Some forty miles southeast of Rome, at the foot of the steep western face of the Lepini mountains, ‘the most beautiful and romantic garden in the world’ extends itself peacefully over sixteen lush, well-wooded acres. Seen from above, say from the village of Norma perched on the mountaintop, Ninfa appears essentially Italian, with an old, square, crenellated stone tower, a kidney-shaped lake, and dozens of cypresses rising up from the greenery like so many black exclamation marks. At ground level, the impression is radically different. Here, despite the cypresses and the ancient stonework, the garden is somehow more English than Italian – full of running water, roses, flowering trees, shade, and birdsong. Yet even this impression may mislead. Ninfa is in fact a garden like no other.
As Charles Quest-Ritson makes clear in Ninfa, some of its character can be explained by its thoroughly international origins. It was created over several generations by the Caetani family, an aristocratic line of almost antediluvian age (and now, it seems, extinct), which for hundreds of years owned most