A garden in the middle of the Sea

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”Suffice it to have a garden and a library to be fully happy”. A wise man said and maybe heard directly. But what does the expression “fully happy” means? The saying does not specify the meaning because its content is subjective ... the garden and the library become a whole that cannot be divided: complementary each other... both are equally irreplaceable in their function. The garden and the library are a unique need for those who wish, at least, a bit of faith, but most of all are able to find the conditions ...

Every garden, both simple and luxurious, is so vast, the larger for extension and in addition to the examples of life that offers us like new look shows year to year, the life becomes strong and invigorating. Beauty, grandeur, fidelity in the garden! «How ecstasy and goodness it has given to us!». These are the considerations of Raffaele Castagna, journalist and historian, published in the “ Rassegna d’ Ischia” in 2008 entitled “Un giardino e una biblioteca per la felicità completa!” (A Garden and a library full of happiness). The historian’s report is appropriate if one visits the two most important gardens of the island: Ravino Gardens, property of Captain Giuseppe D’ Ambra, who has brought in a corner of Forio, from all over the world, succulent plants and those ones present in La Mortella, property of William and Susana Walton, who have pick up from the rock of Zaro, always in Forio, two acres of land to collect plants from all over the world. They are two places of the soul, even before the mind. To see. To love.

Giardini de La Mortella

Every time one enters the Giardini Mortella, it seems to ‘visit’ the book “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Is it because over the threshold of the imposing entrance, covered by climbing plants, one would not expect to find a limitless space of greenery and flowers, it will be because we have the impression, just inside, to be in a place far, thanks to thriving plants , and color that fill every corner, from different countries and different latitudes.

Tree-ferns from Australia, Protee and Aloe from South Africa, Yuccas and Agave from Mexico, Magnolia, Bauhinie, Palms, Cicadacee, are a continuous discovery, a trip around the world, evoking far and exotic places. Instead we are in Zaro, in the city of Forio, just a short walk from the beach of San Francesco. La Mortella was elected in 2004 by Grandi Giardini Italiani, ‘The most beautiful garden in Italy’.

The work by Lady Walton, founder of the park, in fact, is known by garden lovers everywhere, (famous was the visit of Prince Charles), so that a new hybrid orchid bears her name: the Miltassia Lady Susana Walton.

The birth of this enchanting garden, stretches on two hectares, called ‘divine myrtle’ or Myrtus communis, is dedicated to love, that one between the Argentinean Susana Valeria Rosa Maria Gil Passo and the famous British composer Sir William Walton, who made their nest in bloom just there.

The itinerary of La Mortella, open since 1992, is easy showing the places of interest and the main plants starting from the valley. This part of the garden was designed by Russell Page, one of the most famous landscape painter in the 1900s. It is formed by a thin rivulet of water with several fountains such as that one octagonal ( in the middle of a terrace also octagonal), designed and made as a gift for the eightieth birthday of Sir William. It is surrounded by Magnolia, chorisia and Cycadaceae. The chirping birds and the babbling of water are the perfect soundtrack for walking in the shadow of many examples of trees selected according to shape and color of their foliage, such as the large Liriodendron tulipifere, about twenty feet high, producing flowers like yellow tulips. They host on their trunks baskets in which live epiphytic plants: orchids, Tillandsia, bromeliads and other ferns. At the foot of Walton House there is the main fountain, carved around towering volcanic rock, surrounded by tree ferns and the Madeiran Geranium, while on the warmer side stands a collection of Brahea palm, Yucca, Agave and succulent plants that love to stay dry and sunny.

A must stop at the delicious terrace to enjoy a pleasant relaxing moment with a good tea cup and slice of cake!

The walk continues toward the hill garden, drawn and created by Lady Walton since 1983, when Sir William Walton passed away. A terraced way with dry walls and sunny views with a Mediterranean greenery rich in flowery and exuberant corners.

In a position that includes not only the garden, but also the bay of Forio, there is the famous rock of Sir William, hosting his remains, a natural rocky pyramid, that Sir Walton declared to be “his stone” when the property was purchased.

Not far away from here, one finds the imposing Tempio del Sole, divided into three large places derived from an ancient cistern to irrigate, with walls illuminated by sun rays across the roof holes and mythological bas-relief, work by Simon Verity, illustrating the affinity of Apollo, the God of Music and Poetry, with other sciences, such as medicine, dance, flora, nature and ancient woods. Going up, the crocodile fall appears, surrounded by Agapanthus campanulatus and rare specimens of Encephalarthos manikensis, along the bank. An interesting item to discover is a bronze statue of a crocodile that many visitors at first glance believe is real.

