While Italian gardens are an ode to geometry and precision pruning, English gardens pay homage to the wilder side of nature. Well, maybe wild is a bit of an exaggeration – these are still man-made gardens, after all – but the style is definitely wilder than the design of the Italian gardens of Boboli...
That’s right, our walk today explores an English garden. The nice thing is that we’re staying in Italy – no borders to cross, and no need to go to England...
We’re in Caserta, half an hour north of Naples, and more specifically in the park surrounding the Bourbon Royal Palace, landscaped in an English style. To tell the truth, this style only applies to one part of the park, which is enormous and truly princely, a kind of Italian Versailles.
The 120-hectare grounds, encapsulating three centuries of garden design, were laid out by Vanvitelli (the same architect who worked at Versailles, in fact).
Gianni, my dad’s best friend, once told me that as a child he had lived inside that very palace. I was only little and I didn’t quite understand... if he lived in a palace, did that mean he was a prince??? I mean, was I talking to a future king in the flesh, and a friend of my dad’s no less?!
In reality, he wasn’t a royal descendant. Gianni came from a military family – to this day, the Palace houses private accommodation for the Italian Air Force. Anyway, all this preamble was to tell you that his favourite game was played there, in the English garden section of that immense park. With his friends, he raced to climb the centuries-old magnolia trees. Although very tall, they had plenty of branches, so getting to the top was easy: one step after another, one branch after another. He almost always won... he was no prince, he was a champion!
From mid-February onwards, the magnolia trees are first dotted with buds, then with large, white and pink, fleshy flowers in the shape of cups and with the texture of velvet. The flowers precede the sprouting of the leaves, and admiring these trees – up to 30 metres tall and sprinkled with “nude” flowers – is a truly unique sight.
I too would love to climb to the top, among the flowering magnolias (I’m not at all capable of it, of course). I would love to breathe in that heady scent of melon mixed with lily and honey... Can you smell it too?
Lots of love from up here! Ciao!