Although Villa Gamberaia is outside Florence (a 30 minute No 10 bus ride from San Marco Square), it has been designed so the view of the city becomes part of the garden itself.
It’s a garden that has been much written about, ‘Nowhere else in my recollection have the liquid and solid been blended with such refinement on a scale that is human yet grand without pomposity..’ wrote Harold Acton. ‘It leaves an enduring impression of serenity, dignity and blithe repose.’
Certainly, the water parterres help with this feeling of serenity. It’s hard to imagine now the shock the replacement of formal flower beds with water must have caused when Princess Ghika transformed the gardens at the beginning of the twentieth century. According to Monty Don in his Italian Gardens programme (a clip is given below), Princess Ghika was a Rumanian Princess who went out heavily veiled after she had lost her famous beauty, and would swim in these pools. I hope that she took off her veils in the gardens at least so she could see the beauty she had created.
The photograph above was taken from the terrace – it’s a garden to be admired from all angles and at every window from the house, which has a beautiful inner courtyard as well.
And it was seeing this courtyard that made me realise that, despite the view, all the statues looked inwards as well. Almost as if they were giving permission to forget the outside world and take sanctuary in the garden.
And despite its relatively small size, the garden contains contrasts and surprises. The intimate rockwork garden for instance, which led from the bowling green:
And then there’s the Nymphaeum:
And gates everywhere, taking you through to explore another sense – another atmosphere.
Again, as with the other Florence gardens, we went at the wrong time for flowers but I imagine that the box topiary shapes would dominate anyway. The shapes again suggest floating, or clouds.
But, do you know what, this is a garden that encourages silence, introspection and bliss. I can’t imagine visiting here and walking round carrying on a day-to-day chat, so I’ll shut up now and let you enjoy it for yourselves.
The amazing thing is that, although it is privately owned, you can actually rent out the villa and stay there.
Imagine writing in this room… what did Cicero say? ‘”If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
But I had to take my notebook home to write – this time at least! I took the shape of the garden for my piece, and took courage in the fact that a garden, even one as fine as Gamberaia, is too a work in progress!
Forget love; it’s stories of lost beauty that capture me now. For a Rumanian princess to veil herself through shame at the lines life had left, for her to swim only at midnight when all the garden visitors have left. Did she keep her eyes shut even then in case she caught sight of her reflection, or did she float looking out at the view through a net film?
Found in the forest car park
a top-shelf magazine, girlie
and me, tramping it into the puddle
but the photograph won’t stop smiling
back at my brothers, their laughter.
Stop a minute.
Get out of your brain.
Think with your feet,
Move, feel, taste life.
he’d hold the earth
right up to our faces,
‘that’s the fens that is’.
At night before sleep,
I’d take his hands,
pretend to plant
potatoes in the creases.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
but my father had a trick
whereby he’d twist our heads
this way and that,
pull coins from our ears.
who made it
And here’s Monty Don’s piece on the garden which gives more of the history: