Ten minutes was enough to wipe out one of the most prized botanical gardens in Europe. The park of Villa Taranto, the pride of Italy’s Lake Maggiore, has been devastated by a storm that destroyed nearly 100 years of work and a priceless heritage of ancient trees and rare species.
Heavy rain accompanied by winds of 62 mph (100 km per hour) crossed the hill of the park and gusts uprooted 300 of the 1,000 large plants in the garden, which struck the vegetation below. Sixteen hectares of terraces, hatcheries, floral architecture, and a rich collection of 20,000 plant species of particular importance were devastated in last Saturday night’s storm.
The authorities immediately declared a state of emergency, but the massive and sudden destruction took everyone by surprise, making it difficult to even assess the damage.
“Our intention is to reason calmly in a few days, because even I, who has been the director for 34 years, I have not metabolized it,” said Roberto Ferrari, director of the Villa Taranto. “And then figure out what to start doing.”
The gardens of Villa Taranto were designed and made by Scottish Capt. Neil McEacharn. He loved Italy and botany, and in 1931 he bought a property on Lake Maggiore to make an exemplary park with rare species, fountains, and terraced gardens.
Each plant has its own story. For example, the Emmonopterys henryi, a plant native to China, was introduced to Europe in 1907. It was planted in these gardens in 1947, but they had to wait until July 1971 for its first flowering, an extraordinary event that had never occurred before in Europe.
It was the idea of the Infante of Spain, Don Jaime in 1938 to plant the Davidia invulcrata, also from China, known for its spectacular flowering, hence the name “handkerchief tree.”
The botanical value of the park, its history, and the beauty of its spaces have made it an important tourist destination. Donated by Capt. McEacharn to the Italian State in 1939 and opened to the public since 1952, it hosts 150,000 visitors a year from around the world.
The damage is a substantial loss for Italian tourism, which is centered on culture. Its traditional landscape is as significant as the artistic work and the atmosphere of its cities.
Despite encouragement and requests from the authorities to reopen next season, not to interrupt the flow of tourism, no one at the garden dares predict when it will be possible to do so.
Funding is certainly a major difficulty. But the challenge is also in rethinking the entire park and the decades of work and passion that created it.
“A garden is born and dies, it is a living being, then you can not expect to see a garden as it was before,” said the director of Ferrari, sadly.
The nursuries of the park that were not destroyed contain specimens of botanical heritage, but it’s still a process of starting again. “Of course these species are 50 cm (19.68 inches) high. Here we talk about fallen plants between 25 and 30 meters (82 and 98 feet), ancient trees,” explains the director.
“The next generations [...] will see the garden of Villa Taranto in a few years. They will see the plants grow; they will realize what it means to see it with its leaves, without leaves, in spring in autumn. But that’s part of the game of life,” he said.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.