Visitors are welcomed in past a grove of Juglans nigra, fruiting in the autumn, towards a pomegranate walk, a vast copper beech and Parrotia persica, moving past a grove of Japanese cherries, magnolias, especially campbellii, and camellias, all coddled by the unusual microclimate of the gardens. Everywhere there were climbers scrambling up the trees, Bignonia and roses such as ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ and ‘Kiftsgate’ (one, a vast specimen planted in 1945), a number still flowering in October, including many large specimens of Rosa ‘Mutabilis’. The exotic is artfully juxtaposed with the commonplace: around one corner is a grove of bananas beneath a soaring stone pine. The whole is a considered blending of art with nature to create a magical effect. Stella told us that the site is cultivated organically and is now listed as a national natural monument, a haven for butterflies and birds, including the owls that prey on vermin. All this is maintained by five gardeners, who can be seen bicycling around the eight hectares they care for.
The afternoon visit was to the Villa Torrecchia, constructed with an eye to the charms of Ninfa, but in a more modern idiom. Torrecchia is another, but much smaller deserted village perched on the top of a hill. It is the centre of an agricultural estate bought in the 1990s by the late newspaper proprietor, Carlo Caracciolo and his wife Violante Visconti. Unlike Ninfa, there is no obvious source of water and a 170-metre well had to be sunk to guarantee the viability of the garden and is pumped around the cascades and pools. Lauro Marchetti began the 18-month-long task of clearing the overgrown site and is responsible for the new trees, many of which were brought in as well-established plants, including the many camphor trees and the wonderfully contorted pomegranates surrounding the inner courtyard. Violante Visconti then called in Dan Pearson who, at her instigation, devised a plan designed to be both ‘soignée et sauvage’. The planting around the villa is formal, with neat pillows of box beneath the citrus, and a series of rooms and open spaces gently relaxing towards the open countryside below. The entire scheme was to be white and green – even the carp in the pool are white.