The garden of Ninfa is often refered to as “the most romantic garden in the world.” It doesn’t hurt that garden expert Charles Quest-Ritson wrote a book about this garden using this phrase as its title. Is it a claim, a boast, or just a provocative statement meant to peak our interest?
I was curious to see this for myself. With so many romantic gardens, how could any one claim to be the most romantic? Depending on your mood, ”romantic” could take on many styles. As I planned my day trip to Ninfa, near the medieval town of Sermoneta, south of Rome, I was skeptical -- to say the least. Would I be impressed or disappointed? To heighten my anticipation, the garden is hard to get to, is only open a few times per month, and only a few hours in the morning and afternoon. Tickets can not be purchased in advance. Instead they require waiting in line for at least an hour, and then, you can only visit in chaperoned groups. I have never visited a public garden with so many restrictions.
Like other picturesque gardens, Ninfa feels like a series of perfectly composed landscape paintings. A river, a lake, mountains in the distance, and ruins are key elements. What makes Ninfa unique is that it incorporates the actual ruins of a Roman village. If you recall, the picturesque movement got its inspiration from paintings of the Italian countryside, and here we have a picturesque garden that is actually in the Italian countryside.
Monty Don and Derry Moore’s Great Gardens of Italy explains its history: “For a thousand years Ninfa was a busy town on the main road from Rome to Naples until 1381 when it was sacked by mercenaries and the remaining inhabitants, much reduced by plague and … malaria from the surrounding marshes, abandoned it.”
Fast forward to the 1920’s when the Caetani family began to shore up the ruins and to plant again. They planted cypress, pines, oaks, and cedars. But most of all, they planted roses. The rose links the garden spaces together. Roses of all varieties are everywhere. Marguerite Caetani, a literary magazine editor and wealthy American, is credited with how the garden looks today, herself planting hundreds of roses.
This garden is a dream place. To enter this garden is to enter a bubble in time and space. A garden well worth the hassle of getting there and waiting in line for tickets; it deserves all the praise it gets.
Happy Valentine's Day.