I thoroughly enjoyed 'Around the World in 80 Gardens' and when I finally got my hands on Monty Don's latest offering, 'Great Gardens of Italy', I already had great expectations.
The gardens of Italy rank among the great treasures of the world and so it is no surprise that Monty and photographer Derry Moore should focus on that country for this new book, which accompanies his BBC 2 television series, Monty Don's Italian Gardens (the first programme airing on Friday 15th April, 2011).
The book is a personal exploration of Italy's legendary gardens of which over 30 are featured. Each garden is placed in the context of its surrounding landscape and the lives of those who made it and tend it today.
I knew my own personal thoughts on the book might be coloured by comparing Monty's experiences of specific gardens with those of my own which I had also visited. So, I turned first to the wonderful Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore and here he completely won me over, nicely setting up my enthusiasm to read further.
His comment of Isola Bella, that: "its true public face screams across the lake, a tipsy drag queen of a garden ready to party all night long and the next day too," perfectly encapsulated my own thoughts of this flamboyant and yet very beautiful place and brought back so many happy memories of a captivating afternoon spent exploring its terraces and delight at its vistas.
Some may find Monty's descriptions of gardens rather exuberant or 'over the top' but for me his lively text and expansive descriptions make the gardens come alive and gives the reader their own sense of experience.
As in 'Around the World in 80 Gardens' Monty Don manages to get under the skin of the gardens he visits but his text is not mere description. He treats us to his personal experiences, such as his lunch - eaten outside - on a patio over a cloudless bay with Vesuvius 'dramatically present' at the Villa Il Tritone in Sorrento. You may ask why he wants to treat us to a description and appreciation of his menu as well as the garden. But this is typical Monty - he takes us along to share with him this wonderful lunch so we can imagine sitting there with him, on that patio, savouring the salad of chicory and rocket with the delicately creamy local mozzarella. Finally, a plate of biscuits which he admits looked charming but unexceptional - little sandwiches of pastry with lemon-flavoured ricotta cheese filling them - then: 'I bit in. Angels sang. Stars shot through the universe tumbling for joy', and so did I just thinking about it.
After the frenetic pace of his round-the-world trip, he wanted to take a slower pace to discover Italy, and this comfortable approach is very evident in his book. He visits many well known gardens but also treats us to many which are less well known, further stimulating the appetite to go on our own journey of exploration. His journey from south to north takes us from Naples to Rome then to Viterbo, Tuscany, Veneto and finally the wonderful Italian Lakes.
Find delight in Rome's Giardino di Ninfa and the Villa d’Este, Tivoli, the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, Viterbola and the Villa Barbarigo, Valsanzibio. Isola Borghese on Lake Garda rises as a 'slither of green against the thinner band of deep blue horizon' and we discover the perfect Tuscan villa at Villa Gamberaia, Settignano, where the statues of hounds have guarded the villa for the past three hundred years.
Derry Moore's photography is superb and there are some excellent colour plates. His shot, looking out over Lake Garda from the villa on Isola Borghese, one of my favourites.
'Great Gardens of Italy' will certainly take you on a captivating journey to appreciate some of Italy's most stunning gardens. The book will involve you in the underlying message that to appreciate a garden fully you must also know something of the food grown and eaten in the area, of the politics, religion and weather of the region, and of the dreams for the garden’s future as well as the glories of its past.
Published by Quadrille - www.quadrille.co.uk - 'Great Gardens of Italy' by Monty Don & Derry Moore is priced at £25.00. It's a large format book and will make an excellent companion to accompany Monty's television series.