Giardini La Mortella -Heaven!

You  will have seen from my recent posts here and here, my sons and I visited Italy last week for a holiday.   We were based in Sorrento and had a fab time exploring the area but I was tempted by a trip to the island of Ischia particularly as it included a visit to Giardini La Mortella, the garden created by Susana Walton, wife and widow of the composer William Walton.  The trip, for 3 of us, was quite expensive as it involved a hydrofoil trip out to the island (50 mins each way) plus a tour of the island etc.  I ummed and arhed about the cost and to be honest drove the boys mad on the subject.  They weren’t particularly bothered as they would be quite happy now to never visit another garden with me having done this for years.  I decided to go for it at lunchtime the day before the trip but couldn’t get hold of our rep to book it – oh well so bit it, it wasn’t meant to be.  Then lo and behold, on walking out of our hotel to go into Sorrento for dinner who should be dump  into but the rep and a booking was mad – gulp as large sums of money left my account.

The trip across to the island and around the island on a coach were interesting.  Ischia is called the Green Island as its made primarily from volcanic rock, in fact we saw houses which were built into the volcanic rock like cave dwellings!  After a nice lunch overlooking a beautiful bay we finally got to La Mortella.  I was quite excited especially as we were given a map and brief guide on the coach and my curiosity was really piqued.  By the time we reached the garden around 1pm it was seriously hot up in the high 30s, certainly not ideal for visiting a garden but never mind.

What immediately struck me was the lushness of the garden and the sheer size of some of the plants.  As you can see in the photo above if you compare the person to the trunk of the plant, although you do have to make some allowances for perspective!  We first went up to the Upper Fountain and Victoria House, which housed the Victoria Lily (see top pic).

The garden is built amongst the volcanic rock outcrops and was designed in 1956 by Russell Page.  The whole  garden is built on an extreme slope so there was lots of steps as you made you way up to the highest point by the Thai House.  As you climbed up you go in and out of shade and I must admit we did seem to rush from one area of shade to another.  The planting around the numerous ponds and fountains was very lush and exuberant.  I was particularly struck by the amount of ferns like the one above, the last time I had seen these was when I visited Australia many years ago.  I can’t remember their name but they don’t need soil and grow on the side of trees.

Although the areas that were open to the sky meant we were subjected to the unremitting heat they did provide stunning views

I have never seen this range of plants growing anywhere apart from in tropical glasshouses.  One of the boys said it was like being at the Eden Project but without the domes.  It was so different from my experiences of garden visiting that I was completely blown away and just didn’t know where to look first.  The only thing that slightly distracted from the garden, apart from the heat, were the railings along the paths and the odd large sign with a number on which helped the visitor locate their position.  These were helpful as we got very lost but I do prefer more private gardens and as one of the boys commented it did feel like it was the equivalent to a gardening  Disney World, particularly the Crocodile cascade (below) which had crocodile sculpture and was a little gimmicky.

I really liked the pool area up by the Thai House.  This was far more relaxed, as you can see below, shady and how I would love my wildlife pond to look if only we have the climate!

The interior of the Thai House struck  me as the structure of the chairs and the surround were very simple but striking and the darkness of the interior was a welcome relief and very calming.

The tarmaced paths throughout the garden also for me made it feel more like a public space or visitor attraction.  I would have preferred if they were finished in a different material may be gravel, it would have been softer.  But I noticed in some photos that Susana Walton used a mobility scooter towards the end of her life; she died in March and so you can see the logic of this material  being used.

How about this (below) for a view whilst you watch a performance – stunning! Being married to a composer it is hardly surprising that the garden should include a theatre.  The performance is done on the roof of one of the buildings and the audience sit in a sort of Greek Theatre arrangement -stunning.  There is a series of performances, mainly of William Walton’s material throughout the summer.

As I have said Susana Walton died in March and at the far point of the garden, there is a look-out point and by this a memorial to Susana has been created (below).  It is very touching and quite  beautiful especially the way the shadows of the gazebo work across the fountain.

