A walk through the Villa Bologna gardens

A walk through the Villa Bologna gardens

From its baroque beginnings to its recent additions, Jo Caruana enjoys the charms of a walk through Villa Bologna’s gardens, discovering historic, architectural and natural highlights.

I­t’s the time of year when we all vacate the poolside and seek alternative entertainment. Nature sits high on our agenda and this is the perfect time to head outdoors into the wilderness, or to at least take the opportunity to see some of our country’s al fresco treasures.

Villa Bologna is a beautiful place to spend a couple of hours enveloped by nature, and the owners have spent a lot of time making the experience a more hands-on one.

The villa itself dates back to 1745, when it was built by Fabrizio Grech. This version of the house did include a beautiful garden, however further developments took place after 1890, when the new owner, Lord Strickland, who inherited the house and chose to make a number of changes to it.

Those changes, combined with numerous original features, are what make Villa Bologna the eclectic, striking and exciting garden that it is today – and a tour is well worth it.

Your visit will begin in the boutique at the front of the gardens, where you can pick up a map or, for the more technologically-friendly, a tablet. These tablets actually include an interactive map of the gardens, with clickable points that provide more information on the various spaces, including fun facts and titbits from the building’s wonderful history.

However, before even getting outdoors, you’ll be able to wander through Villa Bologna’s well-known pottery. Here, pretty pieces are made on-site by the Villa’s talented potters, and the walk-through workshop will provide insight on their processes – from the potter’s wheel to the kiln.

The garden itself sits just beyond the walls of the pottery and starts under the shade of the roofed Cyprus Walk. These stone pergolas are typical of early baroque gardens, as are the surrounding orange orchards.

This is a great spot to stop to get your bearings, as the whole garden stretches out in front of you. While you do, keep your eyes peeled for the canals, which sit at either side of the pergola’s base. Back in the day these were used to water the soil and farmers would place bits of clay into the troughs to direct the water.

This is a nice spot to stop to get your bearings, as the whole garden stretches out in front of you

From here you could stop by the Lower Vegetable Garden, which is where some of Villa Bologna’s vegetables (many of which are now for sale through the shop) are grown. Alternatively, take the path upwards to the Upper Vegetable Garden to take in the sweet smell of the many herbs grown here – including sage, rosemary and lemon grass. This is also a nice space to sit for a while and the recently-restored stone benches provide lovely views of whole stretches of the garden, with the villa in the background.

IT is then just a short walk to the Cactus Garden, which Lady Strickland first started in the 1920s. As an avid traveller, she had picked up plants from around the world and knew that cacti would thrive in the Maltese climate.

This cactus section was further developed by Captain Hubert de Trafford who, along with his family, moved into Villa Bologna in the 1960s, and it is now a leading example of a local cactus garden.

Villa Bolognaas viewed from the back.Villa Bolognaas viewed from the back.

Staying on the path towards the back of the garden, you’ll find the Sunken Pond, which is a particularly picturesque spot.

It was probably inspired by an Italian garden called La Mortolo, a classic park in Northern Italy, and it was another addition made by Lady Strickland.

Just in front of it sits the glamorous Dolphin Fountain, named after the dolphin fish you see sitting on top of the fountain’s stone pergola.

The lawns here are reputed to have been the first in Malta – and you can imagine how challenging it would have been to keep the grass lush back in the 20s and 30s!

Finally, a walk through an archway to the right of the lawns will bring you to the oldest part of the garden – the Baroque Garden, which dates back to the years when the house was built in 1745.

There’s no doubt that this would have been a very elaborate example of a typical garden of the day, and it’s still absolutely stunning. Some of the trees are the originals from the 18th century, while others would have been planted by Lord Strickland in the 1920s.

Oh, and as one last highlight, don’t forget to look ‘right’ while in this part of the garden, to spot the large nympheum. This lavish mix of fountains, enormous statues, stone ways and ornate carvings is arguably one of the most impressive baroque fountains on the island, and it was recently restored.

A quick pondering if its wonderful history and style will certainly underline the magic the exudes from the complete Villa Bologna experience.

Fun Fact

• As you wander round, you may well spot some soft-drink bottles hanging in the tress. But don’t let that perplex you. These contraptions merely serve as a DIY-solution to pest control. They contain a concoction of Bovril, Coca Cola and honey, which male flies find irresistible.

With the males gone, the female flies can’t mate and the produce stays safe – which is how Villa Bologna manages to amass enough healthy, pesticide-free procure to sell in its shop.

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