History In A Garden: The Ancient Plants of Villa Castello

From a distant and glorious past, the collection of lemon trees of the Medici Villa Castello in Florence comes back to life through the work of a passionate gardener

  • History In A Garden: The Ancient Plants of Villa Castello
  • History In A Garden: The Ancient Plants of Villa Castello
  • History In A Garden: The Ancient Plants of Villa Castello

History shows us that status symbols have taken unpredictable forms thorough time. For instance, back when the Medici family thrived in Florence (between the 15th and the 18th century), large gardens and exotic plants were an undisputed sign of the vastness and wealth of a kingdom. Garden design was serious matter back then, and there was always room to accommodate exotic and rare specimens brought from research and exploration around the known world. 
Villa Castellowas the favorite residence of Cosimo I de Medici. In the year 1538, as soon as he came to power, he set out to turn the garden of this large villa in the countryside north of Florence into the emblem of his kingdom. Thus was born the Italian garden, with hedges and trees arranged in perfect geometries, fountains, sculptures and artificial caves evoking a fantastic and dreamlike world. Yet beyond the obvious beauty of nature, there was something that could only be grasped by a careful observer: the incredible variety of plants, especially lemons, which can still be fount today at Villa Castello thanks to the work of Paolo Galeotti, Director of Tuscany’s museum parks and gardens, who has been reviving the botanical wealth of the garden with its over 600 plant species ever since 1978.
The first stage of the enhancement and conservation work carried out by Galeotti was to recognize and catalog the plants: Villa Castello has the largest existing collection of potted lemon trees, many of which are very rare and hybrid. To raise awareness on the value of this botanical heritage, Paolo Galeotti dived into the ancient illustrated tables from the National Library and the National Archive in Florence identifying the shapes of the leaves and of the fruits one by one, the habits of lemon trees that are literally unique in the worldlike the Citrus Bizzarria, a type of citrus that was widespread at the time of the Medici and was believed to be extinct until Galeotti found it and brought it back to life.
Walking in the garden of Villa Castello is like entering a time machine for plants, flowers and fruits. Its value is priceless as much as the pleasure of recognizing the diversity and creativity of nature, the intelligence of these plants that, stuck in their vases, have brought us fruits and seeds from the past and will hopefully continue to do so, provided that there will be someone as passionate and meticulous as Paolo Galeotti, someone who will tend to this garden celebrated by Botticelli’s popular painting Primaverawith the same dedication of the Medici family.  

Author : The Slowear Journal


Florence  | garden  | Villa Castello  | Medici  | lemons  | rare species  |

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