The Gardens of Ninfa are a very English affair: they were started by an Englishwoman, Lady Constance Adela (Ada) Bootle-Wilbraham and have been visited by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who were exceptionally allowed to spend a night in the town hall-cum-manor house of the ruined village of Ninfa that forms the basis of the gardens. The gardens also featured in a TV series and book on Italian gardens by Monty Don and are a favourite destination for British gardening club visits.
The gardens are only open very few days a month. Future opening times can be found here. They can be easily reached by car in just over one hour from Rome or by taking a train to Latina Scalo, followed by a taxi (approximately €15) to the gardens themselves. On the day we visited, in August, we arrived at more or less 9:00, shortly after the gardens opened, and only had to wait for about 15 to 20 minutes to gain admission. Tours consisting of groups of 15-20 people leave every 10 or 15 minutes and mainly seem to be conducted in Italian. Although you are only allowed to visit the gardens as part of a guided tour and are strictly admonished to leave no litter and touch nothing, dogs on leads are welcome and two were indeed present on our tour, seemingly enjoying the garden as much as their owners.
The gardens were almost preternaturally calm on the day we visited, mainly due to their position, protected on all sides by high hills. Although the landscape is carefully designed to make it look as though it has been there in its current form since time immemorial, none of the trees are over 90 years old and owe their luxuriant growth to the sheltered position and the abundant natural water supply.
The gardens are designed around a ruined village what was sacked in 14th century, at which point it was prudently abandoned and left to fall into ruin: although the village occupied a strategic position on the Appian Way during Roman times, its low-lying situation must otherwise have left it very exposed to attack. The mediaeval site occupied an earlier Roman site with temples dedicated to Ninfa, the goddess of water and forests. The site is now run by the Roffredo Caetani Foundation.
Ninfa has been described as “the most romantic garden in the world” by Charles Quest-Ritson, whose book on the subject is currently selling on Amazon for an eye-watering £176. The gardens are indeed well worth a visit. Many of the trees and plants are of oriental origin and have been carefully planted around the ruins. The most stunning parts of the garden feature water, and they also contain a river that would not have looked out of place in a pre-Raphaelite painting: in fact I half expected to see Millais’ Ophelia floating admidst the pristine waterweed.
The tour takes approximately one and a quarter hours and costs €12. On the day we visited, the vegetable garden and orchard were closed due to recent storms although they are normally open as an additional part of the tour.