From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
“It is pleasant to have flowers growing in a garden. I make this remark because there have always been many fine gardens without any flowers at all, in fact when the art of gardening reached its height, it took to despising its original material”
“We moderns have flowers but no gardens.”
“Gardens have nothing to do with Nature, or not much”
“Tidiness is one of the last gifts of civilization. We now pride ourselves on our order – we forget how very recent an accomplishment it is.”
‘The Soul of a People’. Henry Fielding
Most of us have come under the spell of the charm of the old gardens in and about Rome, with their groves of cypress and ilex trees, their fountains and their statuary, all recalling the splendour of a bygone past, - delightful places in which to dream away the hot hours of the summer afternoons, to watch the sun slowly sinking, and flooding the desolate campagna with colour as it sets, or in which to sketch such favourite “bits” as we wish to have a memento of. But I doubt if it has ever occurred to anyone to wish to possess – let us say, the garden of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, or that of the Villa Lante near Viterbo, or, even the most fascinating of them all, the old garden on the Coelian, where St. Filippo Neri was wont to sit; and where to-day the villa to which it belongs is, during the greater part of the year, uninhabitable, owing to the malaria from the campagna below it.
None of these are gardens in the English sense of the word, a place in which to plant and cultivate the flowers we love best.
The lovely gardens of North Italy, along the shores of the lakes, approach much more nearly to our English ideal. The abundance of water in that district, joined to a climate much more temperate than that of Tuscany, make North Italy the real home of Italian gardening. And yet, – I do not know if anyone else shares the feeling I always have in these beautiful spots, belonging now-a-days for the most part to small German royalties – they are show places, lovely to look at and enjoy as part of a holiday tour, but somehow not places intended to be lived in. It is just the same feeling of want of reality that comes over one at the Riviera in spring, when life is seen under a kind of artificial condition, which you keep expecting will suddenly dissolve and melt away, carrying with it the crowd of idle men and women, the roba scarta of the London season.
The well-ordered English garden, beloved of its owners, and cultivated by them and their forefathers for generations, is not to be met with in Italy.
One has to live some time in Italy before fully comprehending that, in making comparisons, these must not be drawn between things English and things Italian, but between English and Tuscan, or Roman, or Neapolitan, or North Italian, as the case may be. And when I say that a garden in the English sense of the word, and the gardening sentiment as it has existed for centuries in England, and of which the last thirty years has seen such an astonishing development, is not to be found here, I confine myself strictly to Tuscany.
A Tuscan garden is not a thing of beauty, or toe be cultivated for pleasure; it is a commercial asset of more or less value to the owner according to the different grades of the mezzaria system on which it is worked.
In many large gardens the gardener is paid no wages, but is at liberty to make what he can by the sale of the plants and flowers it contains, only in that case it is stipulated that the owner’s house is furnished with what is required, according to the Italian standard. Italians very much dislike our English habits of having plants, and especially of bringing cut flowers, into sitting-rooms, thinking them, particularly the latter, very unhealthy.
By far the greater part of the flowers grown for the market are made up on a stiff wooden foundation of one shape or another, either for presentation on fête days, or for funeral decorations (when they are de rigueur), or for exportation.
The Vienna florists’ shops are mostly supplied from Tuscany, particularly in the matter of laurel and bay leaves, for the foundation of funeral wreaths. The stripping of the trees that goes on here for this purpose is something that would not be credited unless one had seen it. I have known the Magnolia grandiflora trees to be entirely stripped of their beautiful foliage, and standing bare and naked all the summer. These leaves are packed in large sacks and sent by rail to Vienna.