Sunday, May 26, 2024

Island Issues

Italy: Private Island Gardener Picks Up Prestigious Prize

The head gardener of an Italian private island has been awarded with the prestigious lifetime achievement award from the Royal Horticultural Society of London.

Isola Madre - Photo Courtesy of Vladi Private Islands

Isola Madre – Photo Courtesy of Vladi Private Islands

After 36 years of lovingly tending the gardens of Italy’s Isola Madre and Isola Bella, the green fingered Gianfranco Giustina (59) has been singled out for acclaim by the Royal Horticultural Society of London, picking up the prestigious lifetime achievement award for his creative private island landscaping… and there’s not a palm tree in sight.

Meeting the horticultural demands of the paying public whilst faced with the challenges of private island isolation is no mean feat. Yet Giustina seems to have got the balance just right, with an estimated half a million visitors descending on the region year after year with only one goal in mind – the immaculately-tended gardens of Isola Madre and Isola Bella.

Overseeing a team of eighteen gardeners (ten on Isola Madres and eight on Isola Bella), Mr. Giustina is responsible for maintaining an illustrious horticultural history which stretches back as far as the 19th century and the Rovelli brothers’ creation of Isola Madre’s iconic eight-hectare English garden.

Many features from the original gardens remain to this day.  The islands’ protected status means that the layout of the formal garden cannot be altered, making for a particularly interesting challenge for Mr. Giustina. “With these gardens, you can’t live in the past,” he said. “You have to keep renewing them, but without disrupting the spirit”.

The logistical operation, too, is immense, with meticulous planning a must-have attribute amongst the islands’ horticultural team. Each and every flower has to be flown in by helicopter, whereas scaffolding and earth are brought in by barge. Further complications arise due to the islands’ lack of heavy machinery, meaning that every hole has to be dug by hand.

The hard work doesn’t seem to have put Mr. Giustina off, however. Tall, blue-eyed and with a smile never far from his lips, the 59-year-old remains as much under the spell of the two islands now as he did 36 years ago, when he stumbled across a newspaper clipping advertising the position for a gardener.  “They cast a spell over me,” he smiled. “And I’ve been here ever since.”

Owned by one of Italy’s most prominent noble families – the Borromeo Family – both Isola Madre and Isola Bella can be found in the glittering waters of the famous Lake Maggiore. Open to the public since the 1920s, green-fingered guests are welcome to check out the island’s gardens for themselves, with tours of both Isola Madre and Isola Bella available to book between April and October.

Want to take a closer look at these beautiful private island gardens? Be sure to pick up a copy of SWISS AND ALPINE ISLANDS for fabulous photos of Isola Madre, Isola Bella and many more.

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