Monty Don introduced me to the Garden of Ninfa via his marvellous book ‘Great Gardens of Italy’. Ninfa is a wonderful romantic garden, built in the abandoned ruins of an ancient medieval town near Sermoneta, about 45 minutes outside of Rome.
In order to protect the delicate balance of crumbling ruin and natural planting, Ninfa is rarely open to the public. Visiting and opening details are here on the translated Caetini Foundation website. Last year I mistimed a family trip to Italy and we missed the Ninfa opening weekend for July, I had not realised that Italian gardens do not open in the same way as English gardens. That year, I also led my family on foot in 40 degree heat across Rome to the Botanic gardens to find them shut as I had not checked the opening times. Thankfully I have an understanding family who do not moan and we just walked on to Trastevere and ice-cream. Ninfa also closes for a two hour lunch break, so timing is everything.
We arrived before the Sunday morning opening of 9.00 a.m. All public visits are by guided tour only and the tour led by an English speaking guide was due to start at 10.00a.m. It had poured the day before, so waiting in the welcome Sunday sunshine was quite relaxing and just added to the excitement of visiting. We were joined by a couple from Australia and two ladies from America and had time to discuss Italian gardens and the best in show Australian Chelsea garden.
Our very knowledgable tour guide led us all on the pre-planned route; there is no veering off and we were called back if we strayed or lingered too long in any one place. The tours are well timed so that groups do not see each other. My husband took notes for me and I tried to photograph as much as I could in a giddy frenzy. The bright sun was a mixed blessing as it was tricky to capture the colours of Ninfa.
Ninfa is described as planted in the English Style. There are 160 cultivars of Roses that run through trees, climb the walls of ruins, are planted in isolation, planted within borders and are reflected in the water. There are 2000 other plant species brought together from all over the world and they thrive in Ninfa’s protected microclimate.
I did not find the rose running through an Oak Tree that took Monty Don’s breath away in his inspiring TV series but I did fall in love with this evocative garden.
At the end of our tour we went for lunch at the trattoria Ghost in nearby Sermoneta. The chef said lots in Italian, we nodded back and were served one of the nicest lunches we have ever eaten. Then drove back down the hill past the stunning wildflowers and went back to Ninfa.
There wasn’t another English tour in the afternoon, so we joined an Italian spoken one. The second visit was even more magical. Another lady also photographing sighed and said “bella” many times. We just smiled at each other, we understood the emotion without the need for words. The bright sun was calmer and as we were the very last tour our guide was relaxed and let us linger a little longer.
The late Spring meant we were lucky to see so many Roses still in flower, the sun shone and we were blessed to visit this most moving and romantic garden.