Tuesday, 8 January 2013

First Plantings 4

From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
The stanzone joined on to the house at the upper end of the court-yard, and ran at a right angle from it down into the garden.  A low brick wall divided the latter from the court-yard and ran right round it, from the stanzone end to the azalea bed before mentioned.   It was about two feet in width, and so afforded another excellent position for a display of pot plants.  Just opposite the hall-door a break in this low wall was flanked by two brick uprights, supporting old terra-cotta vases.  A  wire arch stretched between these, over which white and yellow jasmine and roses were trained.  By this opening the garden proper was entered, for the paved court-yard, with its various arrangements of pots, forms a kind of parterre, separate from the real earth.  This last we thought ourselves most fortunate in possessing, as it is quite usual in Tuscany to find the garden consisting mainly of an expanse of gravel on which pots are placed, with perhaps here and there a little patch dug out, and filled with earth.

Standing under this trellis arch and looking down upon the garden, one sees that it resembles in shape, as I have said, a Latin cross, the bar of the cross being represented  by about one third of our ground, lying across the whole length of the house and somewhat further on the west side, by reason of the ground then taking a curve as it passes the lower end of the stanzone, and winding around towards the north.  The remaining two-thirds go, as it were, to the long division of the cross.  The reason of this last portion being so much narrower is, that the wide shrubbery forming one bank of the avenue marches with our ground, and not only deprives us of our share of the morning sun in winter, but occupies soil which I felt I could have turned to much better account.  The upper part, the cross-bar of the garden, was already laid out in a fashion.  A gravel walk on the left of the entrance arch led to a most picturesque old arbour formed of wooden supports, surmounted by a huge iron dome wreathed in Virginian creeper, which had spread along the wall to the old stone archway.  No doubt this was the place from which, in former years, when the avenue was the high road, the farmer’s family used to sit of an evening and look out upon the world.

Below this a bank sloped down to the avenue, and just beyond, heading the shrubbery, a splendid old acacia tree spread its sheltering branches.  This tree was most valuable to us, on account of the shady corner it afforded, both for our garden chairs and for the plants when the summer heat rendered necessary their removal from the sunny court-yard.  Opposite the arbour was a triangular bed, the only occupants of which were a very old Lagerstroemia indica and a huge chimonanthus bush, called here “Pampadora”.    Lagerstroemias o very well in North Italy, where the brilliant colour of their flowers  adds much to the beauty of the Lake gardens, particularly in the neighbourhood of Lago d’Orta.  But this  dry Tuscan air does not suit them, and this particular specimen has been so neglected that it is a rather hopeless tree, and seldom flowers. The chimonanthus has been equally ill-treated, but it was open to pruning,  and rewards us now by an inexhaustible supply of its fragrant flowers  for the house, a real treasure in the months of December and January, when it flowers.

We dug out a good bed at the foot of the acacia  tree for hardy ferns, planting them among old tree roots and stumps.  This was carpeted with scillas, snowdrops, and yellow primroses. And after these had died down in summer, our few palm trees, and the more delicate ferns and foliage plants stood there, forming a very effective group.  There was also room in this part of the garden to stand the azaleas, in big terra-cotta conche, with which, in later years, the court-yard was furnished.  Had these been left in their winter station during April and May, the hot sun would have shrivelled up their delicate blossoms in a very few days, whereas in this partial shade their flowering was prolonged for weeks, and they had a most beautiful half “surprise” effect as one turned off the main walk to this corner, the one bit of ground that lent itself to a certain delusive idea of space beyond. Alas! The “beyond” was quite real, but it was the old shrubbery.     

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