are true and all the angles are right. This is Cafaggio, the summer cottage of Canadian art historian and author of Picturing Time, Marta Braun, and her American husband, Toronto art dealer Edward Epstein. For more than thirty years they've entertained their guests in this house in the hills not far from Lucca, mostly people in the arts, from all over the world. Every night, in high summer, this terrace is alive with conversation and banter worthy of the fabulous meals Marta prepares and serves al aperto in the black silence of star-filled skies. No prose would be too purple to describe the pleasures.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Here, that's what they're called, simply "funghi," but the other Italian name for them is porcini. Boletus edulis, which the French call cep, is a basidiomycete fungus of the northern hemisphere, and when the season is on, as it is right now, people flock to the high hilly woods in search of them. We don't have to go far from our own front door here at Villa Massei as just above us on the hills of the Monte Pisani they grow plentifully, in a good year. This perfect example shown is firm and totally white inside, as they're supposed to be, with no sign of entry by the tiny worms that can eat up their tender flesh in minutes.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
This is Villa Reale, Lucca. Sometimes called simply, "Marlia," or "Villa Marly," referring to the name of the small town that claims this estate as its greatest landmark, this house has stood here at the foothills of the Pizzorne since the 18th century, though it's seen many incarnations. When Elisa Bonaparte bought it in 1806 it didn't look at all like my photograph posted above; it was she who transformed the villa into one of Italy's greatest dimore. Since the early 20th century Marlia has been summer home to the Counts Pecci-Blunt, a family and a name that will soon, sadly, be extinct. The house is now for sale, and when it's sold, only memories of its great era of grandeur, in the "time of the Pecci-Blunt," will survive.
On a wall in the pool house, somewhat reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion in its colorful, whimsical Napoleonic style, is this enormous poster, a collage of all the years at the pool with all of the villa's famous guests in bathing suits, playing tennis or croquet, walking the gardens, each year's entries lovingly pasted up and hand-dated by Countess Mimi Pecci-Blunt, here are the illustrious visitors one and all, Ava Gardener, the Aga Kahn, Ari and Jackey, and all the world's crown heads and all of the world's ambassadors to Italy. Finished, no more! Nothing is forever. What will become of the poster, I wonder.