Tony's write-up of our summer meeting in Rome.
'City of Palms'. If you weren't there, you'll wish you had been.
Tony King, 34 Keats Avenue, Romford, Essex, UK
Chamaerops No.24, Autumn Edition 1996
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
(Photos by John Churcher and Tony King)
The last days of August and beginrdng of September
saw the long awaited arrival of the third EPS 'get- together', on
this occasion in the wonderful city of Rome.
On or just before the 29th August, 54 members and
their families from 11 countries checked into the excellent Turner
Hotel, just by the ancient city wall of central Rome, which was
to be our base for the next 4 days of scheduled activities. For
many of us it provided an ideal opportunity to renew old friendships
and of course forge fresh ones.
As in any event of this size and complexity, much
hard work had gone on 'behind the scenes' over many months prior
to our arrival. A carefully arranged and tempting programme of events
had been put together by our 'host' in Rome, member Dario Peso who
came to be a real 'Mr Fix-it' for which everything we asked of him
'was no problem'! Thank you again Dario!
Our first full day
Bright and early the next morning we assembled in
front of the hotel for the coach that was to take us to our three
gardens chosen for the day. These were all located in Rome itself
and the first, the Villa Sciara, saw the coach winding through the
spectacular heart of Rome, taking us across the river Tiber and
providing a mini sightseeing tour in itself.
Villa Sciara is a large garden, perched on a hillside
overlooking Rome. We were met by Paola Lanzara who provided some
history of the garden and led a tour of the main planted area. Dario
was on hand to translate Paola's commentary. The villa itself is
currently being renovated and belongs to the German academy, indeed
it appeared to require much restoration work. Although the site
has been occupied since Roman times, given its prominent command
overlooking central Rome, the original villa and wall-s that surround
the garden were constructed around 1600 by Prince Barbarini. An
enemy of the Pope at that time, large defensive walls were constructed
around the entire property.
From 1902 the property came under the ownership of
a wealthy family from Philadelphia in the USA who, during the 1920's
and 30's spent a considerable sum on 'creating an Englisb/Italian'
style garden. 10 species of palm were introduced from nurseries
on the Italian Riviera, along with a range of conifers and shrubs,
even a topiary garden was created. During the second world war the
property was somewhat neglected, in fact the gardeners that remained
'finished off tbe last of the peacocks that previously enjoyed the
freedom of the garden, the only peacocks around today are topiary
Despite its 'neglected charm' the garden is home to
large old specimen plants, many of which are palms. Principal amongst
these are two fruiting Jubaeas providing a good opportunity to collect
some seed, many Butia capitata, showing the variability that can
be seen in the appearance of these palms, and large Wasitingtonias.
A good introduction to the gardens of this city.
Back on board the coach we headed to the Piazza Cavour
in the heart of Rome making a brief stop en route to pay homage
to a large Livistona chinensis that Dario had noticed that day growing
in the front garden of a house!
The Piazza is surrounded by busy roads, (ALL roads
in Rome are busy!), but provides a quiet place to sit and have lunch
or a welc ome drink. I should add that the weather during our stay
was great with warm, sunny days and lovely summer evenings, perfect
for garden visits. The palms in the Piazza were carefully placed
to a pattern and again were large and well established specimens.
Especially notable were the tall Brahea armata carrying their long
Infructescences, quite spectacular, as well as a number of Phoenix,
again showing great xariability in appearance.
From here we again boarded the coach for our final
destination and picnic lunch, the Villa Torlonia. Again, a large
villa in urgent need of repair but the substantial grounds at least
providing welcome service as a public park. Whilst enjoying our
lunch on the steps of the villa we were joined by a newly wedded
couple who had arrived to have their wedding photos taken in the
garden... certainly a very picturesque place but I guess they hadn't
counted on the EPS getting there first!
Again a property with a long history, the Villa's
most famous occupant must surely have been Mussolini, who would
have seen the garden in its better days. Elsewhere on the property,
which has numerous disused out- buildings, stands what remains of
a once great conservatory. Lt must have been a truly spectacular
sight when fully glazed. Amazingly we could determine high up and
back amongst the ruins, the foliage of a large cycad, probably Encephalartos
horridus . . . how long has it survived on just rainwater?!
Notable plants in this garden are many large clumps
of Chamaerops humilis, several individuals of which had fallen,
only to continue to grow in the manner of large Serenoa repens!
A group photo in fact was taken with us all sitting along such a
trunk! Numerous and sizeable Sabals also grew here as did at least
one large Brahea edulis which was carrying ripe fruit. Again, numerous
Phoenix palms, especially around the entrance where they accompanied
an Egyptian obelisk, making an incredible sight. Most were in fruit
and each trees' fruits varied in colour encompassing all shades
of red, orange and yellow.
