VILLA PERGOLA'S GARDENS
TALES FROM THE WORLD
Photographs Cristina Archinto
Text Carla De Agostini
This year, the Gardens of Villa della Pergola are officially The Most Beautiful Park in Italy, winning this prize among more than a thousand private parks, and indeed it is of unparalleled beauty: here wisteria of every shape and colour, flowers and trees from all over the world alternate on a unique view overlooking the entire Gulf of Alassio.
One of the terraces
Villa Pergola is a rare example of an Anglo-Mediterranean garden. It was created in the second half of the 1870s by the taste of General Montagu McMurdo and his wife Lady Susan Sarah Napier, who fell in love with the place and chose to maintain the classic Ligurian terracing of the previous farm and add palm trees and cypresses. Between 1900 and 1903, the estate was bought by Walter Hamilton Dalrymple and in 1922 by Daniel, son of Thomas Hambury, creator of the famous Hanbury Botanical Gardens at Mortola, not far away. To him we owe the scenic pergolas covered with wisteria and the many exotic cacti, agaves, aloes and eucalyptus trees.
After a period of neglect and decay, the Gardens were restored in 2006 by Paolo Pejrone, together with Silvia Arnaud Ricci, to whom we owe the creation of the botanical collection of wisteria with 34 varieties and that of agapanthus, today the most important in Europe with almost 500 different species.
The area of succulents
The visit to the garden is accompanied by the stories of a passionate guide. The tour begins with the succulents, where the crestate variety stands out and the eye is immediately caught by the 'monster', the Trichocereus bridgesii monstruosus, whose Mexican legend tells how one only by looking at the plant while eating any food can have strong hallucinations. Then there are several agaves, including the white agave and the very interesting Myrtillocactus whose fruits are edible and similar to blueberries.
The citrus collection
Passing along one of the oldest wisteria, one arrives at the terracing of citrus trees with more than 40 species, from which the villa's own restaurant draws to make its dishes. Here you get lost among the most diverse forms of citrus fruits and aromas; next to the classic mandarins, oranges, lemons and citrons, there are very special varieties, from the lumpy peel to the unexpected shapes that seem to come out of a storybook. Like the Buddha's Hand Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus, a very fragrant and fascinating lemon that belongs to the citron family. Born from a genetic malformation, it is devoid of pulp and each wedge develops and defines itself as a unit in its own right, almost as if it were divided from the others. In India, it is easy to find it at the foot of Buddha statues in temples as a votive offering from the faithful like two joined hands in prayer, hence the name. Then there is the Japanese Citrus tachibana one of Japan's only two citrus fruits. Originally from China, the Tachibana underwent several mutations to become a Japanese citrus cultivar, genetically isolated from the original. Officially classified as an endangered species by the Ministry of the Environment in Tokyo, the Tachibana is in the unique position of being ubiquitous in Japanese iconography but at the same time unknown to contemporary Japanese due to its rarity. In fact, most people encounter it daily, engraved on 500 yen coins but have never seen it in real life. Historically a sacred and respected flower, in the Heian period (794-1185), aristocratic women perfumed themselves by tucking bags of Tachibana flowers into the sleeves of their kimonos or threading the fruit into strings to wear as bracelets.
The Cypress Avenue
The walk continues along the green avenue of agapanthus that leads to the most romantic area of the garden where, in the restorative shade of palm trees and giant white-flowered strelitzias, is the water lily fountain, surrounded by putti covered with Ficus Repens designed by Sir Dalrymple. Along the higher terracing begins the avenue of monumental cypress trees that frame the panoramic view, until you reach the waterfall scrub where there is a rocky pond and the prehistoric Wollemia nobilis, a very rare conifer rediscovered in Australia in 1994 by the forester David Noble, very few specimens exist today, mainly in botanical gardens.
Putti covered with ficus repens
Blue and white wisteria arbour
The grove alternates between common myrtles and some ancient myrtles brought from Sicily, and scenically landed by helicopter under the direction of Paolo Pejrone himself. At the end of this itinerary, one encounters the delicate Australian bluebells, used in phytotherapy as a remedy "to open the doors of the heart, to those who live with suffering in their sentimental sphere".
Under the terracing of the cottage are the lotus pools. As a reminder of the Hanbury's links with the East, there is a statue of a dragon, similar to the one in the Hanbury Botanical Gardens, an embodiment of the elemental spirit of water, protecting against rain and drought. On the sides of the cottage, close to the walls, double-blooming hybrid wisteria, known as Violacea Plena, have been planted, enriching the pergola with a deep purple hue. The path ends with a marble staircase surrounded by large leaves of farfugium japinicum and a pergola of flowering wisteria providing shade, with breathtaking views of the gulf.