Spring is a date on the calendar. The feeling of spring is what happens in the garden. Whenever it arrives at your door, it is a season of hope, renewal, buds swelling into blossoms, and new leaves unfurling color on the landscape. Spring summons joy in the soul. Even in this moment of COVID-19 when everything seems upside down, the garden grows, ignoring the noise and responding only to the changing light and awakening life.
We live in a world seemingly obsessed with lists; we have lists for the largest, fastest, tallest, longest, oldest, of nearly everything you can imagine. As I began my visit to the Padua Botanic Garden in northern Italy, I entered with the assumption; this is the world’s oldest known botanic garden. The small print in the garden brochure states it is the world’s oldest university garden in its original place of origin. The garden, in continuous operation since 1545, is a very old garden. Only the Botanical Garden of the University of Pisa rivals this claim as it was established in 1544 under the rule of Cosimo I de” Medici but was relocated in 1563. Making it very old but different.
Can you be dazzled by vegetables? In France, indeed you can.
Villandry is one of the most famous gardens in all of France. While Monet’s Giverny may be more familiar and Versailles more historic, Villandry is more fantastic for what it does with plants. Located some three hours southwest of Paris in the Loire Valley, Villandry is best known for the carpet style bedding plants in its famous kitchen garden. Villandry dazzles you with vegetables.
As I look back at my garden travel memories of 2019 the resounding theme is color! We began the year exploring South America, took a September train trip in France, Switzerland, Italy, and took a trip to Central America and Mexico, in December. Everywhere I went I found colorful food, critters, art, and, of course, colorful flowers. These images are from Central and South America, the colors in Europe are equally wonderful but that will have to be another story.
For over 40 years, a grand saguaro cactus lived two doors down from my home. When it first went in, it stood about 9′ high, a singular specimen soaking in the sun. Over the years I watched it grow taller, adding multiple arms, providing a home to cactus wrens, flickers, and doves. In the spring, it bloomed great white flowers and transformed spent blooms into deep purple tunas enjoyed by the birds.
“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,”
Giardino Giusti is an oasis of glorious green.
When a garden survives for five centuries, I know the beauty in front of me must include an equally fascinating story behind its creation. “Agostino Giusti was a Knight of the Venetian Republic and Squire of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the man responsible for the design of this lovely garden. Laid out in 1570 with all the quintessential Italian charm of that period.” (Kate Wickers, 5.7. ’12, Italy Magazine) He was a master at wool dyeing, making fashionable colors and selling it for uses of the day. He led the effort to build a wool merchants cooperative helping all maximize their fortune. His success allowed him to build a grand Palazzo, and behind his house, he created his garden.
Exploring this major Italian city delivers an absolute feast to indulge your taste for travel delights. You can window shop the high fashion scene under the glass dome of the Galleria Vittoria Emanule II, dine in elegant restaurants, and see the best of Leonardo’s work.
“The world is so filled with a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
Ask just about anyone in Paris how to get to the Arch, and they will quickly direct you to Arc de Triomphe, even if you specifically ask for the Arc of Defense. Visitors to the city of light focus on the iconic memorial commissioned by Napoleon in 1805 to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz* but my destination was the Arc of Defense.
In the early 14th century, a covered wooden bridge was built at an angle over the Reuss River to provide convenient passage between the town ramparts (defensive walls.) The utility of the bridge was essential, but decorative elements crept into the design over the years. There are a series of paintings in the rafters depicting the history of the town. Today they are dark, and in a brief visit, it is difficult to appreciate the historical significance. In 1993 the bridge caught fire, and the bridge was severely damaged. It was carefully rebuilt, and today it draws visitors from all over the world.
For me, it was the mass planting of the dragon wing begonias, red geraniums, Swedish ivy, and vinca major that caught my attention. This ribbon of color is the power of flowers. Flowers invite everyone from all over the world to walk through a tunnel of flowers.