Garden of Ninfa, Italy.

A triumphal synthesis of humanity’s imagination and nature’s richness 

The bewitching Garden of Ninfa (Giardini di Ninfa) is set amongst the ruins of a medieval town and is located 70 kilometres southeast from Rome in the territory of Cisterna di Latina within the central Italian region of Lazio.

Described by many as the most romantic garden in the world, the origins of Ninfa go back to Roman times and are immersed in myth. Tradition tells that Ninfa was named after a temple consecrated to the water divinities, nymphs, the locals believed occupied the natural springs and gentle flowing river that meanders through the verdant landscape. 

Prior to developing into a garden of rare beauty, Ninfa was a small town of strategic importance and political influence. From the 8th century, travellers traversed the route through Ninfa to get from Rome to Naples and when the Appian Way (Via Appian) was impossible to traverse because of flooding rains.

In 1159, Cardinal Rolando Bandinelli was consecrated at Ninfa as Pope Alexander III. He was inaugurated at the Church of Santa Maria, whose evocative remnants are visible today.

The distinguished Caetani family, who had ties with the papacy, took control of Ninfa in the 13th century, buying out local proprietors and titleholders.

During the papacy crises, known as the Great Schism (circa 1378), anti-pope factions razed Ninfa to the ground. Never to be rebuilt, the town lay deserted for several centuries, mainly because of the untamed growth of the nearby marshland, a breeding ground for malaria. 

I asked, amazed, what that most puzzling great garland of flowers, that mysterious green ring, could be. “Nympha, Nympha,” said our host. Nympha! then that is the Pompeii of the Middle Ages, buried in the marshes – that city of the dead, ghostly, silent. 

Ferdinand Gregorovius German Historian – when he first viewed Ninfa from the hilltop town of Norma in 1852

Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.
View of the serene waters of the Ninfa river and the Ponte Romano (Roman Bridge). Town on top of the hill is Norma. Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, members of the noble Caetani family, lovers of botany, created some foundations of the garden seen today.

The garden remained abandoned until the 19th century, when visionary members of the Caetani family rolled up their sleeves and began the arduous process of regeneration and restoration. The legacy of their energy, boldness and foresight endures today.

The garden, a botanical, wildlife and spiritual sanctuary, spreads over 8 hectares (20 acres). Abundant in faunae and native and exotic flora, the garden has over 10000 species of plants, 152 species of birds and a rich variety of fauna that inhabit the lake and river.

The leafy winding pathways are a softened with dappled light and burst with ethereal vistas. The paths unite all parts of the garden and gently pull you to explore the curious and ghostly ruins of the medieval towers, walls and churches, all of which are romantically cloaked with plants such as climbing roses, ivy and scented jasmine.

Several ornate bridges span the serene river named Ninfa, as it serenely drifts in its progress through the lush landscape. And the 12th-century castle and tower cast mirror like impressions on the small lake they border.

The garden of Ninfa is the visionary fusion of many generations of the Italian, English and American-born members of the family. A tour de force of man and nature, Ninfa is a beguiling union of humanity’s creativity and the grandeur and order of nature.

Note: Ferdinand Gregorovius was a German historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome. He is best known for Wanderjahre in Italien (Years of Wandering in Italy), his account of his Italian travels in the 1850s.

Click to view the complete Ninfa image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome Italy.

Green lungs of Rome.

The Villa Borghese Gardens (80 hectares) is the third largest public park in Rome, Italy.

Originally, a private vineyard, the Park Garden was redesigned and enlarged in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V). It was further landscaped following an English-style gardens design in the 19th century.

The main building of the Villa is the 17th century Casino Nobile, which houses the Museo or Galleria Borghese. Designed by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen), the Villa was built to house the extensive collection of paintings, artwork, ancient statues and artefacts owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Often referred to as the green lungs of Rome, the park, which is easily accessible from anywhere in Rome, features wide leafy shady lanes, landscaped gardens, several museums, neo classical temples, beautiful fountains and many monuments and statues.

Biking through park. Villa Borghese gardens. Rome. Italy.
Rome. Italy. People biking through the leafy lanes within the Villa Borghese Gardens, which is the largest public park in Rome.

It also has a scenic lake or lagoon that allows tourists and locals to hire boats and row in amongst the water fowl and around the imitation Ionic Temple of Aesculapius.

It’s a pleasure to walk or bike through its shaded pathways and observe Romans and visitors at play or relaxing and escape the hectic streets of Rome. Note: The Villa Doria Pamphili is the largest landscaped park in Rome and the Villa Ada is the second largest.

Click to view the complete Villa Borghese image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, Victoria. Australia.

Nestled near the mountain village of Olinda, one hour’s drive from central Melbourne, is the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, a showcase of stunning exotic and native flora. 

A dazzling exhibit of the wonderments of nature, the garden is one of the key allures of the Dandenong Ranges, which is set in the low mountain ranges roughly 600 metres above sea level. 

Formerly recognised as the National Rhododendron Garden, the vast 40-hectare Garden (100 acres) includes an extensive range of cool-climate plants along with 30,000 Rhododendron and Azalea species and hybrids. 

Entry is free, and I spent a relaxed two hours meandering the 5 km of paved walkways during a recent summer visit and was delighted with the diversity of plant life and arrangement of the garden. 

“The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is Victoria’s premier cool-climate garden. With breathtaking views over the Yarra Valley, the garden features important collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and more, in a setting of native and exotic trees. Seasonal changes ensure the garden is a year-round delight,” Quote from the Parks Victoria website.

