Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Most Beautiful Garden In The World?


If I were not committed to my darling man, if I were single and allowed to sneak a few naughty glances at other men every now and then, I think I should have a small crush on Monty Don.

Robert Redford too, but Monty is rather special. Anyone who gets emotional about gardens is a man to love, in my opinion.



Tonight, I just happened to turn the TV on when Monty's BBC show Italian Gardens was on. Did you happen to see the show? He was on his way to the Gardens of Ninfa, near Rome. He claims that out of all the gardens he's visited in the world – and our Monty has been to a LOT  – Ninfa is his favourite. It is, he said, the most romantic garden, anywhere on earth.

Tall call Mont. Raised eyebrow there. But as the show went on, I had to agree with him. It did indeed look fairly magical. Perhaps even more than Sissinghurst.



The Gardens of Ninfa are in fact a ruined medieval town, which once consisted of a castle, 7 churches, 14 towers, mills, 150 houses and 2000 villagers. Ruined by plague and malaria it was left abandoned for six centuries. Six centuries. Then, in 1905, it was saved by two dedicated gardeners: an Italian price and his sister-in-law Marguerite. Together, they cleared the undergrowth and set about creating an idyll in the Italian countryside.

You can still see the ruined remnants of the village – the "melancholy decay" as Monty calls it – but it's part of a wider, horticultural mise-on-scene of lovely rivers, dangling wisteria, spectacular roses and wandering paths. And views. Views that will make your heart stop. Views that will make you believe God really does exist, there among the climbing roses and the stone archways.

"I think that the secret of Ninfa, as with all truly great gardens, is that it enlarges us. You go to admire and enjoy, but you come out with a whole new set of parameters with which to measure life. It is, quite simply, completely life enhancing". Monty Don.


Here is the YouTube clip, should you be interested. It's a lovely piece of television. Monty's sonorous voice is the gardener's equivalent of Barry White's songs. I could listen to it for hours. Better than meditation, really. www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGEjoVlCj6A


Now I haven't been to as many gardens as Monty, but here are my favourites, out of the few I have had the privilege of visiting.

1. Villandry, France. The most extraordinary garden I've ever seen. (I shall look forward to seeing whether Ninfa is as good.)
2. Prieuré d'Orsan, France. Another beautiful, beautiful garden. The garden architecture in this garden alone is worth the trek down to Berry.
3. Sissinghurst, Kent, England (above). The history of the Sackville-West and Nicholson families is as extraordinary as the garden.
2. Bunny Williams' Connecticut Garden. I flew across the world to see this garden. It was worth it. (See the post from earlier this year.)
3. Barnsley House. Rosemery Verey's former home and garden, which you can now stay in. The Potting Shed (a luxurious hideaway) is one of the prettiest places you will ever sleep in. It even has its own small garden, and is also attached to the famous potager so you can wander around that in your PJs at twilight after the crowds have left.
4. The gardens of Lake Como. I'll try and do a post on these in the next few weeks.


I'm considering organising a garden tour next year, perhaps in May? I thought it might be a lovely way for garden-loving bloggers to get together? Do email me if you're interested and I'll try and set something up. Several extraordinary Australian gardeners I know have expressed interest, so perhaps we could bundle a group of lively, fun-loving travellers together and use our collective contacts to see a few of England's most glorious gardens?

40 comments:

  1. Yes, yes I saw it. Having missed most of the past eps of this series, I made time to watch it tonight. Wow, was I rewarded. Loved it. And the way Mr Don spoke about it sent shivers up my spine. I've googled a few sites about this and one in particular from May 2011 in the UK (gardenvisit blog) threw up a bit of controversy about his choice. Semantics! Anyway, I'm a late bloomer and my last blogpost was about this newly-found love. Btw, like your blog. I'm Sydney-based and blog at 'The Good, the Bad and the Italian'. cheers.

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    1. Yes, he gave me shivers too. He was almost spiritual, wasn't it?
      I shall have to look at the site you recommended.
      Your blog title is fabulous. xx

      BTW, I'm a late-bloomer too... I only came to gardens in my thirties, but I'm now a paid-up convert!

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    2. Isn't gardening fantastic? My twice-weekly visit to my mother's house is mostly spent checking how her garden grows and - ahem - being a little self-satisfied with my efforts there. My apartment unfortunately doesn't have a balcony so I've adopted my mum's garden and nurtured it back to life.

      Like your blog too. Very elegant. cheers.

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    3. I'm sure your mother appreciates your efforts. It sounds like the garden is benefitting from all the attention too!

