Gardens on the island of Ischia
The Mortella Gardens
The Mortella Gardens, located in Via Francesco Calise in Forio d’Ischia, are definitely among the most beautiful and emotional private gardens in Europe and are a must-visit. So beautiful that they have received two awards: the Mortella Gardens won first prize in the competition for ‘Italy’s most beautiful park’ in 2004, and in 2012 they were awarded the maintenance prize recognized by the Grandi Giardini Italiani.
The Mortella Gardens today are the result of the passion and sacrifice of over 60 years paid by Mrs. Susana Walton, wife of Sir William Walton, one of the greatest English composers of the 20th century, awarded by Queen Elizabeth with the title of Knight (Sir) in 1951 and the title of the Order of Merit, the highest English honor, in 1967. Sir William Walton was romantically linked for 15 years to an older lady from the English high society, Alice Wimborne, who helped him cultivate his inspiration and build his career. After he was left alone, during a visit to Argentina he met Susana Gil, a girl 22 years younger than him. The two fell in love quickly and got married after only a few days.
The Walton couple decided to move to Ischia one year after their marriage, an island that Sir William Walton had had the opportunity to know and admire in the past. Both of them quickly fell in love with Ischia and decided to buy a piece of land in a volcanic gorge in Forio d’Ischia, in the locality known at the time by the dialectal name “le mortelle,” a term that indicated the area where myrtle bushes grew in the rock. The new property of the Waltons was named after the locality and was called “La Mortella.” From the beginning, Mrs. Susana, a nature lover, dedicated herself to creating a garden. Initially, she was helped by the English landscaper Russell Page, but soon she alone devoted herself with all the passion she had to creating the gardens. Year after year, the gardens grew and took shape, until they became the current Mortella Gardens. The property, which at the time of the Walton’s purchase consisted only of a barren land full of volcanic stones, is now known all over the world. The Mortella Gardens extend over several distinct levels, called gardens in the valley and gardens on top of the hill.
A few years after the death of Sir William Walton in 1983, the William Walton Foundation was founded in 1991. It is under the patronage of Prince Charles of England and serves to support young musical talents from all over the world. Also in 1991, the Mortella Gardens were opened to the public. Lady Susana personally ruled there as a lovely hostess until her death in 2010 at the age of 83.
The gardens and foundation continue to be managed according to the desires and example of the Waltons and constitute an absolute highlight on the island of Ischia.
The Ravino Gardens
The Ravino Gardens are a tropical-Mediterranean botanical park, which houses a rich collection of succulent plants, commonly known as “fat plants”. Visitors can stroll along paths lined with cacti and other rare plants, gathered by Giuseppe D’Ambra, a seasoned seafarer and passionate plant enthusiast, during his travels around the world.
Over his 40 years of traveling, Captain D’Ambra always returned to Forio with bags full of cuttings and seeds from rare plants. The mild climate and fertile soil of Ischia island, as well as the western exposure of Captain D’Ambra’s residence, facilitated the growth and reproduction of this exotic flora.
The idea of creating a park only arose in 2000, when the land in front of Mr. D’Ambra’s B&B was put up for sale; he purchased it over a year later for the purpose of cultivating all the plants and seeds he had collected. The first step was to uproot the vines in the soil, which were then donated to a nearby vineyard when they were still in good condition.
There were many difficulties encountered due to the excessively flat tendency of the terrain, which was not suitable for succulent plants, which are not tolerant of water stagnation. Over the next four years, the land was drained, the plants buried, the old farmhouse recovered, and a path for disabled visitors was created. All this hard work finally paid off with the inauguration of the Ravino Gardens on April 1, 2006, which is a source of pride for the entire D’Ambra family.
The Ravino Gardens cover an area of over 6,000 square meters and offer a 500-meter walking path. Along the path, visitors can admire over 3,000 items and 800 varieties of succulent plants, including exceptional botanical rarities.
The path is enhanced by original exhibitions of bonsai, art, and crafts, and it is not uncommon to encounter peacocks, ponies, and small goats strolling around freely.
Dozens of citrus varieties, native aromatic plants, various flowers, and palm trees can be appreciated in the Ravino Gardens. It is worth highlighting the bonsai collection and the courses offered to learn this ancient art.
In the watercourse created on the western side, visitors can find water lilies, coffee plants, tea plants, sugar cane, soap plants, and of course, an extensive collection of rare and precious cacti and succulents.
To understand the rarity of the exhibited flora, it is sufficient to consider that there are just over 200 specimens of “Wollemi Pine” in Italy, and the Ravino Gardens are the only ones in southern Italy to possess one. The “Wollemi Pine” is a true Jurassic plant believed to have been extinct for 90 million years, but in reality, it is one of the few survivors from the time of the dinosaurs, rediscovered only in 1994 in Australia. This plant is included in the list of endangered species to be conserved.
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