Click to view the complete Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia.
Dazzling pincushion flowers of the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ plant, a member of the Proteaceae family. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia. Native to Southern Africa, the genus Protea was named in 1735 after the Greek Sea God Proteus, who could change his form at will.

Monet and I, inspired by the masterpiece of nature.

What does an obscure photographer stuck in the concrete landscape of an Australian suburb and Claude Monet, a French impressionist master, have in common?… the love for nature, gardening, flowers and the symphonies of colours.

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.’ – Claude Monet

Born on 14 November 1840, Claude Monet is one of the most significant, influential and universally celebrated figures in the history of Art. Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting (late 1800s) which focused on emotions, form and changing light and movement rather than realism. 

Impression, Sunrise, a most splendid painting by Monet, is credited to inspiring the name of the impressionist movement.

Monet is perhaps most famous for his monumental series of oil paintings depicting water lilies, serene gardens, and Japanese footbridges. Monet’s water lily series was painted on his property in the village of Giverny, in northern France, where he lived his final 43 years from 1883 to his death on 5 December 1926. 

Throughout his life, Monet grew flowers and cherished gardening and being outdoors, at one with nature. In his later years, specifically during his life at Giverny, he became a zealous student of botany.

Monet was the architect and visionary of the extensive and splendid landscaped gardens (five acres of flowerbeds and water-lily ponds) which became the subjects of some of his famous masterpieces. 

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’ – Claude Monet

To achieve his grand vision, he devoted himself to flower gardening and employed several gardeners for additional support. He sourced and imported plants, some rare, from around the world including irises, daises, nasturtiums peonies, delphiniums, rhododendrons, Oriental poppies, asters and many species of sunflowers and the water lilies for his famous lily pond. 

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

Monet didn’t let finances impede attaining his dream, and he said, “All my money goes into my garden,” but also: “I am in raptures.” 

Today Monet’s house and gardens attract over half a million visitors each year, testament to his visionary brilliance. It was Monet’s love of plants and flowers and not painting that inspired him to transform his property into an oasis. 

And as Monet, I created my garden beds purely for the pure joy, inspiration, and companionship that plants and flowers provide. Graceful, enchanting and full of zest, flowers with all their eccentricities and richness of colours never cannot captivate the senses. As with Monet, I can’t imagine life without being surrounded by nature. 

‘I must have flowers, always, and always.’ – Claude Monet.

Images included in this post (and found in my image gallery) were captured in my garden. I concentrated on my collection of showy merry African daisies (Osteospermum) of which I clearly adore. The scientific name is developed from the Greek osteon (bone) and Latin spermum (seed). 

As homage to Monet, several of the photographs are impressionistic in style, with a dreamy soft, almost defocused effect, gushing with vibrant colours.

I used the multiple exposure photographic technique, also known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). I superimposed nine exposures to create a single image in camera. I then converted raw files into jpegs with very minor basic adjustments in Photoshop.

Official website of Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny.

Claude Monet Quotes

‘Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.’

‘My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature” “I am good at only two things, and those are gardening and painting.’

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’

Click here to view the full African Daisy image gallery.

 All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

Orto Botanico di Roma Italy

Well-secluded from the masses, the Orto Botanico di Roma (Botanical Garden of Rome) is unassumingly on the lower slopes of Gianicolo or Janiculum Hill in the medieval neighbourhood of Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

A peaceful and green sanctuary, the Garden accessible by crossing the River Tiber away from the chaotic tourist centre of Rome.

Established in 1883 on the formerly private grounds of the 17th century Palazzo Corsini, the Orto Botanico di Roma succeeded the Papal Botanical Garden dating back to the Renaissance period. Going back in history even earlier, the area that contains the Palazzo Corsini and the Botanical Garden encompassed the thermal baths of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who reigned between 193 to 211 AD. 

Managed by the Sapienza University of Rome, the Botanical Garden spreads over 12 hectares (30 acres) of sloping land contains over 3000 plant species from all over the world. Gravel pathways gently wind around the well-marked Garden that provides a full sensory journey of smell, touch, taste and varied shades of light and colour.

The Garden is replete with various specimens of exotic Palms, a bamboo forest, a Japanese garden, a medicinal garden, various greenhouses, cascading waterfalls and fountains and exceptional specimens of mature trees, native to the area and from all regions of the world. The enchanting Orto Botanico di Roma offers a relaxing serene refuge from the hustle and bustle of Rome and is on the top of my list to visit whenever I visit Rome.

Click to view the complete Orto Botanico di Roma image gallery.

All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.   

William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria Australia.

On the outskirts of Melbourne, the William Ricketts Sanctuary is a serene, mystical haven set in the verdant forest of the Dandenong Ranges. 

William Ricketts (1898–1993) was a potter, sculptor and Aboriginal and ecological spiritualist. Described by Ricketts as “The Forest of Love” the Sanctuary represents his profound kinship with Aboriginal Australians, his reverence of the natural environment and disgust of the destructive attitude of white colonists towards Australian flora and fauna. 

Life is Love. All you to all me, for being part of nature, we are all brothers to the birds and trees.

William Ricketts.

Meandering paths bordered by soaring Mountain Ash Trees and green ferny rainforest gently take visitors on a sacred, uplifting journey through an open-air gallery of roughly 100 sculptures of Australian Aboriginal people and wildlife lovingly crafted by Ricketts into the natural landscape. 

Aboriginal people represented in his sculptures are attributed to his experiences living in central Australia during the 1950s in which he spent time with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte nations.

 Opened in 1964, the sanctuary is free to enter and is one of the key attractions of the Dandenong Ranges, which a set of low mountain ranges roughly 600 metres above sea level. 

The complete William Ricketts Sanctuary image gallery.