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  2. I just blogged about MY man Monty. Discovered him with his book, Prickotty Bush, decades ago.

    He's MINE.

    Hope you adore Sir Roy Strong too.

    XO T

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    1. Oh, how garden minds think alike!
      Okay, you can have him Miss Tara. I'll take Robert Redford instead. (Although I think both men are already spoken for. As am I, for that matter.)

      I see Sir Roy Strong opens his garden to visitors now? Have you been?

      xx

      PS Interesting to hear of Monty's past. He's certainly come a long way. Nothing like a garden to shift depression, in my opinion.

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  3. What a fabulous garden, I missed much of Monty Don's Italian series and yes, I'd run away with him too!t I must try and get there. If you are organising a garden tour (or just love gardens) then you should try and get to see Highgrove. You don't have to be part of a tour and it really is superb. You can tell it has had a lot of money spent on it (but then don't all the magnificent gardens) but the organic approach is strong as is the design. Rosemary Verey helped a lot on the project as did other well-known garden designers. The small paved garden in front of a side of the house has to be my favourite small garden of all time and one I hope to emulate (do I mean copy??) one day.

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    1. Thank for the tip Karen. I'd already thought of Highgrove. Have been trying to see it for years. Have heard about this marvellous 'Black and White Garden' that HRH has done? Did you see it? I have a beautiful photo of the front of the house/garden that came to me from HRH's media office one day. It looks beautiful. The walled garden is meant to be lovely.

      I met Rosemary Verey at Chelsea Flower Show once, the year they did a replica of Highgrove as part of the garden exhibits. It was Media Day so nobody was around and I had her all to myself. Unfortunately, I didn't recognise her (thought she was a lost old lady!), and so I simply chatted politely for a few minutes. She finally asked me what I thought of the (replica) Highgrove Garden and then cheekily told me she had designed the real thing and walked off. Can you believe it? I've been kicking myself ever since.
      xx

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  4. Janelle, this is so funny, as I had planned to iview this episode of Monty Italian Gardens, this evening! Last night, I came home to a phone message "Quick turn the ABC on now, Monty's in the most beautiful garden near Rome, we will have to visit it!".
    Fingers crossed, planets aligned - next month in Italy, I see this beautiful garden.
    Love your idea of a garden tour.

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    1. Oh I'm so excited for you! I'm dying to see Ninfa now.
      Please take lots of photos and email me.

      And do come on our tour if we do one next May/June. Will be cheap, I promise you! I'm a very f-r-u-g-a-l traveller. Have already found the most beautiful little boutique hotels for relatively little money. Plus it's Chelsea's 100th Anniversary, so going to be quite celebratory in London that week, I think.

      xx

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  5. What a splendid tour that sounds. Utter bliss. I too adore Monty - but for his enthusiasm and passion for gardening. So infectious. Always makes me want to make my gardens more mysterious, more layered, every time I watch his programs or read his books.

    Thank you for the wonderful words of support Janelle. They are very precious to me. x

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    1. You're very welcome Miss GD. We're all thinking of you. Hugs to both of you. I've always loved your beautiful blog and amazing talent, and also your wonderful support of others' blogs. If I can do anything to help, please just let me know. I'll be there in a flash. xx

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  6. Oh and forgot to say, I love Monty's voice also, between his voice and the images, the show is quite a sublime experience!

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    1. Mmm, I think it's the voice that seduces me. I think it seduces everyone...

      Apparently, they took him off-air for a while and the ratings dropped by half, so they brought him right back. Damn straight, I say! Take that silly old Jeremy Clarkson off. Monty Don's where the money is.

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  7. Ninfa is magnificent! Totally the opposite of Villandry....wild, romantic..enchanting!

    LOVE your blog!

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    1. Oh that's so kind of you to say Sandra. Thank you.
      I'm so amazed that you've been to Ninfa? I think we ALL want to go now!

      Villandry was amazing, wasn't it? And to think they have only 7 gardeners on staff. Incredible.
      Ninfa looks lush and romantic and heavenly.
      x

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  8. Mmmm Monty, As I sat there watching him in the Ninfa garden I had some rather erotic thoughts myself. How could you not with a man so passionate!

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    1. Yes, well, I had to be ladylike as my partner was cooking chicken curry in the kitchen while the show was on. But I did think Mr Don was rather lovely. I perhaps didn't go any further than head-swivelling interest, but you can see why he pulls in the ratings. Perhaps women have a thing for gardeners? Look at Lady Chatterley's Lover. x

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  9. The Most Beautiful Garden in the World ? Yes.

