In the Garden of Ninfa with Serena Derea Squanquerillo
by Maria Teresa De Donato
Caetanis' Medieval Castle
Hello dear friends!
Today our friend and fellow author Serena Derea Squanquerillo came to revisit us. After being the creator and presenter of Vivere i Talenti – Storie di Riscatto Personale (=Living One’s Own Talents - Personal Redemption Stories) for the Phoebus Association of Velletri (Rome), she created a new program entitled DIALOGHI con Serena Derea in which I had the pleasure of participating.
On this occasion, with Serena, we can walk in the beautiful Garden of Ninfa, in the province of Latina.
Enjoy the reading!
MTDD: Hi, Serena, and thanks for joining us today.
SDS: Thank you, Maria Teresa, for inviting me.
MTDD: Serena, today, as you anticipated, you will be taking us to see the Garden of Ninfa, which I visited many years ago.
Would you like to present it to those who have yet to have the opportunity to visit it or who are even unaware of its existence?
SDS: Happy to oblige. In the municipality of Cisterna di Latina, at the foot of the Lepini Mountains, between Norma and Sermoneta, there is the Garden of Ninfa, born on the ancient ruins of a lost city - Ninfa - where plants of various types grow. In 2000 the garden was declared a "Natural Monument" by the Lazio Region and is protected as an internationally renowned treasure and resource.
Today I want to tell you about this natural jewel I visited for the first time at the beginning of June 2017, located not far from the Circeo National Park. Knowing its fame, I armed myself with my Bridge camera and went to enjoy a pleasant sunny day with the organizing group of the tour. Visits usually are only possible for groups from March to October, but individual visits have also been allowed following the 'Covid period' and due to the need for social distancing.
MTDD: I'm glad to know you had the opportunity to visit it and take some beautiful photos, as we will see.
Can you give us some historical information about the Garden of Ninfa?
SDS: Certainly. The name "Ninfa" derives from a Roman temple dedicated to spring divinities in an agricultural area. The history of Ninfa, however, is known above all from the Middle Ages, when this village became a thriving town and the only communication route that led from Rome to the South without passing through the Via Appia, which was often marshy. Ninfa received duties from wayfarers and culturally prospered under the government of various noble and "papal" families: the Tuscolo, the Frangipane - under whom the city's architecture flourished and its economic and political importance grew - the Conti, the Colonna, and finally the Caetani.
In 1298 Benedetto Caetani, known as Pope Boniface VIII, bought Ninfa and other neighboring territories. Ninfa was sacked and destroyed several times during its medieval history due to the papal disputes between Rome and Avignon. In 1300, it was definitively destroyed and also abandoned by the Caetani, who moved from the castle to Rome.
At the beginning of the 1900s, there was a restoration of the ruins and the complete reclamation of the marshy area by the Caetani family itself. Lelia, the last representative of the family and without heirs, left the castle and the garden to the Roffredo Caetani Foundation of Sermoneta ONLUS, which still looks after the Garden of Ninfa. Between the 1920s and 1930s, the English botanical garden was born with plants - above all, exotic and rare ones - coming from the family's travels abroad.
MTDD: The history of this place is fascinating.
What was your experience when you visited this beautiful garden, and what are your impressions of the place?
SDS: On June 4th, 2017, on a sunny pre-summer morning, I entered the most famous garden in Italy (and beyond) with the group of people I was traveling with; after passing the visitor services area, a book shop, a florist, and an area for guides.
Ninfa: a colorful garden surrounded by medieval walls, rich in numerous varieties of plants and streams that irrigate the various areas of the garden together with the river Ninfa, which takes its name from the resurgence lake of the same name. At the entrance, a stream immediately attracted my attention, the water element that I love so much, which led me to enter this Eden through the music of its flow.
To my amazement, I heard the guide explain how, thanks to the architectural projects carried out, the various streams were structured and arranged so that they harmonized as if they were musical instruments. To the best of my recollection, each stream "plays" at frequencies corresponding to specific musical notes.
