The Hanging Gardens of Campione d'ItaliaBy Adina Dosan (adinamiti)
September 22, 2010
The most extraordinary thing happened to my life: I became a grandma! Three months ago, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. They are living in the beautiful town of Campione d'Italia, in southern Switzerland, not far from the Italian border. She needed help, so her father and I went there for a whole month, during our vacation. It was the most amazing vacation we've ever had! Not only because we were there with both our children and grandson, but also because of the beautiful views and peaceful atmosphere of the town. Campione d'Italia is like a huge garden, lying on the Lugano Lake shore, surrounded by the sub-Alps . The mediterranean climate of this location allowed some of the most gorgeous plants to grow luxuriant and even divide themselves. The houses are terraced on the mountain and their beautiful gardens reminded me of Babylon and Semyramide's hanging gardens.
On my first walk through town, I saw these beautiful plants; the gardener in me wanted to have them all! Every day I admired the palms, magnolias, oleanders and so many other plants I haven't seen before, but I was already making plans of getting cuttings of each. It took me a week to decide which plants I wanted and wherefrom should I get the cuttings. I was afraid I could have problems with the authorities, but my children assured me there were no problems. The plants were regularly trimmed , so I couldn't do any damage. Moreover, they offered to help me with this. That was unexpected! Usually they are embarrassed when I "steal" a cutting or some seeds from a plant on the street. I was so relieved and happy and I could almost see the plants in my garden! I took cuttings which I kept in water until our departure.
Yet something still bothered me: how could I have one of those palms? I couldn't possibly get a big one, so I thought maybe I could find some seeds.
The Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) also called Windmill palms, were the most amazing sight in this mountain resort. They were numerous, in almost every garden and were even growing in groups of four or five.
In some locations, which were almost wild, the palms were growing almost like weeds. That was more amazing because there were no real weeds there! Behind the buildings, next to the mountain wall, tall pine trees and palms have grown into a small forest.
While observing the Chusan palms every day with wonder and enchantement, I've figured they must have been re-seeding. They were just blooming while we were there, in mid-June, and I imagined they must make seeds which would fall on the ground, so there must be some seedlings somewhere. I've looked down under every palm in town until I found these little baby-palms. Amazing how those seedlings had grown by themselves, from the seeds which fell on the ground a year before and here they were, growing into other beautiful Windmill palms. I've figured this must have happened with all the others, growing not only in the town of Campione d'Italia, but also in other towns we visited, both in Switzerland and Italy. According to some specialists, the Chusan palms became acclimated there thanks to the global warming. They seemed to have been reseeding and spreading so well over the years because the seedlings were able to survive during winters in these region.
The relatively mild weather on the Lugano Lake shores also allowed many other Mediterranean plants to grow. During my research about the plants growing in this town I've found out that almost all are evergreens. As I saw, the most preferred were the Laurel species, which are mostly used as hedges, but also as ornamental plants in huge stone pots. They were just blooming by the time we were there, which allowed me to search and find their names. One of the most interesting species is Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), also called Malosma, which belongs to the Anacardiaceae (Sumac) family. Rhus lanceolata, also called prairie sumac belongs to the same family, but its leaves aren't glossy and it's not an evergreen. But it has beautiful colored leaves in the fall and also on young sprouts. Its flowers and fruits are growing in clusters, similar to Laurel sumac.
Rhus lanceolata sprouts Rhus lanceolata berries Rhus lanceolata cluster
New Zealand laurel California laurel Laurel sumac
Most of the hedges were Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), also called English laurel, from the Rosaceae family. Their shiny leaves makes beautiful hedges for the gardens, growing very fast and bushy, sometimes invasive. They are preferred because they are a hardy evergreen, tolerant to cold winters and drought. I've identified a few cultivars.
P. laurocerasus rotundifolia P. laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken' Cherry laurel
Another amazing plant, growing like a tree in almost every garden from Campione d'Italia is Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' cultivar. I had heard about this plant, but never saw one blooming. I was so impressed of how big it grows, like a huge tree! Later I've learned that it is an evergreen and one of its alternate names is Laurel magnolia. I've admired dozens of these gorgeous plants in Campione d'Italia and in other towns nearby. It was such a site to see their stunning flowers opening everyday and of course I wanted one of those too, although a small cutting was almost impossible to find. Finally I managed to find one which I brought home with me, together with all the other cuttings.
