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Gardening in The Riviera

Shirley-Anne Bell hops across into Italy from the French Riviera and enjoys a visit to one of the area's garden jewels

If you are visiting the French Riviera, be sure not to miss the fabulous Giardini Botanici Hanbury, at La Mortola, near Ventimiglia, a few kilometres over the Italian border. Purchased in 1867 by Sir Thomas Hanbury, it presents an unforgettable picture of a pink villa overlooking sloping gardens, which reach right down to the sea.

They have something to offer at every time of year; as they house massive collections of roses, passion flowers and salvias. A huge pergola is hung with an abundance of roses, brugmansia, jasmine and solanum. In February, the blue flowers of Solanum dombeyi and the blooms of Clematis armandii and Rosa 'Lafolette' were hanging down over a path edged with masses of bright red crocosmia and flowering Clivia x cyranthiflora

The villa facade is framed by banks of flowering camellias and huge tubs of Brahea edulis. There is a panorama over scented herb beds, stuffed with Rosmarinus officinalis and lavender varieties. Descending the garden, citrus trees are studded with fruit, including massive grapefruits, called Shaddocks after the English captain who imported them from India.

There is an Australian area of eucalyptus, callistemon, acacia and brachychiton, and a palm grove with brahea, trachycarpus, chamaerops and phoenix species. A mature and well tended succulent garden houses fat trunks of caudiciforms like Pachypodium lamerei and Beaucarnea recurvata, masses of agaves, aloes and kalanchoes, plus cacti including the tubby barrel cacti, or ferocactus, and towering Carnegiae gigantea, the famous cowboy cactus.

Almost everywhere you turn there is a miniature viewpoint, such as a tiny shrubbery, with cobbled paths, an inviting bench and box hedging, or an old barn with terracotta roof tiles almost hidden by a venerable olive tree. A tiny flight of steps under the spreading branches of Juniperus horizontalis has a huge aloe in a pot, trailing lavender and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus' softening the wall, while another, longer, flight of steps is totally enclosed in a tunnel of brugmansia.

At the highest level there is a pool surrounded by an imaginatively planted succulent rockery. There is a wonderful bronze Japanese dragon fountain, where Cyperus papyrus (the Egyptian papyrus) is growing in what is reputed to be its most northerly location outdoors, while bamboos frame yet another pond.

After a period of many years worrying decline, the University of Genoa has taken on responsibility for the restoration and management of this irresistible garden. It is open all year round (closed Wednesdays), from 9am - 6pm in the summer, and from 10 am to 4pm in the winter. And for the day-tripper from France, there is the benefit that road tolls on the autoroute and entrance fees to the garden can be paid in French francs.

Articles reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com



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