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Sicily's Gardens

Posted by Suzanne on 29 May 2015

Sicily is a garden. It is filled with: meadows of wild perennials; 'sacred', abundant groves and vineyards; fields of grain; hidden gardens made for retreat and silence and gardens abandoned.

The gardens of Sicily have long enticed me, nurturing a love of stillness, history and retreat. 


Clare Littlewood's book "Gardens of Sicily" pure inspiration

And, some of the gardens that I have come to know, over the past 19 years, feature here and I have included fields and groves plus more because, as Clare Littlewood suggests in her beautiful book, Gardens of Sicily, the countryside and agricultural landscape are part of Sicily’s garden beauty. Her book inspired me, added to my desire to write this article.


A Wild Perennial Garden

Polizzi’s lovely back garden, The Madonie National Park, often referred to as ‘a botanical garden', is filled in the spring with the sensuous perfume and colours of wild perennials: sweet peas and ginestra, dappled orchids, and woodland poppies and a forest canopy of  beech, oak and firs. Some are a vivid, soft green after the cold winter.

And, the charming wild sweet pea, a native to Sicily and found throughout the Madonie, was first recorded by the monk Francisco Cupani, in Sicily, in 1699.

It is said that he sent seeds to England to Dr Robert Uvedale. They were germinated and the world has loved the fragrance of the sweet pea ever since.

The rich and velvety purple and blue petals of the wild sweet pea, in the silent mountains behind Polizzi, line the country roads in spring and the sweet perfume fills the cool air.


Hidden Gardens

To retreat from the charming chaos of Palermo quiet is found in: a garden by the sea; a planted, shaded terrace of a 15th century Palermitan palace; and, in the sanctuary of the roofless Church of Lo Spasimo.

And in Polizzi, stillness is found in the calm of Zia Gina’s walled and rambling palace garden: secreted, productive and ancient. It tells some of Polizzi’s story.


A garden by the sea

The garden of Hotel Villa Igiea, the quintessential Mediterranean garden, sits on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea and is filled with, bougainvillea, bottle brush, oleander, palms, tall pines, jasmine, orange blossom and pepperina trees. And, the pathways meander and run along the walls to the sea.


A secret terrace garden

The cloistered silence of a secret terrace, roofed by a large bougainvillea, tucked away at the back of the 15th century Palazzo Ajutamicristo, in the heart of Palermo’s La Kalsa quarter gives the staying traveller respite from the wonderful demands of Palermo.


Sanctuary under the Palermitan sky

The peace of the roofless church of Lo Spasimo deep in Palermo’s La Kalsa quarter offers quiet refuge under a blue sky dappled with a canopy of green.


Silence in a Monastic Garden

The quiet garden of Hotel San Domenico, a former 15th century monastery in Taormina on the Ionian coast of Sicily overlooks the bluest sea and powerful Mount Etna

The colours of red salvias, hibiscus, bottle brushes, agaves, lemon trees and lavender fill the garden and arbours, pebbled pathways and stone benches create places for quiet discovery and aimless strolling. The silence is only interrupted by the soft, repetitive sound of pebbles underfoot; a reminder of a monastic past.


'Sacred Groves',Vineyards and Gardens Abandoned

Sicily, abundant and productive, at the hand of Demeter, since classical times, has cultivated, tended groves and vineyards. Some are beautiful in their abandonment.


Abandoned gardens

Baglio Spano’s walled and overgrown garden, not far from Mazara del Vallo looks towards tended vineyards and the sea. And the tall oleander in bloom, glimpsed through the locked gates; a reminder of a garden that was once a 'companion'.

The slopes of Etna, deep and fertile from the lava ash of the mighty volcano, are planted with gardens of citrus groves. Some of these groves of Etna’s baronial estates, now tangled and abandoned, speak of glorious times past.


Gardens of olive groves

And, Sicily's olive groves, gardenesque in design and silent are dotted throughout the island. The soil is tilled, branches are laden with fruit in early autumn and the leaves are silver beneath a soft green.





Edited August 2015 & April 2018

Source for the information on the sweet pea is from 'Plant Answers.Com'- Sweet Peas by The National Garden Bureau.

Edited 25/02/2019 Clare Littlewood's book "The Gardens of Sicily" was published by Verbavilant 2012.  (Her book was true inspiration. I have added a heading to emphasise this.)

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