Saturday, April 8, 2017

Oscar Tintori's Garden of Eden


The Citrus Hesperidarium at Pescia

If you drive to the west coast from Florence you may take the Firenze-Mare motorway along the broad valley of the Arno all the way to the sea and Pisa or Lucca. En route you will be treated to views of one of Tuscany's celebrated plant nursery districts (others are to be found further south along the Arno and in Versilia on the coast). 


Battalions of cyprus, platoons of magnolias, brigades of tufted or twisted ornamental bushes, divisions of deciduous trees, regiments of shrubs: an entire army of woody plants marches towards the sea. It is a magnificent display of human enterprise, the varieties of horticulture and human-imposed order.

If you have time (and you really should make time), on the way towards Pisa and the coast, you could make a detour at Pescia (exit at Chiesina Uzzanese) to visit the glorious, perfumed citrus nursery founded by Oscar Tintori. Here you will find gigantic greenhouses covering 2000 square metres and sheltering hundreds of different varieties of citrus plants.



 
Ancient cultivars, gigantic, contorted, fingered, horn-shaped and elongated exemplars; tiny spheres the size of marbles, huge trees with both bi-coloured fruit, variegated leaves and a marvellous variety of citrus blossom.
Paradise must be fragrant. Visitors in spring are treated to a heavenly olfactory experience at Oscar Tintori's. The moment you walk through the entrance you are greeted by an extraordinary perfume: orange blossom, lemon 
blossom, citrus-of-any-kind blossom saturates the air. Zagara is the name for lemon and sweet orange blossom but also by association for the fragrance itself. The fragrance of bitter oranges is called neroli. The zagara is an enveloping presence in the greenhouses.
the sort of cultivar the Medici specialized in: the knobblier the better
Masses of glowing fruits nestle amidst green foliage. We are told, rather unnecessarily, that this year the trees have fruited well. 
as welcome and welcoming as the sun
For the most part the greenhouses display citrus in pots large and small, for the buying, but beyond a locked door, accessed through the nursery shop, is an actual citrus museum, called the Hesperidarium or Citrus Garden, which hosts 200 varieties from all over the world. For a modest sum one is admitted to what is both the nursery's botanical garden and its drawing-room. Apart from welcoming casual visits, this greenhouse also hosts events, weddings, dinners, conferences and so on.

The name Hesperidarium derives from Greek mythology's Hesperides, the nymphs of the evening or sunset, the daughters of the West, who tended a garden in the west of the ancient world, located variously near the Atlas mountains or in Iberia.
espaliered lemon, luxuriantly growing up an external wall.
The trees of the garden of the Hesperides bore golden apples which bestowed immortality. One of the labours of Hercules was to retrieve some apples from the garden, a feat which leads to a convoluted chapter in the Hercules myth. One of these apples was also said to be the Apple of Discord (the one Paris awarded to Aphrodite) which eventually led to the war of Troy. 

There are working lemon pergolas on the Sorrento and Amalfi coasts south of Naples, but this must be the largest, tallest and possibly most prolific decorative pergola
Even though the orange did not exist in the Mediterranean before the Middle Ages, the fabled golden apples were later associated with oranges. The botanical name for citrus (hesperidoids) derives from this myth. 

these lemons don't just look orange, they are orange
Citrus fruits are generally thought to originate in India, China or Southeast Asia and were first cultivated in China around 2500BCE. The original fruits are believed to have been the citron, pomelo, mandarin and papeda: all other citrus fruits are derived from different combinations of the hybridization of these four. Citrus eventually reached Italy in the form of the citron in about 70CE, brought by the Jews fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem. To this day special citrons are cultivated in southern Italy for the Jewish community for it is an important element of the festival of Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles.
citrus limonimedica diamante, cultivar from Calabria

The Renaissance's renewal of interest in citrus fruits, which were cultivated assiduously by the Medici, resulted not only in new varieties, of which the strange bizzarie (a cross between a citron and a bitter orange bearing exemplars of each as well as complete hybrids of the two on the same plant) was one example, but also to a renewed interest in the classical myth itself. References to citrus fruits and the mythology abound in Renaissance literature, from Shakespeare to Milton.

citrus limonimedica rugoso "fairly vigorous plant with an untidy appearance'
From the Medici on it became fashionable to own a limonaia or orangery where citrus could be protected in winter and rolled out in their magnificent pots each spring or summer to grace the terraces and gardens of stately homes all over Europe. Nowadays, owning at least one potted lemon tree in this part of the world is almost de rigueur. And who can resist this most gorgeous and useful of fruits?

orange and lemon pergola

The Italian poet Eugenio Montale (1896-1981), is just one of many modern writers who has sung the praises of the lemon. His piece, I Limoni, from Ossi di Seppia (1925) in its final stanza touches a particular chord for anyone living in a big city far from the relief that nature offers mind and soul. 

Ma l’illusione manca e ci riporta il tempo
nelle città rumorose dove l’azzurro si mostra
soltanto a pezzi, in alto, tra le cimase.
La pioggia stanca la terra, di poi; s’affolta
il tedio dell’inverno sulle case,
la luce si fa avara – amara l’anima.
Quando un giorno da un malchiuso portone
tra gli alberi di una corte
ci si mostrano i gialli dei limoni;
e il gelo del cuore si sfa,
e in petto ci scrosciano
le loro canzoni
le trombe d’oro della solarità. 

But the illusion is missing and time returns us
to noisy cities where the blue appears
only in pieces, high up, between the rooftops.
The rain tires the earth, then;
the tedium of winter weighs on the houses,
the light becomes mean - the soul bitter.
When one day through a door ajar
amongst the trees of a courtyard
 the yellows of lemons appear;
and the heart's chill ends,
and in our breast
 
the golden horns of splendour
roar out their songs.

.

citrus limon foliis variegatis
citrus limon citrus paradisi, lemon-grapefruit hybrid

citrus limonimedica canarone an old cultivar, known in 18th century Florence

For the horticulturalists and citrus lovers among us the museum garden provides information on most of the cultivars on display. For a rich, engaging, definitive history and survey of citrus in Italy read The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Atlee.

 shop and entrance to the 'museum'

If you have an ailing citrus tree (it can happen all too often, alas), Oscar Tintori's nursery has a citrus clinic where they will nurse your precious plant back to vigorous life. The soil at Tintori's has been created specifically for citrus and he has put his name to a specific, slow-release fertilizer.

Oscar Tintori's answer to limoncello

 
via Tiro a Segno 55
51012 Pescia (Pistoia) 
Tel +30 0572 429191
info@oscartintori.it

Opening times are not available, best to check beforehand.
The nursery suggests visiting during the cooler hours of the day in summer.

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