Friday, 4 July 2014

Villa Lante - Boxed in


The third garden on our Lazio list, Villa Lante, was our first  Italian Renaissance garden.  Formally styled, highly controlled, no discernible flowers.  I remember Monty remarking that in some of the Renaissance gardens these box hedged patterns would originally have been home to flowers and herbs but I quite like the sparsity of colour and rigidity of design at Villa Lante.  As it happens it is not Monty that has drawn us here but a recommendation from Alys Fowler on twitter where she mentioned that it was charming and quiet.  Alys was right on both counts - it is small, perfectly formed and surprisingly, we have the place to ourselves.

Villa Lante is an example of the Mannerist phase of the Italian Renaissance - you can read the 'science bit' here.  I don't generally read too much information in advance of visiting the gardens, I prefer to have a rough idea of their history and then my own emotional response to them. I wonder if this is a mistake. I know how much difference having an audio guide makes to the experience of visiting an art exhibition and how it can give life and purpose to paintings and artwork that I might otherwise just wander past.  Do I need to understand a garden to appreciate it?

There is plenty to appreciate at Villa Lante whether you are informed or not. The intricate and precise patterns of the box hedging

fab fountains

statues with the requisite lichen and moss

But there was also an annoying  down side to Villa Lante - when we visited,  much of what is a relatively small garden in the first place, was chained off.  Even the main terrace with its maze of box hedging was only possible to view from a central walkway, yet everything about it begs you to wander through the design itself and discover its hidden fountains.

What strikes me first during our visit is that the garden is designed to be viewed from the top terrace and there are going to be a heck of a lot of steps to climb. My energy is limited so hauling myself to the top had better be worth it!

When I did a day's Photography Course with Clive Nichols at RHS Wisley the one thing I remember is his advice that the lens you should use most for garden landscapes is your telephoto to bring the background into the foreground.  The two photos below illustrate why - the first makes the top terrace of the garden seem a realistically long way away,

the second, taken with the telephoto lens, is the more attractive picture, but gives the impression that you could be up to the top with a leap and a skip.

I am determined that having come all this way I am not missing out on the top terrace view, I want to get the shot of the view down the terraces from the top of the long rill. Here we have it

and for no obvious reason some b****** has stuck a builders rod  and tape right in the middle of it spoiling the shot!  I am tempted to take it out to get a perfect photo or to photoshop it out later on but am minded to remember Anne Wareham's views about prettifying and perfecting gardens in this way, airbrushing out their faults like magazine models.  (It is odd how Anne has come into my consciousness at these gardens, I feel like she is there with me EEEEK!)

This was the Bedsock's favourite bit of the garden - the grotto at the top. By this time we were so annoyed by the amount of restrictions to the public that he took the chains down for his photo.  I guess these chains were to discourage small children from drowning themselves and adults from paddling in the water.  Personally I would either give people credit for some common sense, or discourage small children by not letting them in,  or let them suffer the consequences. Otherwise, unusually for Italy, it all gets a bit 'health and safety'.

Overall a very lovely garden with fabulous vistas, compact but with interest on each different terrace.  Is it a 'bucket list' garden? For me it is grouped with other slightly similar Renaissance gardens at least one of which should be seen before you pop your gardener's clogs.  I was glad that we had picked Villa Lante from this genre.

As I waited for the Bedsock to retrieve the car and collect me from the gates I noticed this chic, intricate, moth.  I tweeted a photo of it requesting identification and resident twitter expert on everything Simon Suter identified it as a 'boxtree moth'. By coincidence a night later there was a TV programme warning about the imminent invasion of the UK by these critters.  It was no coincidence that the 'boxtree moth' was hanging around a garden full of hedges!

BTW  A little brain teaser for you.  12 letters. What do you call someone who likes making love to an entomologist?


Simon.S said...

I see Alys Fowler gets "Twitter" credit but I don't !!
I guess you know who your friends are.

Simon Hanson said...

In answer to the question:

a moth**f**k**

Thank you for your posts from a long-time lurker

VP said...

Quick, check your clothes for moths eggs! ;)

I'm enjoying your garden tour tremendously. I would have been tempted to leap over all of those chains and b*gger the consequences!

Definitely worth foregoing Chelsea et al. for this holiday :)

Arabella Sock said...

Simon S. You are quite right and I have now acknowledged you vast wisdom not to mention your astonishing google skill.

Simon Hanson - welcome, I love a lurker. Correct answer of course.

VP - I wonder if people kill that moth when they see it? I think it moved into Europe from Asia and has been causing problems. We did wander over some of the chains but it was particularly annoying in some places where it prevented getting a decent photo as they had chained off the best position to take the pic from.

Anonymous said...

Stunning moth, and I love the rill. Do the Italians not go in for flowery perennials and big borders? Everything seems to be green. Like they are all designed by men....

Anonymous said...

No matter where you go there's always something spoiling the perfect shot. My dad always used to complain about scaffolding which seemed to follow us to wherever we went in Europe. I do like how Italians cover up buildings having work done on them with a hanging screen of fabric printed with an image of the restored building. I'm not sure if they still do this but when Ian lived in Vicenza 15 years ago it was a notable feature of the town.

It's almost as if the Italians don't want you to visit their gardens. ;)

Arabella Sock said...

Wellywomanblog - the funniest photo spoiling was in Japan where there would be nobody around for miles except the person who for no apparent reason has wandered into your shot and just stands there even if you wave at them to go away! They're whole photo-taking culture is quite different I think.