The EPS trip to Rome

Posted: 5 Jun 2012

In August 1996 the society made a successful and highly enjoyable trip to the ‘Eternal City – Rome. Now, to celebrate our 21st year, this amazing city was chosen in which to meet and celebrate such a significant milestone.
After months of planning by Vic and our host in Rome Max, the 25th May saw a party of enthusiastic members from across Europe converge on the hotel Belvedere, in Mentana, our base for the trip. Set in wonderful countryside outside of Rome with great views from its hilltop setting of farmland and the historic walled town of Mentana itself.
Arriving in early afternoon on Friday 25th it was great to welcome old friends; some had been on the original Rome trip 16 years before as well as put faces to names familiar from the forum destined to become new friends.
In hot early summer sunshine we headed to our first visit, the ancient abbey at Farfa, home of the Benedictine order of monks for over 1500 years! Our procession of vehicles ably driven by Max, Jon, Vic and Daniel wound its way through fields, many of which were full of glorious red poppies.
After a fascinating tour of such an historic and holy place the chance to make some purchases in the small row of artisan shops that lined the old street outside the abbey. One such store attracted attention because it was clothed with a climber that at first many of us didn't recognise. It has thick, glossy green leaves and in its topmost sections bore large, brown figs! Ficus repens (pumila) in its adult leaf form with juvenile foliage at its base, more familiar as a plant that I used to see at one time in houseplant sections of stores. Max said this area would experience relatively cold winters so perhaps this is a species worth experimenting with?
Back to the hotel for our evening meal and then making the short drive to Max's home and garden to enjoy his family's hospitality and have a tour of his amazing garden. The evening provided a chance for conversation helped along by liberal refreshment including fantastic homemade mandarin and kumquat liquors.
With many enchanting fireflies lighting up the dark garden it was a great evening rounded off by the beautiful songs of Nightingales in the trees that surrounded the hotel on our return.
Despite a forecast of rain, Saturday dawned bright and sunny and our vehicle procession headed into Rome for the first garden visit, the famous Botanic garden. Here we met Sergio who led us with his great knowledge through the historic palm collection. This was followed by a tour led by Max of the more far flung areas including a truly amazing giant bamboo forest. The garden has an amazing range of plants which you enjoy against the backdrop of calls from feral monk parakeets. There are stands of mature Dasylirion and Nolina, many trees and shrubs including the largest (tree size!) Erythrina crista gallii I have ever seen.
The palm collection was our prime focus and historic plantings such as the tall Trachycarpus takil and massive Nannorrhops (which was producing two inflorescences) were breathtaking. Many old and mature palms abound including what must be amongst the tallest Washingtonia around. It was good to also see new palms being added and to learn that a protective programme is preventatively treating mature palms against attack from the lethal red palm weevil.
Across Rome, including the grounds of our hotel in the countryside, there is evidence of the destruction that this serious pest is wreaking with Phoenix canariensis top of its list. But other species are also prone including Washingtonia and perhaps most sadly of all, witnessed in a later garden visit two mature Jubaea. Treatment and prevention is expensive and given the size of the mature palms problematical and I can only hope that an effective control can be found soon before we lose such amazing palms from our landscape.
In the afternoon a drive through the crazy traffic of central Rome to two gardens, Villa Ada and Villa Torlonia. Both are now public parks but have mature palm collections dating back to days when the villas owners were wealthy families and the gardens their private collections.
Villa Ada still forms the base for visiting heads of state complete with its formal and elegant parterre gardens. It was here that the two mature Jubaea had fallen victim to the red palm weevil. But still some magnificent palms and a mature Araucaria bidwillii conifer was just stunning.
Villa Torlonia was home to many large Chamaerops, Sabal bermudana, Washingtonia robusta and filifera and varied Phoenix. Some hope here too were the tubes fitted to most of the mature palms that trailed from their crowns down their trunks. These are used to apply the regular doses of insecticide to the crowns needed to control the weevil.
After a long day and with storms starting to break in the evening sky we headed back to the hotel for our final evening.
After the rain of the previous night, Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Time pressure for getting people to the airport for their home journeys meant a limited time for our final garden visit. The historic Villa D'este in Tivoli.
A UNESCO world heritage site this incredible garden landscape on a hillside was started around 1550. Sadly, the rain of the night had swollen and brought much debris to the river that supplies the water for the gardens amazing water features. This meant that they were not operating for our visit. But all the same, it is an amazing garden, stunning location with views across the countryside and an incredible villa rich with decoration.
All too soon our time had passed and people were going their separate ways home. Charles had kindly donated some seeds fresh from his Portugal garden and these were keenly shared amongst the group. It had been a great meeting, super weather, beautiful gardens and most of all fantastic company. All the hard work put in by Max and Vic and the skilled work of our volunteer drivers who did an incredible job all paid off.
Many happy memories – THANK YOU!


Members dwarfed by Washingtonia in Rome Botanic Garden
Members dwarfed by Washingtonia in Rome Botanic Garden

Group photo on a small part of a big Nannorrhops
Group photo on a small part of a big Nannorrhops

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