Friday, May 4, 2012

Villas and Gardens

Word of the Day: 

Otiumfree time, leisure, ease, peace, repose. (Latin)

Picture of the Day:

Lunch between villas - Lee, Nancy (our guide) and Frank

On Wednesday, we hired a professor from the Department of Landscape Architecture from NYU's Florence campus to take the four of us on a private tour of some of her favorite gardens in and around Fiesole. Now, Tami is her own gardener and has the most spectacular garden in Charleston, SC, one that is often on the tours. It is sort of out of control and wild but just delicious and dripping with camellia and some prehistoric looking bird that makes its home in the crazy big live oak tree in the middle of the garden.

So, when Tami met Nancy (our guide) they were birds of a feather, talking latin names for plants and shrubs all day. I didn't care a whit for the latin names, but the sights and smells and sounds of the birds just about made me woozy. We started the day at 9:00 a.m.

We went to three different villas and here's the story:

Villa Medici in Fiesole - built late 1300s (1382?) and considered the first of the country villas designed and built for OTIUM - pleasure, enjoyment, beauty. Previous to this, the country houses provided a source of income usually from agriculture - olives, grapes, etc. The villa sits perched overlooking Florence with a straight view to Il Duomo, which would have been important. The lovely lemon trees are found in pots so they can be taken into the limonaia for protection during the winter months. Citrus trees were considered exotic and a sign of great wealth during the Renaissance and found at all the greatest of the villas. Today, Villa Medici is privately owned and tours are only by special appointment. Lucky us. When I think of the McMansions today, if only we would take our lead from these incredible homes - the way they are designed for the climate, the movement of the sun through the day, use of repetition and always appreciating the human scale.

Le Balze is right next door and is owned by Georgetown University - believe it or not, those lucky 19-year olds actually get to live here during their study abroad! It was build around the turn of the 20th Century by Scott and Pincent and included the home and the exquisite gardens that really read as room after private room built on this pesky landscape. But, hey, LOCATION, LOCATION - building next to the Villa Medici seemed to have its benefits. It really is just the most beautiful scale. Can I say more about SCALE??????

At 1:00 we went to lunch on our way to the village of Settignano, ate outside under a canopy of trees, spent two hours at the table with wine, pasta, verdure fritte (my new favorite!) which is quickly fried vegetables of the day in something that is as light as tempura batter. Just amazing!

Finally, we ended the day at what is considered the most beautiful garden in Italy (well, by Edith Wharton, at least, who wrote several books on Italian gardens)  - Villa Gamberaia. It is really quite impossible to describe because it is a vernacular that is so foreign to a farm girl from Iowa or a city girl living in New York. It is just simply the most lavish, outrageous, elegant form you can imagine. And the pictures here will have to do the work for me. Enjoy!

Villa Medici. The prototype for all second homes. If you have a cabin in Minnesota,
this is the grandfather of all cabins.

Villa Medici

Le Balze - just one architectural wonder after another. 

View from both Villa Medici and Le Balze (they were neighbors!)

Secret stair door at Villa Gamberaia

Villa Gamberaia

Tami among the boxwood

The fountain at Gamberaia  - like a wild mushroom

The villa at Gamberaia

Row of Lemon Trees

View from Gamberaia - look at the silvery olive trees!

The beautiful camellia in the grotto at Gamberaia

The lawn bowling (bocce) lawn at Gamberaia - one of the first of its kind

Limonaia - emptied for the warm season

View from the Limonaia

The place where I most want to sit and read the New York Times on Sunday morning. (Villa Medici)

1 comment:

  1. Mark and I are sitting here marveling at these lovely pictures of gardens...and you guys! What fun to keep up on you crazy kids' escapades!