When one is 35 years old and wishes to establish oneself, one can either join the entertaining society or one can entertain oneself by building a fine garden from scratch. In this garden it is not enough for the visitor to love flowers to see them; here one must climb down a height difference of 100 meters to see the end of the garden by the ocean – and another 100 m up again to exit by the gate. When deciding to establish themselves, Sir Thomas Hanbury and his brother Daniel did not choose a garden site with step-free access. To compensate for the viewer’s labors, in the late 19th century the La Mortola garden was one of the most famous gardens in the world: nearly 6,000 different plants; many exotic and brought home from Asia by Sir Thomas himself.
The garden has been destroyed and reborn several times due to war and bad management. Today it is owned by the University of Genoa and is in better shape than it has been for decades. While it is lovely, and age has only made the buildings and structure more charming, I could not help but think that it lacks the more orderly feel of an English or German garden (Hanbury’s head gardener was German). Perhaps this slightly topsy-turvy current state befits a garden which after all is on Italian soil.
(La Mortola, Italy; April 2018)