MTDD: If I remember correctly, there are also some ancient buildings or ruins, right?
SDS: Indeed, there are. As far as the present buildings are concerned, at the entrance is the former baronial palace (town hall) which has become the residence of the Caetanis and is now the seat of the Foundation. At the same time, in the innermost areas of the garden, there are the ruins of some houses, towers, and churches.
And now we come to the plants! Among the most visible ruins are those of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, on whose walls some medieval frescoes are still preserved, despite exposure to the elements. I documented myself, and I read that in addition to this church, within the walls, there were seven others (San Biagio, San Leone, San Martino, San Giovanni, San Salvatore, Santa Maria Maggiore, Sant'Angelo) and two others at the outside (San Clemente and San Pietro). And now, we come to the plants!
MTDD: Yes, in fact, I remember abundant vegetation with many types of flowers.
SDS: Exactly. The English-style botanical garden covers eight hectares and houses 1300 species of flora: deciduous magnolias, birches, marsh irises, Japanese maples, and cherry and apple trees. In addition, there are viburnums, honeysuckles, ceanothus, hollies, clematis, dogwoods, and camellias. There are tropical plants suited to the mild climate of Ninfa: avocados, gunnera manicata from South America, and some banana trees. Finally, rose lovers, in particular, can find climbing roses on the city's ruins of both rare and common species (for example, Rosa tausendschön, Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate,' Rosa 'Gloire de Dijon,' Rosa' Climbing Cramoisi Supérieur.' Shrub roses line rivers, streams, and paths or form flower beds (for example, Rosa roxburghii, Rosa 'Ballerina,' Rosa 'Iceberg,' Rosa 'Complicata,' Rosa 'Penelope,' and 'Rosa Buff Beauty').
MTDD: You had plenty of varieties to choose from and to photograph...
SDT: I love photographing glimpses and details that capture my attention and excite me with their beauty, and on that day, I enjoyed a very refined and, at the same time, caring, familiar spectacle of nature. There was, in particular, a corner next to some ruins, slightly off the path and close to one of the three bridges connecting various garden areas, called "Ponte del Macello" (The Slaughter Bridge), probably because it stood next to a lost building intended as animal slaughterhouse).
I renamed this place "the Monet corner" because it looked just like a painting by the French impressionist painter that I love very much. I photographed some colorful plants and flowers of different species, which grow freely and with care. Some plants greeted me next to a door or surprised me as I turned a corner; still, others towered over me and – impressive – seemed to invite me into a world apart, as happened, for example, with the bamboo cane.
I highly recommend visiting this Eden at least once in your life and different seasons to enjoy the change of colors and the blossoming of the various flowers, including the cherry trees for which you can practice hanami, i.e., the Japanese practice of admiring their ripening in spring. Also, the tour guides are excellent and knowledgeable. The visit didn't last long, but it's worth the joy of filling your heart and eyes with the beauty of nature.
MTDD: Thank you, Serena, for sharing your memories, the story, and the photos of this corner of Paradise, the Garden of Ninfa. I look forward to our next meeting.
SDS: Thanks to you, Maria Teresa, for hosting me again. It's always a pleasure to participate in your initiatives.
Before leaving us, I would like to clarify that the botanical and historical information I have mentioned is taken from the official site of the garden, from which it is also possible to book visits: www.giardinodininfa.eu
Serena Derea Squanquerillo, born in 1980, is a blogger and the author of four monographic collections of poems and reflections and has participated in various anthologies in collaboration with other authors. Since the birth of "Il blog di Derea" in 2019, she has been carrying out projects dedicated to talents as a tool for personal growth and as a valid therapeutic act, sharing her experience after a difficult period and an illness. She manages a column on her Youtube channel called "Dialoghi," a space in which she interviews whoever wants to present their creative projects and is available to exchange support for the activities. She is currently engaged in the creation of two other collections.
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Photos: Serena Squanquerillo2017-2023©All Rights Reserved