The day drew to a close and luckily the hotel was
but a short distance down the road, so we could prepare for...
The 31st, and an early start for the nursery of Tor
San Lorenzo, south of Rome and apparently the largest in Europe.
Normally open only to trade customers we were treated to a tour
of this enormous nursery and a chance to select purchases from palms,
cycads, cacti and succulents and much, much more.
We left here after a few hours for a %course lunch
at a special restaurant, before taking a short walk down to Dario's
house. Here we were treated to a tour of his wonderful garden, enjoying
drinks and snacks in the warm afternoon sunshine and for those with
the energy, a splash in the pool! The garden proved the ideal place
for everybody to mingle and relax, enjoying the plants, conversation
and Dario and his family's warm hospitality. Dario has been adding
many plants to his garden and has a great collection, not just of
unusual palms, but superb shrubs and trees a number of which carry
great fruit. He explained just how wonderful the many citrus trees
look in winter, with ripening fruits, the blue sky and the backdrop
of Rome, just picture it!
Pride amongst the flowers during our visit though
were the Frangipani's, which, being Darin's favourite were grown
in pots in many places about the garden. . . . a marvellous scent.
lt was a pity to leave but we had arranged that evening to borrow
a slide projector and both myself and Martin and Toby, presented
two illustrated talks back at the hotel. My own covered the cycads
I encountered in South Africa while Martin's and Toby's featured
their expedition to South America.
Sunday 1st September...
Eagerly awaited, the morning sunshine saw us head
back into central Rome for the famous Botanic Garden. Normally closed
at this time of year we were lucky to have arranged a special opening
just for us. We were met again by Paola who provided some background
to this very long established garden.
A large collection of plants are maintained here,
although like so many similar gardens, a little extra funding could
go a long way! lt was possible to enjoy the arid garden, home to
a good and varied collection of Agave, Yuccas and Dasylirion. Aquatic
gardens with pools of Lotus and papyrus, beds of medicinal plants
and a glasshouse home to more tropical vegetation. Of course the
garden boasts a good collection of palms, including a mature 'leaning'
Jubaea. . . more at home in the northern city of Pisa? A huge, snaked-trunked
Nannorrhops, over two hundred years old and beginning to form a
second head to the main trunk indicating a forthcoming flower spike
is the main attraction to the palm garden. Almost certainly this
is the largest 'Nanny' in the world, its recumbent main trunk bearing
numerous 'scars' of past flowerings.
Here too are tall Trachycarpus, some with clean trunks
and neat 'rounded' leaves though not thought to be T. martianus.
A number of Brahea grow here also, notable amongst these being a
stately B. dulcis, a magical species with perfect leaves and stunning
colouration. Underused, perhaps because of their spiny nature, Trithrinax
also grow here, superbly architectural species.
All in all a lovely garden to visit, a real 'must
see'. The afternoon was free, but due to popular demand a coach
tour of the city was arranged, with the versatile Dario providing
useful commentary. . ..in English and Spanish! Those who wished
were able to hop off the coach in the city for further exploration
Our final day, Monday, and an early start for the
long drive down to Naples and the private garden of the university.
We arrived mid-morning and were given a tour of the main plant collections.
These are arranged by botanical groupings and included primitive
conifers, cycads, a brilliant and atmospheric 'sunken' tree fern
garden, rock garden for succulents, variegated plants and of course
palms! Perhaps the widest selection of specimens here, from more
palm families than seen in other gardens. Numerous Chamaedoreas
Very well maintained and with all plants looking healthy,
it was certainly a highlight of the trip for me and well worth the
long motorway drive to see. Naples itself has a very mild climate
and is more humid than Rome. lt owes this to its position on the
bay and allows, for example, large clumps of Strelitzia nicolai
to form which would otherwise be cut back to the ground by frost
elsewhere. Although climatically fortunate, I did not really like
the city which appeared in need of a good clean, and if such a thing
is possible, it has busier roads than Rome!
Rather damp weather for our return trip to Rome, with
a short break on our return to prepare for our farewell meal. A
good restaurant near to our hotel had been booked providing a final
chance for everybody to reflect upon the great few days we had just
enjoyed and the new friends made, all assisted by copious quantities
of wine and a potent Italian liqueur! Time also to accept the generous
invitation from our Spanish friends to a meeting next year in sunny
Spain in early autumn.
The meeting was indeed voted a great success by all
who attended, offering friendship, great gardens and a superb city
with so much to see. I was certainly disappointed to leave but did
so with fond memories, thanks to all who attended... .Arrivederci
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23-05-22 - 01:58GMT
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