A trip to the small volcanic island of Ischia, nestled serenely in an idyllic spot just off the coast of Naples, is not complete without a formal garden visit. Giardini La Mortella is certainly no ordinary garden, but a wonderful Mediterranean and tropical oasis, created with loving care by its Argentinian founder, Lady Susana Walton. She and her husband, the British composer Sir William Walton, lived here, and the gardens began life more than half a century ago, in 1956. Today, you can visit these gardens, and enter a more tranquil world, where music and careful planting merge.
About the La Mortella Gardens
Step back in time and into the lush Mortella Gardens on your next trip to Ischia. Put aside at least half a day to immerse yourself in this stunning horticultural sanctuary. You’ll follow in famous footsteps. The owners hosted many fabulous parties here, and guests included Charlie Chaplin, Vivien Leigh and Maria Callas, to name just a few. The beautiful gardens are laid out over the hillside, on different levels, but, worth noting is the access for less able-bodied visitors on each level. Climbing higher at each stage brings new rewards, not just the well-planted and designed gardens, but also the splendid views from each point.
The well maintained gardens are superbly landscaped, with close attention to detail, and are a delight for any green-fingered visitors or budding horticulturalists, as well as those expert in botany. In fact, even if you know nothing about plants, you will love the unadulterated beauty and scent of the gardens. It is such a relaxing spot to visit, whilst staying at Torre dell’Aquila, which is conveniently located for a visit to the gardens.
What’s to see at La Mortella?
The distinguished landscape architect, Russell Page, first transformed this unyielding rock quarry landscape into the delightful gardens we see today, all under the watchful eye and green fingers of Lady Walton. Curved paths and climbing terraces hewn into the hillside, beg to be discovered, and you can easily lose all sense of time as you walk through and climb upwards. The gardens are as composed as lovingly as a piece of sheet music, and are in two parts; the lower gardens, known as The Valley, and the upper, known as The Hill. In total, there are over two hectares of landscaped garden.
There are three tropical greenhouses, and water plays a large part in the gardens, along with water loving plants, such as Papyrus, Lotus, and Waterlily. There is a perpetual sound of water from the ponds, streams and fountains.
La Mortella is a relaxing and mindful place, and one of the highlights is the Thai House, a special place for meditation, filled with Bamboo and Oriental Maple, as well as Lotus Blossom, and scented plants. Surrounded by the exotic planting, you will feel instantly transported to Asia. The collection of plants is not only maintained, but widened each year, with more careful planting, so one visit is never quite enough.
There are countless reasons to visit the gardens, but a special one is to see the giant water lilies, in particular the Victoria. It’s a species that was originally discovered in Brazil back at the beginning of 1800, and later brought to Europe. Here at the Mortella Gardens, they can be seen inside the greenhouse called the Tropical House, where the sheer size of them will amaze you. It’s said that they are so robust and huge – up to three metres in diameter, that a leaf can bear the weight of a child.
In addition to the enormous lilies, orchids and bromeliads, look out for The Mouth; a sculpture by Simon Verity. Also interestingly, and with an important sustainable angle, spot the colourful tropical climbing plants, in particular the Strongylodon Macrobotrys, which is a rare, exquisite turquoise climber from Asia. Hailing from the Philippines, where it is on the brink of extinction due to deforestation, it thrives happily here. The bright colour attracts nocturnal bats, who pollinate the next flower as they hang upside down and feed on the sweet nectar of the pendulous flowers.
The Tea Room
Every stroll around a garden requires a decent pot of tea, and a slice of sticky cake, it’s practically a rule! The Tea Room at La Mortella Gardens is almost as famous as the main attraction. Enjoy a selection of Fortnum and Mason teas – yes, really – all served at reasonable prices. Rumour has it that the Caprese Cake is an absolute must-order.
Activities at La Mortella Gardens
Besides the discovery of the botanical aspect to La Mortella Gardens, it is also the superb setting for plenty of cultural activities during the summer months. In keeping with the ethos of the Foundation, music and art performances are also an important part of dedicated summer evenings. Concerts, both open air and indoor, as well as theatre, are offered as part of the seasonal programme. Catch one of these cultural interludes and make your visit to La Mortella even more special, and provide a soundtrack to your holiday memories. Catch the symphonic concerts held every Thursday evening in the Greek Theatre, performed by young musicians. The purpose of the Foundation encourages visitors to appreciate music, and in particular the works of Sir William Walton, as this is after all, where he was most inspired. In fact, his wish was to have the urn containing his ashes set into the volcanic rock of the garden, where today they rest in peace.
Sir William Walton was largely considered to be one of the most prominent composers of the twentieth century. Music, therefore, plays a large part in the life of the gardens. Seasonally, various concerts are heard, and the garden theatre makes an excellent venue for the symphonies. Rock walls provide the acoustics, and aromatic thyme between the stone seating add a romantic scent, as evening falls and the first strings of music are heard, as the sun sets over the pristine sea of the Bay of Forio.
How to get to La Mortella Gardens
The gardens are easy to get to, located in Forio, close to the Spiaggia di San Francesco (San Francesco beach), in the Zaro area.
Use this Google map if you are driving, simply enter your starting point for accurate directions.
Address & Opening Hours
La Mortella Gardens are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Entrance to the public runs from March 29th, to October 30th. There are some additional opening days for 2018, all in April, and these are as follows:
- Wednesday April 25
- Monday April 30
For more information on Giardini della Mortella visit the official La Mortella Gardens website.
Fondazione William Walton e La Mortella,
via Francesco Calise 45, 80075, Forio (Na), Italy.