Still, this town of evergreens had more surprises for me. While walking through town one day, I found a huge seed on the sidewalk, which seemed more like a hazelnut , but it wasn't round, more like flattened. I couldn't resist and picked it up because I had a hunch it could have been from one of the magnolias. After about a week, I found a few more of those seeds on the sidewalk, about in the same area and picked up 2 more. I knew that Magnolia grandiflora has red seeds, about that shape, but I hoped they could have gotten brown from drying. After doing online research, I found out they might be from another magnolia species, Magnolia acuminata, also called cucumber magnolia or cucumber tree. That wasn't such a good news, but I sowed the seeds anyway and I'm waiting to see what comes out. It's still a magnolia and I will have it for free if it sprouts from those seeds.
Different colors of oleanders were growing in the gardens, while others seemed to pop up from the rock of the mountain. Nerium oleanders are also evergreens, sub-tropical shrubs, from the Apocynaceae family.
On my walks I saw a few japanese trees. It wasn't a surprise to find out that two of them are also evergreens. Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), also called the Japanese plum or the Japanese medlar already had fruits, while the Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporrum tobira), also called the Japanese mock-orange or Japanese cheesewood was still blooming. Only the Japanese maple showed some colored leaves.
One of the most widely grown plants in Campione d'Italia is the gorgeous Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) also called the Confederate jasmine. It was hanging on most of the balconies or fences, or just on the rock of the mountain. It is an evergreen woody liana and it comes from the Apocynaceae family, same as the Oleander.
Ivy species including English ivy (Hedera helix) and Persian ivy (Hedera colchica) were hanging on every rock of the mountain or on the fences, sometimes coming out on the sidewalk, like wanting to take over. A banana tree seemed so comfortable between all the ivies and pinetrees!
Sedum and bergenia were popping up everywhere from among the rocks alongside the road and from the mountain. Bergenia cordifolia, a perennial evergreen, also called "pigsqueak," was doing very well in pots too, sometimes with the beautiful company of azaleas or hydrangeas.
Hydrangea bushes, roses, spiral trimmed thujas, petunias, begonias, were decorating the town's flower beds, gardens and parks.
Abelia bushes, with their pink flowers were decorating a flower bed near the Casino. Abelia grandiflora is a semi-evergreen in this climate, but if it would grow in my garden it would be decidous.
Ivy geraniums and other pelargoniums grow very well in that climate. All balconies were bursting with so many blooms! I even saw a bottlebrush plant in one of the private gardens, which I knew from seeing one growing in my friend's garden in Florida.
Other evergreens growing in the Meditarranean climate of this beautiful town are the rhododendrons. We went to an outside pool, situated on top of a mountain nearby and the view was stunning! Rhododendron bushes were growing everywhere around this facility, on the hills, together with the pine trees.
As living in a cold climate, the hanging gardens of Campione d'Italia, with all the evergreens growing there made such an impression on me that I'm considering moving there to live together with my children and grandson, so I can enjoy the beauty every day, too. When I returned, I had the cuttings I took from some of the plants to remind me of those amazing gardens, but I'm sorry to say most of them didn't survive, except for the English laurel, one of the oleanders and four small rhododendron cuttings. Losing the magnolia and the Jasmine vine cuttings was so painful! But this shouldn't have been a surprise since I took those cuttings while they were still blooming.
Yet, I have high hopes I can have other cuttings. We're returning for the baptism of our grandson and I'm planning to take more cuttings then. Maybe I can find some Magnolia grandiflora seeds now, they should be there, on the trees, or would be on the ground. Anyway, almost all those plants won't survive here,in Romania, but I can keep them in pots inside our home. My husband isn't that happy about it, he said I'm going to have to arrange some hanging gardens in the conservatory, to have more space for all the plants I have. What a wonderful idea! But I wonder if he knows how much this is going to cost?