by Charlene Burgi
(This is part four of our garden expert Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the previous installment here.)
The clock was ticking. We had one short week left to explore the part of Italy where my grandparents grew up many years ago. We said our goodbyes to Cinque Terre and headed to explore the Piedmont and Lombardy regions far to the north as Lake Como was our destination for our next exciting adventure.
And exciting it was. The weather at Lake Como provided us with a phenomenal thunder and lightning show that volleyed back and forth across the lake into the wee hours. Though shutters rattled and rain pounded, we found an awesome retreat under a covered portion of the house just above lake level where we took in the surrounding beauty of the Alps peeking through the storm clouds and highlighted by flashing bolts of lightning.
Our day trips found us in nearby Bellagio where we once again traipsed over hill and dale to explore the many shops found in this quaint little town. While there, Lynette and I visited a public restroom and were perplexed when we needed to turn on the sink faucet. Looking around for any indicator of something to turn on, we found a black rubber dome on the floor and were pleasantly surprised that water came out of the faucet when we stepped on the dome. What a delightful idea to eliminate water wasters in public buildings! The practice of conserving water and energy extended to the home as well. Each place where we stayed provided front-load washing machines, but no dryers. Clothes hung out to dry in every hamlet, town, and city that we drove through. I must admit, we were a bit challenged during the rain storm to find locations to hang our laundry!
One day while at Lake Como we took a boat ride to Villa del Balbianello, a 16th-century estate originally established as a Franciscan monastery for Cardinal Durini’s need to get away from it all. And what a concept since the only access to the estate was by boat. The estate gardens were spectacular. The main living structure sat high on top of the hill with pathways winding up from the boat dock through lawn-studded landscapes. Fountains, garden art, and glorious flowers representing the colors of the Italian flag captured my attention. I studied the severity of the slopes where the lawns grew and noted that Liriope was the ground cover at the steepest areas. Hydrangeas graced planting areas and Ficus repens wound decoratively over the ancient buildings. I could understand why this place of beauty was chosen as a shooting location for feature films such as Star Wars Episode Il: Attack of the Clones and the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.
Each evening we found comfort in returning to the downstairs of our home away from home. While the landscaped area between us and the lake was sparse, it reminded me that our landscapes should reflect their surroundings. At this location, an elaborate landscape could detract from the beauty of the lake surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges. A day trip to Switzerland drove that point home—sometimes less is more. More on that side trip next week.