Ninfa Gardens: Medieval Kaleidoscope Park

Ninfa gardens, encompass the pristine Ninfa river that springs into the garden from the heart of the mountains, mountains on which the town of Norma is encamped.

Ninfa gardens are a relatively new life form, commenced just 95 years ago by the Caetani family on their land that stretched throughout the territory of Sermoneta. Ninfa gardens, that then became part of a foundation established by the last member of the Sermoneta branch of the Caetani family. In Ninfa gardens have been created a beautiful treed park from the remains of the medieval village of Ninfa, abandoned about 500 years ago and only rescued by the enthusiasm of the Caetani family to leave a legacy of beauty.

Ninfa gardens is not a nature park. It is spoken of as being modelled on great gardens of England, and certainly there are many ‘rambling roses, and trees that have grown to grandeur with damp feet and humid skies of this area trapped between the Lazio coast and the Lepini Mountains. The inspiration for Ninfa Gardens was the ruins of the medieval town of Ninfa with its tower, churches, streets and houses.

As I gaze towards the tower looking up to Norma far above, I notice that the high walls and parapet are supporting grasses and many small shrubs. These ruins were destined for preservation by the Caetani, but nature is not hindered in its competition with man’s will. In 100 years time will these walls still stand or will the force of roots of the plants and the vines gradually turn walls to stones?

The streets of Ninfa had been abandoned long before, and the main street was planted with what are now giant cypress trees. Some frescos from the main church were rescued and are now protected from nature in Castello Caetani in Sermoneta.

The open spaces of the town have become floral gardens, at this time early in April resplendent with apple and cherry blossom, rose and white weeping cherries, early season white and purple irises, magnificent bright yellow water irises, early roses, a few bluebells, the last of the hybrid magnolias, early wisteria and an occasional import of unknown heritage. The kaleidoscopic image of a full spectrum of colours is what the visitors seek and find. Yet for me, it is the giant trees and vines growing among and beside the ancient walls that lift the spirits to the skies.

I stand in front of a giant eucalypt, is it a ghost gum or an iron bark. It would challenge the size of any of it brothers in Australia. And I am surprised that next to this proud giant there is an impenetrable forest of bamboo, and I wonder also how this will stand in future generations.

Everywhere there are water channels leading to the river that flows swiftly but calmly under the Roman bridge towards the medieval bridge at the end of the old main street. We learn that this clear stream is one of only three rivers in Italy that can support a certain species of trout, but none of them rise for our pleasure.

If I have one request to improve my experience of this glorious park it would be to allow guests to roam more freely following the group tours (guided in Italian). For those of us who enjoy talking to the trees, sharing the forest with the Ents, watching out for the birds, counting the colours of the flowers, and just watching the grass grow, our hearts need more light.

To find my joy I stand always at the edge of our group of enthusiasts and sneak some quick camaraderie with one of the giants of the garden.