Our last few days in France ... and Italy ... were filled with wonderful garden visits, and now I'm home again, I shall try and catch up with my blog! I cannot believe the wonderful vistas we saw last week; the incredible plants; the extraordinary locations of the gardens we visited; and the magical floral displays everywhere we looked. The whole of southern France is in bloom at this time of year and every town and city has flowers everywhere!
We were so taken with our visit to Menton that we returned the next day to look at more gardens, starting at the Giardini Botanici Hanbury, and also known as La Mortola, just over the border in Italy. Of course, there is no border of note any more and you only realise you're in Italy when you see the signs at the edge of the road. This amazing botanical garden covers some 45 acres (18 hectares) of Cape Mortola, perched on the edge of the Mediterranean beyond Menton.
The land was purchased by Thomas Hanbury, who had made his fortune in China, in 1867 and - with the help of his brother Daniel - and several well-known French landscape architects, they turned the hillside plot into the botanical wonder there today. But it's not just the plants that are remarkable, it's also the features - like the Moorish temple (above) - that houses the ashes of Thomas Hanbury and his wife Katherine, which make this garden so special.
When Hanbury purchased the land, the existing palazzo was extremely dilapidated, but with the help of his brother, he restored the property and set about making the amazing garden. Yet even today, surprisingly little is known about this extraordinary man - who also gave the gardens at Wisley in England to the Royal Horticultural Society.
What makes La Mortola so unusual is its steep gradient and part of its charm is the huge number of steps and terraces that are integral to the design and planting of the land. You wander from terrace to terrace, and enjoy wonderful vistas along the way. There are pools, pergolas and fountains and absolutely magnificent plants in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Every corner you turn here gives a different vista and you will see more and more remarkable plants each time you turn your head - there are more than 6,000 different species on site here, so don't be surprised if you miss a few!
I was so amazed to discover that this Italian garden was the brainchild of the same man who gave Wisley to the Royal Horticultural Society that I hope to find out more about Hanbury, because he was clearly an interesting, if eccentric philanthropist. I have seen little published about Sir Thomas Hanbury and had never realised that he had such an important role in English gardening history, in terms of his role as donor to the RHS. Of course, Wisley is one of the most popular gardens in the UK, with some 750,000 visitors each year. He certainly left a wonderful legacy to the nation!
Today, the Giardini Botanici Hanbury is owned by the Italian state and maintained by the University of Genoa. There were many students hard at work there on the day we visited and they are clearly doing a wonderful job, because the garden is quite glorious!