When one walks along the path near the Coccodrillo zone, follows the smell. Aromatic herbs and fragrant bushes, with a collection of ornamental sage, aromatic geraniums, thymes, lavenders and plectranthus make this place panoramic up to the zone of Greek theatre that at the night offers an amazing and suggestive scenery, surrounded by trees, Mediterranean plants and fragrant essences, dug into large lava rocks and stone walls overlooking the sea.

The summer concert season organized by Fondazione William Walton and La Mortella, which proposes as a center of study for young talented musicians also offering scholarships, will meet music lovers and those who want to listen, discover new talent and experience intense emotions for evenings of jazz, theater, cinema, entertainment, opera. A comprehensive program that goes out to all of chamber music concerts in the Recital Hall of the garden.

Leaving the Greek Theatre, after the hall Thai, place of meditation and quiet surrounded by a lotus plants pond, the walk goes on to stop to the summit of Monte Zaro, from which one can admire the entire bay of Forio up to the church of Soccorso. Maybe Lady Walton, passed away last year at the age of 83, has turned into a beautiful butterfly, moving among flowers to the tune of Sir William Walton…

The Ravino Gardens

The Ravino Gardens are open to the public since 2006 and represent a zoological park, botanical garden located in the city of Forio, opposite to the Citara Bay on the western side of the island of Ischia. It occupies about 6,000 square meters with a collection, for fifty years , put together during its sea voyages by Captain Giuseppe D’Ambra.

There are five thousand specimens of succulent plants, from a total of four hundred different species, mostly of Cactaceae, in addition to about two hundred of Cycadee, Palms and Musacee, as well as a broad representation of Mediterranean flora and medicinal plants. Monumental Cereus next to a low Gruson, globular cactus, whose thorns are reflected in the golden light of sunset with wonderful colour effects.

The way of the guide tour goes along barrier-free paths among the flower beds bounded by the traditional ‘parracine’. Carved in tuff rock, there are also handicrafts that serve as furniture, such as tables, benches and flower boxes that contain the original colonies of Sedum and Sempervivum (the only native European succulent species) or copies of Aloe, Agave, Opuntie (the first import succulents in ancient and early modern era).

The sunny terraces, with succulents are connected by shaded walkways by the foliage of tall trees: carob, oak, cypress, mulberry and a giant Erithrina falcata with dazzling orange flowers. To offer shelter are the espalier of Passiflora, the Bougainvillea, Fuchsia, Aristolochia gigantea with an exotic purple flowers and arbour of appetizing vine grapes, Solandra maxima with huge yellow flowers, Thumbergia alata with its branches of blue flowers, Pereskia aculeata ,the only known variety of cactus, which greets visitors at the entrance of Ravino Gardens.

Behind the green scenes, the set is enlivened by plants in full blossoming with brilliant colours: ephemeral and persistent flowery of cactus, lantana, agave and the lively ones of those delicate Plumbago, those elegant ones of Chorysia and those of Canna indica, those ones diaphanous of Hibiscus, Frangipani, those fleshy of Schinus mollis and those ones aquatic of the lotus and water lily.

The air is scented by the fragrance of orange blossoms, citrus and coffee flowers, the scent of the flowers of Datura waterfalls, as well as saplings of Cestrum nocturnum, with lavender bushes and hedges of laurel, myrtle shrubs, but also camphor and cinnamon bark, leaves of geranium, mint, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and marjoram.

A pleasant visit to the Cactus Lounge Café occupies the white volumes of Mediterranean architecture of an ancient agricultural relevance repaired, with a millstone below, visible through a glass window open to the floor. The numerous citrus trees, tropical fruits and a small ornamental garden provide the raw material, here, in fact, one can taste the specialties of the house, the Cactus cocktail prepared according to seasons, with ripe fruits and cactus seeds.

But Ravino Gardens are also a laboratory for culture and sustainability. Visitors can take part in exhibitions, art exhibitions, craft and photography, editorial reviews, performances, film screenings, concerts of classical music, opera and light, conferences, symposia, workshops. Important seat, among other things, the G.A.S. “Megalesia” (Solidarity Purchasing Group) and the “Thomas Cigliano Associatin”, which aims to raise awareness of homeopathy of the most famous Italian homeopath in the country of Forio.

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  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
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