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Author Topic: MAGNA GRAECIA  (Read 7494 times)
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« Reply #135 on: June 09, 2009, 09:21:40 pm »

Small spaces:
Floral display in the southern Italian town of Lecce

Simon Watson

                                            Small spaces in Italy: loving Lecce's flowers

                                       We can all learn from Italy's small urban courtyards

Kate Weinberg
03 Jun 2009

Italy is big on flower festivals.

One of the most famous is the Infiorata in Noto, a baroque town in Sicily: on the third Sunday in May, a mosaic of petals and seeds covers one of the main streets like a giant, stained-glass window. The following day, children are allowed to run barefoot through the flowers

(Organisers of Chelsea Flower Show, please loosen ties and take note).

So when I discovered that my visit to Lecce in southern Italy was to coincide with its annual flower competition,
I became rather excited. Lecce is known – at least by the locals – as the "Florence of the South". It is a dramatic baroque city that would surely host a spectacular floral show. Arriving late on the last day of the competition I rushed straight to the exhibition.

As I walked round the show, carefully studying one floral display after the next, my excitement curdled. Granted, the temperature was an arid 86F (30C), and after two days on their stands, the flowers were past their best. But even allowing for this, most of the entries were, well… pretty bizarre. In one, a spray of orchids and grasses emerged from a ceramic swan like an overambitious wedding hat, in another a string of plastic butterflies seemed to be tangled – along with a few petunias – in a fishing net.

Sucking on my disappointment, my travelling companion and I continued our passeggiata round the city. It soon became clear that large numbers of people were streaming into the entrances of private palazzi. Turns out, our visit to Lecce had also coincided with the day of cortili aperti: one Sunday a year when dozens of private courtyards in the old city are made open to the public.

As we followed the crowds I realised that here was Lecce's real flower show. Rather than contrived poesies wilting on plinths, the courtyards were a miracle of gardening in small, urban spaces: long beards of purple clematis dangled from wrought-iron balconies, glossy ivy carpeted the honey-coloured walls and bundles of tiny starlike jasmine twisted up columns. In one of the larger courtyards the fruit on tall orange trees clashed beautifully with tumbling pink and red geraniums. In another, slender ivory arum lilies were the only contrasting colour in an otherwise austerely evergreen space.

As we visited courtyards each more exquisite than the next, I became incensed that something like this was not done in England. Surely the best way to encourage pride and delight in gardens is to allow the best of them to be open to general appreciation and nosiness once a year? Why were we so uptight that we couldn't be more like the Italians, who let their children trample through flowers in a life-affirming Mediterranean manner and then threw open their courtyards to the public?

Returning home, I rang my friend Piers, gardener to the stars, and held forth on the subject of why Italy was better than England for a good few minutes. He listened to me patiently for a while before telling me to look up the National Garden Scheme (NGS), the gardeners' charity that is practically a national institution.

Tomorrow I will sit in the small un-Italian courtyard outside my house, and flick through the pages of The Yellow Book 2009, looking for private gardens around the country that I want to visit this summer and feeling proud to be British.

What's that great English expression again:
casa mia e` casa tua?

The Lecce open courtyards scheme in Puglia has been running for 15 years and each year open courtyards are combined with cultural events such as live classical concerts in the courtyards and churches. This year 19 palazzi and two churches were opened to the public.

The website is in Italian
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