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GARDENS OF THE WORLD: Gardens Around Pisa

By Frank Mitzel.

This is the fourth installment of the Gardens of Italy series. The previous three articles in this series are Gardens of Northern Italy Near Lake Como, Gardens of Northern Italy Near Venice, and Gardens Around Florence.

Villa Garzoni's Renaissance garden.

Traveling due west from Florence to Pisa and Lucca, we continue our tour of Italian gardens in Tuscany. Just outside of Lucca in Collodi, in Tuscany's municipality of Pescia, is the massive 17th century Villa Garzoni, with a wonderful Renaissance garden cascading down the hill from the villa. The garden has a distinct symmetrical design with Neptune's Grotto below a grand double staircase acting as a central focal point.

A vast variety of elaborate concrete statues of emperors, gods, and goddesses makes for an impressive sight at every angle. A large pool with a fountain above a water staircase at the top of the garden has a collection of 19th century camellias, and a labyrinth leads to the villa from the top of the garden. A tropical greenhouse within the garden acts as a butterfly house full of tropical butterflies, not unlike the one we have here in the spring at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Also near Lucca, just eight miles away, is the Villa Mansi in Segromigno in Monte. It was built in the 16th century and represents the culture and society of the ancient aristocratic republic of the Renaissance. The grounds around the handsome villa boast large evergreen hedges, fruit trees, streams, fish ponds, meadows, pools, cascades, fountains, and expansive lawns.

Villa Reale di Marlia's fish pond in the Lemon Garden.

Just five miles northeast of Lucca sits the Villa Reale di Marlia, with its beautiful extensive garden and grounds. The Villa Reale (Royal Palace in French) is a national monument and was once the royal home of Napoleon's sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Princess of Piombino and Lucca (and later the Grand Duchess of Tuscany). She purchased the villa in 1806 and proceeded to expand the property and villa to her liking, and subsequent owners made their own modifications and additions to create the estate we see today.

Villa Reale's Spanish Garden with Liberty style (aka Art Nouveau) water statues boasts a large collection of flowering roses in May and June, and in early spring, the Viale delle Camelie contains over thirty types of camellias blooming along gravel pathways. The manmade lake provides water to the Teatro d'Acqua, located in front of the Villa Reale, and the symmetrical Italian styled garden offers statues, fountains, grottoes (including the Grotta di Pan with mysterious sea monsters), and many other interesting features. Lastly, the Lemon Garden has an enormous fish pond surrounded by over 200 terracotta containers full of lemon trees and other citrus varieties within a mature stand of mammoth triangular-shaped Magnolia trees. Two lounging statues at one end of the pond represent the nearby Arno and Serchio rivers.

A view into Villa Torrigiani's Secret Garden.

A little farther, less than eight miles northeast of Lucca, is Villa Torrigiani, originally an Italian Renaissance style garden, then redesigned in the 17th century with a Baroque layout by the French landscape gardener Andre Le Notre. The most intriguing aspect on the grounds is the Giardino di Flora, or Giardino Segreto (Secret Garden) with pools, topiary, and rectilinear beds. Water sprays from steps, statuary, masks, and from the ground itself, creating a delightful display. The property is lined with avenues of cypresses and filled with mature umbrella pines, magnolias, ginkgo, and sequoia trees.

Villa Massei is just eight miles southeast of Lucca near the Compitese hills. The 17th century villa sports a fairly new garden redesign that took place in the 1980s to create formal boxwood-edged beds comprising sixteen compartments filled with bright, hardy perennial flowers. Mature cherry, camphor, and olive trees fill the surrounding hillsides and meadow.

Finally, we finish our tour back in Pisa at the Orto Botanico located in the north of the city near the cathedral. The first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I, founded the University of Pisa's botanic garden in 1544, making it the oldest botanic garden in Europe. Although the garden lacks exotic plantings and grandeur, it's still nice to visit for its historical significance, and for peace and quiet within the busy city.

Next, we will head south along the Mediterranean Sea towards Rome as we continue the Gardens of Italy series.

All images courtesy of the author.

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