Orto Botanico, Tuscany
The Botanical Garden of Lucca
By Carlene Crowe, Open Learning Garden Design Tutor
Many Italian towns and cities have botanical gardens tucked away in discreet corners – creating peaceful pockets of calm in what are often tourist-ridden places. Padua has the oldest botanical garden in the world, established in 1545. Not all of these little gardens are as well staffed and tended as Padua’s! Some are quite unkempt, but none the less interesting for that. It is always worth seeking them out – the small scale of them is do-able somehow, even on a hot day – and one always learns a lot.
The Orto Botanico in Lucca has some wonderful plant specimens. The garden itself is a relative newcomer – established as recently as 1820 by Maria Luisa Borbone as an adjunct to the university in Lucca – also founded by her. But, unusually, the gardens were more or less shut down after WW1, on the early death of its fourth director Cesare Bicchi, and not reawakened until the 1970s. Once again it is flourishing, and sponsors Murabilia, a garden show that takes place on the magnificent town walls in September.
The pond and arboretum have so many delightful plants, including ...
The cork oak, Quercus suber
A small specimen of Wollemia nobilis, of the Araucariaceae family, until recently only known from the fossil record, but discovered a few years ago in New South Wales.
A mighty specimen of the humble box tree, Buxus sempervirens.
A glorious Plumeria (Frangipani) in full bloom. Apparently they are most fragrant at night time, all the better to lure moths for pollination. But in fact the flowers produce no nectar, duping the hapless moths into pollinating them with pollen collected from other flowers.
The swamp cypress from the United States: Taxodium distichum with its mysterious “knees” sticking up above the waterline.
It was exciting to see that the pioneering plant collectors Bleddyn and Sue Wynne-Jones were featured on one of the information panels. You might want to look at their marvellous nursery in Wales - Crug Plants www.crug-farm.co.uk
And here are some of the lovely fountains and statues you will see in so many Italian gardens ...
Finally, we cannot leave Lucca without a picture of one of the magnificent Magnolia grandiflora These have flowers the size of dinner plates when they bloom mid-summer – one of the great sights of this glorious place.
For more information on the botanical garden at Lucca, please see www.ortobotanicodilucca.it