Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Salerno Gardens

Here it is.  The first of a few posts about gardens I visited in Italy.  I know I was there in May and it is now nearly August, but the summer has raced away while I wasn't looking.  I also know that I said this would be the Summer of Awesome, and while there have been some beautiful moments, it has been far from awesome.  I hope you are thriving and creating and enjoying as many moments as you can to their fullest.  That is what I'm striving to do, and as I scan through these photos, I feel blessed to have visited such beautiful places.  

I took all the shots in this post in Salerno, a city on the southern tip of the Amalfi Coast.  It is just south of the tourist towns of Amalfi and Positano, and it has a distinctly local vibe.  It's not touristy in the least--in fact, most of the people I met there didn't speak English--but it is very real, and I loved it for its architecture, its orange trees lining the Lungomare Trieste (seaside walkway), and its laid-back energy.  Before I arrived in Italy, I had read about a very special garden in Salerno, high up in the hills over the city, so with map and cellphone in hand, I set off to find the hidden Giardino della Minerva.

The mid-12th century tower of the Duomo in Salerno

It's a bit of a treasure hunt to find the Garden of Minerva, so if you plan to visit, wear comfortable shoes.  Located in the old section of the city, it is tucked into a residential area of alleys, stairways, and courtyards.  There are signs for it once you reach the city's spectacular Duomo, which is well worth a visit.  It houses the tomb of St. Matthew in its incredible, inlaid-marble crypt.  I followed the signs to the garden, but got lost a few times anyway, which was a wonderful part of the adventure.

I loved so much of the graffiti I saw in Salerno.  This was a favorite message I discovered as I climbed to the garden.

At one point, I took the wrong alley or stairway or tunnel, and I ended up above the gardens.  There laid out before me was Salerno in all its terracotta-roofed glory, and beyond it the Mediterranean.  If one is going to lose one's way, there are much worse places to do so.

When I discovered the stairway in the photo above, I knew I was close.  Around the corner, I ran into a kind grandmother who gave me directions the rest of the way.  Two more corners, and there I was at the entrance to the oldest orto botanico (botanical garden) in Europe

The garden is a series of terraces tucked into the hillside, and all around it are apartments and other buildings, yet it feels quite secret.

During the middle ages, this was an herb garden for the medical school in Salerno.  Students studied therapeutic methods here, and the gardens are laid out in a quadrant representing the four humors of Hippocratic medicine (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) which were thought to affect health and temperament.  If the humors were in balance, then so was the body, thus the gardens themselves reflected this philosophy.  

A stairway runs the length of the gardens, leading the visitor past terraces shaded by orange and lemon trees, and cooled by beautiful fountains.  In addition to the fountains, a miniature aqueduct system flows throughout all the gardens, providing water for the plants, as well as an incredible sense of peace everywhere one goes.

There are many medicinal plants here, like the calendula below, with placards explaining their uses in Italian. 

I'm not sure what impressed me more, the garden itself or its setting.   

A couple of hours later, I set off on another adventure, wandering back down through the stairways of Salerno to find the Villa Communale (municipal park).

This park is by no means a standard green space with a few flower beds.  The plantings are glorious, and it is extremely well kept.  I found a bench in a shady corner and settled in to write for a couple of hours.

High up on the top of the hill overlooking the park is the Castello di Arechi II, 8th century Prince of Benevento.  

As you might expect, I was completely in love with the flowers here, including the trellising of these gorgeous creamy-white roses at the bases of magnificent trees.  The effect was a long line of graceful ladies in glamorous ball gowns.

My favorite thing about the park, though, was how many children were playing there.  It's a magical place in a city that most tourists never visit, but that I loved.  If you do visit Salerno, be sure to head for the Centro Storico, which is the old part of the city, and it's where the best shops and restaurants can be found.  A long pedestrian street runs through its heart, making it easy to stroll and window shop.  And always look up.  There are gardens everywhere in this city: on rooftops and terraces and balconies--one treasure after another.

Next post I'll have gardens of Florence.  It's hard to narrow down to just a few photos, but I will try.  Mr. Magpie will be helping with that one, so who knows where we'll lead you?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday's Gift

Good morning, friends!  Just wanted to share with you a photo I shot this morning in my garden. The Abraham Darby rose is finally blooming, and, as I wrote an hour ago when I posted it on my Instagram feed, whatever else happens, today is a good day.  I just wish the interwebs had a smell-o-vision button you could click!

Wishing you a beautiful Monday and a week full of promise.  xo

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Summer of Awesome

No, my friends, I have not forgotten my promise to post images and stories from Italy.  I've just been caught in a whirlwind of deadlines.  In fact, in rare spare moments, Mr. Magpie and I have been collaborating on a series of posts about gardens of Italy.  We're nearly finished with the first one, and it will be coming to you very soon!  In the meantime, here's another of our collaborations.  We saw this sweet little street while wandering in Florence, and we knew we needed a photo.  My hands were full (of shopping bags, no doubt), so I asked Todd to snap a shot with his iPhone.  At that very moment, this gentleman turned down the street, and Todd clicked.  Sometimes you can't plan or set up a shot like this.  It just happens, and these are some of my very favorite moments.  I've cropped the photo a wee bit, and processed it very slightly, but this is pretty much as we saw it.  Florence.  A city I want to return to again and again.

I hope you are having a beautiful July.  Here in Maine we are heading into the sticky days of summer. The peas are nearly bursting from their pods, the honeysuckle's clambering up the lilac, and the daisies are unfurling under the midday sun.  As Portland hits peak tourist season, our favorite food trucks are out, and a long-awaited (and already beloved) restaurant has finally opened.  After a very hard spring, Mr. Magpie has declared this the Summer of Awesome.  Life might be throwing some curveballs, but we're both pretty good hitters.  

If you're heading up (or down) to southern coastal or midcoast Maine this summer and looking to make this your own Summer of Awesome, below are 10 places (in no particular order) to hit.  I will be back very soon with tales from Italy, chickadees.

Summer of Awesome Destinations
  1. Marginal Way in Ogunquit (for a shore walk of pure beauty)
  2. Five Islands Lobster Company (for fresh seafood and quintessential Maine scenery)
  3. Snug Harbor Farm (for my favorite nursery in the state)
  4. Portland Sea Dogs (for great Minor League Baseball)
  5. Montsweag Flea Market (goes without saying!)
  6. Maine State Music Theater  (for wonderful musical theater on the gorgeous Bowdoin College campus)
  7. Gilsland Farm/Maine Audubon (for birdwatching)
  8. Reid State Park  (for a beautiful sandy beach and an incredibly picturesque setting)
  9. Peaks Island (for a glimpse of Maine island life)
  10. Portland Museum of Art (free admission on Friday nights, but always a fab place to visit)
Poppies at Gilsland Farm