Ischia La Mortella gardens
The island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples, has long been a refuge for artists, musicians, writers and screen personalities. Immediately after the second world war William Walton came to live on Ischia with his Argentinian wife Susana, and over the years they entertained many illustrious guests, including Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Terence Rattigan and Maria Callas.
Their home, La Mortella – the place of the myrtles – is set in exotic tropical gardens renowned throughout Europe. Originally designed by the landscape architect Russell Page , they were opened to the public in 1991 and today can be visited between April and November.
The house is built on the side of a volcanic hill and includes a Recital Hall and the Archive. Created in 1990, the Archive contains Sir William’s letters, photographs, manuscripts and memorabilia. It offers an important resource for both students and enthusiasts, and part of the material is today on permanent exhibition in the Museum. The collection is continually updated, each time new material comes to light. As with La Mortella itself, which has evolved from a barren stone quarry into a rich tropical garden, the archive has been a labour of love supported by careful long-term planning.
In the Recital Hall, two Seasons of chamber music concerts are staged, one in Spring and one in Autumn. Young musicians sent from Italian and foreign Schools of Music perform more than 70 weekend concerts, all open to the public. Between 1989 and 1999 annual Masterclasses were organised for young singers and other musicians each August and September. Harvard University has a Residency programme here for composers, and trainee gardeners come to gain work experience.
Over the years the ‘Fondazione William Walton e La Mortella’ has established special collaborative relationships with prestigious schools of music, among them the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama which has set up a scholarship in the name of William Walton and sends an ensemble of its students to Ischia each year, the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole, with whom an annual scholarship is offered to a young musician and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia USA, with whom residential music courses and concerts are organised.
The Greek Theatre dominates the upper garden, with audience seating cut into the slope of the hillside and a stage that overlooks the panorama of the Bay of Forio. It is in this evocative theatre, surrounded by China roses and aromatic herbs, that the summer season of Youth Orchestra Concerts takes place.
La Mortella is one of the most beautiful private gardens in Europe. In 2004 it was awarded First Prize as ‘il più bel parco d’Italia’ (the most beautiful park in Italy) by the American company Briggs & Stratton, against competition from 100 other gardens.
This enchanting garden has taken more than 50 years to create, from the artistic sense, the love and the Ischia La Mortella gardensdetermination of Lady Walton to offer the composer a refuge in which to work in serenity and seclusion. Whilst William was composing, Susana was creating a masterpiece of her own, made up of flowers and plants; tirelessly planting, giving form and structure to an inaccessible and unpromising terrain, propagating and irrigating, and from a belief in the force of dreams, little by little she has created a garden which today hosts thousands of rare and exotic plants. For Susana Walton, la Mortella is a life’s mission, a monument to the life and works of William, and a touching record of the great love that they lived together.
The property, which in the early years of the 1950s was a scorched and desolate terrain studded with volcanic rocks, is today a garden on several levels, which varies from a typically sub-tropical environment in the valley, with its own humid and shady microclimate, to areas much more exposed to the sun high on the hill.