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  10. Better than Sissinghurst? Your post made me reach yet again for Vita's 'In My Garden' to read when I've finished Alain de Botton. I adored Sisinghurst....I dragged my husband there about 8 years ago and to peer into Vita's writing room and then take in the view from the top of her tower was amazing. More recently when in the UK I wanted to drive the motorhome to Debo's old garden at Chatsworth yet somehow we didn't get beyond Devon and Cornwall.....if you take the tour there my hand is in the air! Rx

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    1. Oh, I haven't read that Romy. Thanks for the recommendation. I will add that to the Book Buying List now!

      I have Adam Nicholson's 'Sissinghurst', which is very good, and I want to buy 'Portrait of A Marriage', which is meant to be brilliant.

      Laughed at your comment about dragging the motorhome to Chatsworth. How funny. Seeing Cornwall in a motorhome would be bliss! (Although I hope it was summer and not winter?)

      Glad you're on The Tour. It's going to be special. Chelsea's 100th Anniversary. I think we garden lovers should be in London for The Big One, don't you think?

      x

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  11. A Garden tour!!!!!! what's the price point??? If I can I'm in!

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    1. Oh, that's great Miss FF. Cos we've voted you Tour Leader. (It happened when you weren't in the room.)

      Seriously, I think it would be lovely if you could come. I think I can persuade Miss Millie from The Laurel Hedge to come too. She'd be lots of fun. I'm very shy in real life, so we need lots of Extroverts to liven up the bus trip!

      As I commented to Romy, it's going to be Chelsea's 100th Anniversary. I think we garden lovers should be in London for The Big One, don't you think?

      xx

      PS Hope your 40th Festival is still going strong. Better make it go all year.

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  12. I do make sure I am comfortably settled in front of the TV whenever Mont is on I am so in love with all the Italian gardens he has shown and particularly the water gardens...did you see those? And yes I think I have a little garden crush on him too!!!!!!!

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  13. No Jules, I haven't seen the Water Garden Shows. Is that episode next week? He's at the Italian Lakes.
    Otherwise, I've asked Santa (aka my mother) to buy me the DVD for Christmas.
    Hope you're well and happy, and those lovely daughters are well too.
    xx

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  14. I'd love to go on the garden tour....May/June though is a bit tricky for me (2 children's birthdays mid may, and I'm organising a charity ball on the 1st June (gosh, isn't my life a suburban mother cliche?!)) If the tour leaves on the 2nd June, I'm there! Love Monty's Italian Gardens, have to catch up on it on iview.

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    1. A charity ball sounds very glam Heidi! I wouldn't know what a high heel was after wearing flats for so long. (Being a writer is the very opposite of glamour.)

      We'll just have to accommodate you then. I'm aiming for a late May/early June tour to catch the Chelsea Flower Show, but the garden part will be in June. May weather in London is always a little wet and cold and dubious; June is (mostly) glorious, and June in the English countryside is nothing short of heaven. xx

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    2. Oh goodie! If it's mostly June then definitely count me in! I was thinking the weather in May wasn't that flash in the UK too...would love to go to Chelsea though.

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    3. If you love listening to Monty Don you must read his 'Ivington Diaries' it weighs a ton but is a sheer delight.

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    4. Hi dear Bumble,

      Thank you for the tip. It's very much appreciated.

      I saw Ivington Diaries on Amazon after Tara recommended it. (Another Library reader.) It looks beautiful. I loved the cover. It must be a gorgeous book if you've recommended it. (Knowing your gorgeous taste!)
      Have now put it on the Christmas Wish List.

      Did you see Cameron Kimber's beautiful house in Vogue Living this month? Will do a post this week. Am SO in love with that interior. You have SUCH stylish friends!

      x

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  15. Wow, the Garden in Ninfa is so enchanting. Definitely worth a visit. How about Monet's garden in Giverny? I have been to Lake Como and the gardens there are beautiful too. Yes, please let us know about the Garden tour that you are organizing next May.

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    1. Completely forgot about Giverny. Will add that to the list - or do a blog post on it. Thanks for the reminder Pamela. It's beautiful, isn't it? I thought it might be a big, blowsy, iris-filled cliché, with naff little bridges groaning with tourists. But it was just so beautiful. The spring tulips and peonies were incredible. And even the Japanese garden was exquisite. The house was wonderful too, with all those rooms saturated in colour. Even the village was charming. I long to go back. Perhaps next year!

