My Love Affair with an Italian

Wednesday, 2 November 2016  |  Alison

….My Love Affair with an Italian ....

An Italian lake, that is….. Lake Garda to be precise!

Nestled in northern Italy with the dramatic and jagged landscape of the Dolomite Mountains to the north and the gentler slopes and relatively level areas to the south is Lake Garda.   Italy’s largest lake, at 50 miles long and 11 miles wide at its widest point, is home to a wonderful array of trees, plants and flowers.   

With a temperate, sometimes Mediterranean, even tropical yet sometimes tempestuous climate, I visited Lake Garda in late September and there was an inkling of autumn in the evening air but the days were sunny and warm.  Ideal weather conditions, with not so many tourists about, made this a perfect time of year for exploring some beautiful parks and gardens of Lake Garda and generally taking life at a slower pace.

Strolling along pretty paved lakeside promenades with buildings adorned with colourful bougainvillea’s and pots filled to the brim and tumbling over with bright red and pink ivy-leafed geraniums whilst eating extremely tasty Gelato’s (soft and creamy Italian ice-cream), time seemed to stand still in a ‘never want it to change ‘ sort of way.

To alleviate the extra calories, climbing up turrets of ruined castles to take in the incredible lake views over terracotta roof tiles towards tall, elegant Italian cypresses, citrus trees, olive trees, cedars and palms made this trip even better than I could have imagined.


A visit to The André Heller Botanic Garden was an eye-opener.  Its original owner, the German naturalist Arthur Hruska, started in 1910, to design a hillside garden spread over some 10,000 sqm that he wanted to fill with hundreds of different species of plants and flowers from around the world.  Over the next 60 years or so he did just that and the garden has areas of majestic bamboos, a cactus filled glasshouse, tranquil lakes and streams, azaleas, acers and an almighty wonderfully gnarled  and twisted wisteria that is so tall you can’t quite see the top. 

The garden and villa were bought in the 1980’s by multimedia artist and ecology lover André Heller, who installed many quirky pieces of sculpture around the gardens, including contemporary artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring.

One of my favourites, just because it is silly and fun, was the spitting heads, located just by the loos…  If you didn’t mind a soaking, you too could run the gauntlet over the bridge!  But actually there was a more serious side to these monstrous heads on pikes- they represent the intolerance of modern man.


Now, imagine having an island of your own, in the middle of Lake Garda. Well, for the Borghese Cavazza family, it is a reality.  Isola del Garda is a magical place, only reached by boat, or a long swim. 

A real jewel in the crown for Lake Garda, Isola del Garda is open to the public for only two days a week and my friend and I were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the Italian/English gardens and house by none other than one of the owners, the animated and beautiful Alberta Cavazza, who clearly loves her home with a passion and recalled playing amongst the trees and feeling the magic of the island. 

The English connection comes from the marriage in 1965 of Camillo Cavazza to English rose, Charlotte Chetwynd-Talbot, who was brought up at Ingestre Hall in Staffordshire, located just some 25 miles from us here at Brookside Nursery and it is Charlotte who recreated a corner of her homeland on the Island.

Now, Alberta, with her 6 siblings, runs the estate and related businesses.  Her mother, Charlotte, in her 80’s, still lives on the island, with three of her children and their families, tending her English garden.  This is filled with sweetly scented damask roses, blue iris,  hydrangeas, coreopsis, geraniums, dahlias, asters, cornflowers, cosmos and day-lilies to name a few.  These sit alongside more tropical plantings of cannas, bougainvilleas, agapanthus, palms, agaves and fruit trees such as persimmons, lemons, olives, oranges and prickly pears.

Terraces overlook the more manicured gardens so they can be viewed both from above and at ground level, giving an extra dimension to the gardens, whilst the cypress, taller palms and a huge bank of colour from Oleanders in flower for most of the year are set in the more natural surrroundings of the wooded areas.

One of the more unusual trees on Isola del Garda is Taxodium Distichum ,  (bald cypress or swamp cypress) is a tall, up to 46m,  deciduous conifer, originally from the coastal plains of south eastern USA, typically The Everglades, has been grown in the lakeside shallow waters and its roots  send up rather odd looking ‘knees’ from the roots which  are known as ‘breathing roots’.  

If you get the chance to visit Lake Garda,  I would recommend a trip to this enchanted Island  to see for yourself what a wonderfully evocative place this is and how it is being looked after and shared by this generation in readiness for the next generation ……




Brookside Nursery