Villa Pia Flowers Week May 2018
The group gathered at Villa Pia with Rosie Yeomans for a week of flower and gardening inspiration. We walked in the stunning countryside to look at wild flowers. We planned new borders for our gardens at home. We also had some fascinating plant based visits and relaxed in the lovely surrounds of Villa Pia.
Staying in the grand rooms of the Palazzo Regina and the Castle, we enjoyed stunning views and quiet surroundings. Villa Pia is a minutes walk down some steps, where the buzz of other holiday makers, the swimming pool, tennis court and the endless stream of coffee, tea, cake, and of course the help yourself bar made a welcome venue to gather and relax and to enjoy communal mealtimes. The food cooked by local staff was brilliant as always.
On the first day, we were met by our English speaking guide Giovanni, who took us on a morning walk up through the village and out onto one of the the ‘strada bianca’ lanes. Rosie identified the wild flowers, including several orchids on the verges and in the meadows. Giovanni’s local knowledge of the landscape and cultural history of the area made it really interesting.
We spent the afternoon focused on planting design ideas for the garden.
Listening to Giovanni on the road out through the village of Lippiano
A field of Sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia just below Lippiano
An Adriatic lizard orchid Himantoglossum adriaticum on the left and a monkey orchid Orchis simia on the right,
both along the roadside in the village of Lippiano.
Day two was an all day hike in an area north of Sansepolcro called the Alpe Della Luna, moon shaped hills: www.visittuscany.com/en/attractions/alpe-della-luna. We walked through flower filled meadows, tranquil woodland and finished the walk at a Donkey farm, run by a local cooperative who milk their donkeys to provide milk for pediatric units and for mothers finding it hard to breast feed. Apparently donkey milk is a close substitute for human breast milk!
On the way home we dropped in to see an unusual textile mill in the town of Anghiari. We were shown the old looms working in the cellars under the showroom in the Palazzo Morgalanti. They make high quality jacquard and other upholstery fabrics: www.busatti.com. It was a great day.
The group with Giovanni on a woodland track in the Alpe Della Luna
The orchid Ophrys bertolonii and the flowers of the pretty woodland Saxifrage, Saxifraga rotundifolia
On day 3, we drove up to the nature reserve of Monte Rognosi above Anghiari: www.visittuscany.com/en/attractions/monti-rognosi. It’s an unusual landscape of dark volcanic rock, which glimmers from dark green to violet and black in the changing light. The flora is unique and our brilliant guide Giacomo, who also curates a local museum, was a mine of information about the area and its social history whilst Rosie was able to focus on the unusual alpine flora.
Giacomo providing entertainment with stories of the local history.
A sweet scented Daphne alpina on Monte Rognosi
We headed back to Villa Pia for one of their famous lunches, and some workshops or relaxation in the afternoon.
On Day 4, we had the fun of visiting a large and innovative company that researches and grows herbs to produce herbal products: www.aboca.com/en.
We started off by making some lip balm to take with us, then went into the fields to see the herbs grown and talk about how they are used. One of the research scientists joined us to explain what the company does. Finally we drove down to the historic town of Sansepolcro to visit the companies’ Apothecary Museum with displays showing the preparation and use of herbal medicines and products back to the 13th century. Fascinating.
The afternoon was spent back at the villa, where we looked at naturalistic planting schemes for the garden. The observations of the local wild flora improved our focus and put the practicalities of these schemes into context.
Making lip balm at the Aboca labs. / Print from a herbal at the museum.
On Day 5, we set off early to get the train into Florence for a packed day’s itinerary. Our guide took us through the city, pointing out the architecture and explaining some history about the buildings. She led us out and up to the recently renovated Bardini gardens, a classic Italian garden with brilliant views of the city: www.visitflorence.com/florence-museums/bardini-gardens.html.
A view of Florence from the Bardini garden.
We walked back down into the city for a specialised tour of the frescos and artwork depicting local flora and fauna in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was an unusual and wonderfully inspiring tour: www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Palazzo_vecchio.html.
Our guide had booked us a table at a modest, traditional restaurant for lunch, before leaving us to make our way with Rosie through the Rose Garden. Then we visited the Iris Garden, where there is an annual festival for international Iris growers to display their best cultivars.
We ate an early supper in the city before heading back on the train.
Lunch, and the Iris garden
The final day took us to the atmospheric monastery and landscape of La Verna UNESCO world heritage site, where Saint Francis of Assisi retreated and is believed to have received the miracle of the stigmata in 1224. We explored the monastery with Giovanni, who showed us the caves where Saint Francis slept and the chapel at the site of the miracle: caminoways.com/way-of-st-francis-la-verna-sanctuary.
Sited on Monte Penna we were able to walk out from the monastery on the path he walked — the Camino di Francesco — to see a mixture of woodland flora, orchids and flowers in the meadows, with spectacular views of the Tuscan Appennines.
The group at the monastery, spectacular views behind us.
Orchid and flower filled meadows on the Camino di Francesco
It was a full week. The mixture of flowers, border design, walking, and local culture, past and present, made for a uniquely enjoyable trip and a wonderful insight into this very beautiful area of Italy.
If you’d like to book this trip for 2019, the dates are Saturday May 4th–11th. You’ll find a revised itinerary and booking details on the Villa Pia website here: villapia.com/retreats/gardening.