On our way back the garden we stopped off for a well needed drink at the Bar (below) and I have to say that this is one of the best appointed ‘tea rooms’ in a garden that I have ever come across.  Could have stayed here all day, gazing out at the views.

I thought at this point we had seen most of the garden but we realised that  somehow we had missed the Main Fountain garden and this  blew me away. Why – because for the first time in my life I  saw Lotus flowers growing outside and they were simply stunning.  I haven’t included a close up here as I posted a picture earlier in the week.  Not only were there Lotus flowers but other tropical water lilies.  It was just so different to my experience of ponds and felt incredibly exotic.

I took lots of pics of the pond and the plants in it but by this time the light was really strong and proving problematic for photos plus the area was quite large so it was difficult to capture the essence of the pond in a photo.

So my overall impression of La Mortella was one of wonder, excitement and amazement.  To see these plants growing outside and not in a controlled environment was a real treat.  There were bits I didn’t like such as the Temple to the Sun, which I  don’t think works at all (hence no photos!) but then it would be a dull world if everything was wonderful.

If you ever get the chance to visit Ischia and La Mortella do – you wont regret it but maybe a visit earlier in the year than the end of July might be a good idea.

17 Comments on “Giardini La Mortella -Heaven!

  1. I remember a little girl (4 years old?) visiting the gardens in Victoria, BC with her grandmum and upon walking into a garden area, kept saying “Oh my goodnish, Oh my goodnish”. I find myself echoing her sentiments when I look at these pictures. Wow!

    Wonderful blog, I’ve just discovered it. You give me some great ideas.

  2. It sounds like it was a good investment. I would love to see this garden, as Russell Page’s “The Education of a Gardener” was one of the first books on gardening I read. I’ve also seen some program that visited the garden and the tour was given by Susana Walton, before she had mobility issues. It looks just wonderful.

  3. Oh Helen, What an interesting garden! I love that the garden was adapted to accommodate Walton’s disability in later life, and that performance space is stunning!

  4. I am so glad that you posted these pictures, Helen! We plan to visit Italy soon, but we’ll be closer to Capri and I won’t see this particular garden. I am getting very excited about the trip, even started to study basic Italian. Any ‘must’s which I have to know before the trip?

  5. Oh, I am so jealous! It’s so gorgeous. I’d love to go to a concert there – what could be better than sitting surrounded by all that listening to Walton’s lovely music. I’m so glad you decided to go in the end.

  6. I visited the garden a couple of years ago and actually I was very dissapointed. I found the planting rather boring. I thought the original garden designed by Russel Page was delightful but I felt Susan hadn’t really added anything worthwhile to that. I’m sure the pathways are more for the ease of concert goers than to cope with Susan’s disabilities. Also the memorial seems very familar from my visit, I don’t think it is new; I’ve been looking for my photos but they aren’t on my pc any more. My best memory of Ischia is swimming in a bay that had a hot water spring coming up, so though the sea water was cool, this bay was warm – actually I saw people boiling eggs in the rock pools on the beach. Christina.

  7. Lovely post Helen. So glad you were able to go since you wanted to so badly. I would love to sit in that tea room too and what a great place to experience a concert!

  8. I have dreamt of visiting La Mortella for years… Reading your post I wonder how differently I will experience the gardens, as “exotic plants” are to be seen in many of the warmer South African gardens. My experience in the UK has always been disappointment in the exotic gardens,but perhaps because it is the very Englishness I seek out. Italy will be different, I guess! Jack

  9. Lucky you – this garden has been on my gardens to visit list for a long time. Fancy the outdoor concert room with the view to die for!

  10. Helen, You have such a good eye and a gift for description. I agree that some spaces are wonderful and others… not so much. I think the best parts are Russel Page. I visited La Mortella in September. It was still hot. Early in the season is probably the best time.
    Enjoyed that tea room too.

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