Isola Bella: Glimpsing the Work

I am a vegetable gardener because I love fresh food and because working in a garden is so satisfying.

Baby squash

My joke is that gardening saves me thousands of dollars each year in therapy bills.  The combination of physical labor and focus on the moment allows daily cares to fall into perspective, I suppose by letting the subconscious do its necessary work.

Ripening peppers

If I owned a home with a yard, I would not only have a vegetable garden, but an opportunity to landscape.  Alas, I don’t, but landscape architecture has long been an interest of mine.  Last month I was in Austria and Italy and had the opportunity to see palace gardens of the Hapsburgs, the Villa Melzi on Lake Como, and the gardens of the Borromean Isles in Lake Maggiore.

Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore is still owned by the Borromeo family, which reserves a couple thousand square feet in the villa for itself.  The rest is opened to visitors.  The villa was begun in the mid-sixteen hundreds and in its heyday hosted luminaries such as Napoleon and Josephine, and Caroline of Brunswick, who decamped to the Villa D’Este when she was unable to buy another island from the family.

The villa entrance from the lake

The gardens of Isola Bella are elaborate and formal, with statuary, topiary, and multiple levels.  Seen from the shore of the lake, it looks packed, like a mad gardener’s dream.  But inside, each part of the garden can be enjoyed on its own as one garden.

Papyrus and water garden

When I have visited gardens, I have not often seen anyone working in them, but Isola Bella’s boxwood garden was being tended that day.  I first noticed the work from above.

Descending to the garden, I saw lemon trees and other ornamentals.

View from behind lemon tree

Not only was the trimming meticulous, and carefully cleaned up, but it was obvious that there were no electric clippers being used here.

Hand shears. Think about it.

It was a pleasure to get a glimpse of the caretaking, something that often seems mysterious in gardens like this, as though it is done by magic.  Had I not seen someone working, magic might have seemed an almost reasonable explanation.

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