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  16. Dear Janelle

    Have also been a fan of Monty Don for some time and try to watch all his garden shows. We've been to quite a few of the Italian gardens he visits, including the Villa Cimbrone garden at Ravello and especially its magnificent vertigo inducing views, it's all fabulous! Also Axel Munthe's garden and similarly spectacular views on Capri. But have never been to Ninfa. It's my dream that one day we'll get there.

    Your garden tour sounds wonderful. Would love to go but not sure if this will be possible as we generally travel to Europe only once every two years and having just returned, husband isn't too keen on another trip in less than a year. Still we'll see.

    Would love to revisit Sissinghurst - last saw it many years ago. Other favourite gardens back then: Stourhead; Wisbech; Chartwell and Winston Churchill's gardens (the house itself is very interesting - and looks as though Winston had just gone out for a walk), including the golden rose garden that his children had created for their 50th wedding anniversary; of course some Cambridge college gardens are lovely along the banks of the Cam; also there's a wonderful garden at a private Tudor manor called Sutton Place - it used to belong to J Paul Getty and then his estate but has since been bought by a Russian oligarch, so probably not possible to see it. An English friend had access there before the sale and took us along about 10 years ago, just us and about a dozen gardeners in this vast garden. It was very beautiful with the loveliest garden "rooms". If the garden has been kept up to the beautiful standard it was 10 years ago and if you can get access, it really is wonderful. In Paris some of our favourites include the gardens at the Rodin Museum, in June it's particularly beautiful because of all the roses; likewise, Le Jardin de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, the many roses and clematis will be spectacular; the smaller courtyard gardens of the Musee Carnavalet and the wonderful paradise gardens of the Grande Mousquee de Paris which you recommended, are all lovely in June. Of course Giverny is unforgettable, the irises and the wistaria over the Japanese bridge will probably no longer be flowering but the roses will be lovely and at least some of the famous waterlilies will be in flower. Just the village itself is beautiful and worth walking around and there's a pretty hotel a short walk away where you can have a pleasant lunch in the garden. Of course the Tuileries gardens are probably at their prettiest in June too and you can enjoy lunch under the trees at Cafe Diane. Oh, it all sounds rapturous! Je voudrais y aller maintenant! We've always loved/loved/loved gardens.

    Have also always wanted to go to the Chelsea flower show, but despite having lived in the UK for five years, somehow we just didn't make it. Chatsworth too!

    Will follow developments with interest. Best wishes, Pamela

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    1. Dear Pamela,

      Do come on The Royal Tour! (As some of us are now calling it, with tongue-in-cheek humour). If you husband doesn't want to jet off again that's perfectly understandable, but I know you would just love it. (Especially as you haven't seen Chelsea, or Chatsworth.) And we would take very good care of you. If your knee is weak, don't worry; most of the gardens are not the size of Stourhead, and very few have steps. Even Chelsea FS has places for people to sit and recover! I will look after you.

      My friend Millie at The Laurel Hedge may be coming as co-tour leader and you'd like her; she's really lovely and great fun. She's a very experienced traveller and has a great eye for interesting places, as her blog The Laurel Hedge attests.

      Can't reveal too much as our itinerary is so special, but Sissinghurst is definitely on it, and I think we may have to include Chatsworth too now, don't you think? Perhaps I'l provide a Reading List beforehand, so we can all catch up on Brideshead Revisited and 'Mad World' (the story behind the novel). I've already ordered Vita Sackville West's garden books.

      xx

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  17. I am in love with Monty Don! Have the Italian Garden series on DVD.....haven't watched it all yet as I like to savour each episode for as long as possible lol! I would totally consider the Italian tour dependent on details and if it's in may or June...I find England in may so miserable! :(

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  18. Hi Sophie,
    It's actually a tour of English gardens, but we're considering an Italian tour down the track. You're right - May in London can be grey, wet, cold and miserable, and it can often rain right through to the end of the month. (Paris is the same.) I loved in London for many years and remember going to Chelsea for each of those years in my winter coat! But come June, summer almost always kicks in, and the days are balmy and beautiful. Even when there is a rain shower it doesn't last long, and it leaves gardens fresh and lovely in the sun.

    Monty Don is rather handsome, isn't he? I think it's the enthusiasm as much as the voice.

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  19. I'm not sure if this is the right spot to express interest in your tour next year. I would be really keen. Itinerary ticks all the boxes for me!

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  20. Hi janelle! Sorry typing on my iPad and wrote "Italian" instead of "England" tour! Definitely interested in the England tour (but Italian one also sounds exciting!) I shall email you my details to keep on the info list.

    I think Monty has the most wonderful voice and a way with words...he really manages to describe the spirit of the gardens.

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  21. The garden is nice, it have beautiful ambiance.

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