Ninfa: One of the World’s Best Gardens

February 9, 2012 by

Best Of Lists, Day Trips, Sightseeing, Suggested Itineraries, Things To Do

Plantlife grows through the ruins at Ninfa. Photo courtesy of Didimo69 via Flickr.

Plantlife grows through the ruins at Ninfa. Photo courtesy of Didimo69 via Flickr.

Please don’t stop reading because you are not a garden-person. I myself am no garden fanatic; I can appreciate a beautiful garden, a majestic piece of design, a skilled pair of secateurs, but I have two black thumbs and have never successfully grown anything. But the Gardens of Ninfa is one of those places that makes everyone swoon, garden-fancier or not.

Imagine back to those days when one family owned a whole town – the Caetani owned Ninfa. Actually go back further to when the Romans were setting up towns all over the place. Ninfa was one of these towns developing through the centuries to have impressive towers and walls and houses aplenty. And then came politics and fighting in the 12th century, and malaria in the 16th century. Those who didn’t die from the infection (or the usual intercity fighting with neighboring towns) abandoned Ninfa and it began to crumble.

By the early 20th century Ninfa was a series of ruins on the estate of the Caetani family. The last member of the family left it to a foundation to be developed as a garden and since 1905 talented folk with very green thumbs have been doing just that. This is a romantic, dreamy place. Plants wind up and through the ruins in a seemingly random way as nature reclaims buildings and walls. But in actual fact, there is a careful eye kept on all the plants to make sure they don’t get so big they take over and cause the ruins to collapse any further. The ruined town is just as important in this garden as the plants are. It’s a unique place; simply stunning.

English garden expert Monty Don names Ninfa as his favorite garden in the world and he’s seen a few in his travels. Ninfa is about 40 miles (65km) south-east of Rome and is easiest visited by car or tour, especially as the opening hours are very limited – usually only a few weekend days from April through October. More information and tickets can be obtained at Palazzo Caetani in Rome (via Botteghe Oscure 32).

-Philippa Burne

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