Jane Brown

Bella vistas

Many moons ago when I went to Sissinghurst to ask Nigel Nicolson (late of this parish) if I could write about his mother, Vita Sackville-West, he raised his hands, and eyebrows, in horror, ‘Oh! Not another book about my mother!’ These two titles on Italian gardens may provoke a similar reaction, for there has been a recent run of revisiting via Charles Latham’s vintage Country Life photographs, Edith Wharton’s Edwardian musings and Georgina Masson’s 1961 classic, now revived.

Many moons ago when I went to Sissinghurst to ask Nigel Nicolson (late of this parish) if I could write about his mother, Vita Sackville-West, he raised his hands, and eyebrows, in horror, ‘Oh! Not another book about my mother!’ These two titles on Italian gardens may provoke a similar reaction, for there has been a recent run of revisiting via Charles Latham’s vintage Country Life photographs, Edith Wharton’s Edwardian musings and Georgina Masson’s 1961 classic, now revived.

Many moons ago when I went to Sissinghurst to ask Nigel Nicolson (late of this parish) if I could write about his mother, Vita Sackville-West, he raised his hands, and eyebrows, in horror, ‘Oh! Not another book about my mother!’ These two titles on Italian gardens may provoke a similar reaction, for there has been a recent run of revisiting via Charles Latham’s vintage Country Life photographs, Edith Wharton’s Edwardian musings and Georgina Masson’s 1961 classic, now revived. But, on such a subject, can there be too many books? The miracle is that despite the vagaries of fortunes and two world wars, the gardens that Latham photographed for his 1905 book are still there for the cameras of Primrose Bell and Derry Moore.

Kirsty McLeod’s The Best Gardens in Italy exudes the good organisation required of A Traveller’s Guide: mapped and listed by region, each of the 126 gardens appear at the turn of a page, there is a comprehensive index and 13 additional pages give all the location and contact details, down to olive oil tastings and, occasionally, bed and breakfast. All the nostalgic names are here — Isola Bella, d’Este, Gamberaia, Lante, the Hanbury’s La Mortola — with lesser known treasures: Trauttmansdorff ‘the garden of glaciers and palms’, the Giardino Buon- accorsi with 105 personable statues of known provenance, and the botanical park with restoration in progress at La Casa Bianca near Porto Ercole.

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