PIEDMONT

BOTANICAL GARDENS OF VILLA TARANTO
A walk between aesthetics and botany

Z6I_2497.jpg

The putti fountain

Photographs Cristina Archinto
Text Carla De Agostini
 

In 1930, Scottish-born captain Neil Boyd Watson McEacharn, who had known Italy since childhood, reads an advertisement for sale in The Times and discovered that the Contessa di Sant'Elia's property is on sale. Intrigued, he immediately goes to see it; he has been looking for land for more than two years to build a large garden of his own. Impressed by its potential he immediately buys it and the following year settles in the villa on Lake Maggiore. He first changed its name: from La Crocetta to Villa Taranto, in honour of one of his ancestors who had been named Duke of Taranto by Napoleon Bonaparte, and then began hard work on the garden in order to create diversified but at the same time harmonious and original microclimates. 

Z6I_2552.jpg

The Terraced Gardens

Today, Villa Taranto is a veritable gallery of botanical art, with thousands of species of plants and flowers from all over the world: the 8,500 species surveyed by McEacharn himself in 1963 now number almost 20,000. Eucalyptus trees, azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, maples, camellias, dahlias, tulips, lotus flowers, heathers, hydrangeas, numerous tropical plants and even rare specimens are distributed in thematic zones such as the Conifer Avenue, the Tree Ferns Valley the Giardino all'Italiana, the Giardino delle Eriche, the Labyrinth of Dahlias, the Greenhouses of Tropical Plants where Victoria Cruziana and Amazonica are cultivated, which arrived at the Villa in 1956 from the Stockholm Botanical Garden. The Captain's plants come from all over the world, especially from the rich English nurseries, the Royal Gardens of Kew, Edinburgh and the Royal Horticultural Society. But also from France, Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe, Japan, South Africa, the United States and Australia. They are joined by Italian floriculturists, such as Countess Senni of Rome, founder of the Italian society 'Amici dei fiori' (Friends of Flowers), who gave him numerous varieties of irises, and Prince Borromeo, who in 1949 donated two rare plants of Metasequoia glyptostroboides to the Villa

Z6I_2508.jpg

The area of succulents

The valley

Today, Villa Taranto is a veritable gallery of botanical art, with thousands of species of plants and flowers from all over the world: the 8,500 species surveyed by McEacharn himself in 1963 now number almost 20,000. Eucalyptus trees, azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, maples, camellias, dahlias, tulips, lotus flowers, heathers, hydrangeas, numerous tropical plants and even rare specimens are distributed in thematic zones such as the Conifer Avenue, the Tree Ferns Valley the Giardino all'Italiana, the Giardino delle Eriche, the Labyrinth of Dahlias, the Greenhouses of Tropical Plants where Victoria Cruziana and Amazonica are cultivated, which arrived at the Villa in 1956 from the Stockholm Botanical Garden. The Captain's plants come from all over the world, especially from the rich English nurseries, the Royal Gardens of Kew, Edinburgh and the Royal Horticultural Society. But also from France, Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe, Japan, South Africa, the United States and Australia. They are joined by Italian floriculturists, such as Countess Senni of Rome, founder of the Italian society 'Amici dei fiori' (Friends of Flowers), who gave him numerous varieties of irises, and Prince Borromeo, who in 1949 donated two rare plants of Metasequoia glyptostroboides to the Villa

Z6I_2492.jpg

The fern with the Dicksonia antarctica

Strolling around Villa Taranto, one cannot help but be enchanted by never-before-seen plants such as the beautiful Pterostyrax hispidus, commonly known as the epaulette tree, as the flowers resemble the epaulettes that adorned soldiers' clothes. These beautiful clusters of flowers swaying in the breeze attract many birds and give off a delicate fragrance, or the Emmenopterys henryi of the Rubiaceae family, a white-flowered tree that can be up to a thousand years old and is native to the temperate areas of central and southern China and Vietnam. Also in the fern valley you can admire the Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns native to eastern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, which resemble dancers. To conclude, strolling through the garden of Villa Taranto is something that really leaves its mark and takes you through shapes, fragrances and the world in a sublime setting.

Pterostyrax hispidus

THE BLOSSOMING OF RHODODENTRONS

Rhododendron flowers are famous for their bright colouring, appreciated since ancient Greece, where they were known as the 'rose tree', from rhodon, rose and dendron, tree. They can be flat, bell-shaped or funnel-shaped and in some varieties, may be slightly perfumed. Very fascinating is their flowering: several flowers are produced from each bud, usually six or seven, each consisting of five petals and the anther, which contains the pollen. This grouping is technically a corymb, i.e. a regular cluster of buds at the end of the branch. The term is derived from the Latin corymbus, 'cluster inflorescence', borrowed from the Greek kórymbos, 'highest part, top'. This phenomenon allows the blossomed flowers to be all at the same height, as for example the elderberry. The rhododendron is a member of the Ericaceae family, like azaleas, and is a plant native to the Orient that loves cool, moist conditions. The oldest records of the rhododendron's existence take us back to 400 B.C., to Xenophon's soldiers who, returning from Babylon, camped in the hills of Armenia and almost ended up being poisoned by honey made from the nectar of the poisonous Asiatic wild species. The first wild and later cultivated species was the Rhododendron hirsutum also known as the 'alpine rose', of which there are records as early as 1500.

GALLERY

Photo ©CRISTINA ARCHINTO

More Gardens and Parks