Ninfa was many things before it became a garden: a place of a myth decanted in olden-day poems, a town at the heart of a major, productive landed estate, and then an icon of destruction and abandonment. For the last century, it has been a stunning garden reflected in the waters of its river, where exuberant flowers bloom in counterpoint to ruined towers and buildings.

Until the 15th century, Ninfa was a prosperous town full of roads, houses, towers, churches, bridges and mills. Then, malaria and never-ending battles led to it being abandoned and falling into ruin. Despite attempts by the owners, the Caetani family, to revive the built-up area, nature took over, invading and covering everything in ivy, honeysuckle and spontaneous flora. In the late 19th century, Onorato Caetani’s English-born wife, Ada Wilbraham, and their sons Gelasio and Roffredo, began to salvage some of the buildings, channel the waters and plant the first trees. Early in the 20th century, two women, Marguerite Chapin, Roffredo’s wife, and her daughter Lelia, created this magical place, where apple trees and ornamental cherry trees blossomed, climbing roses embraced ruined walls, and cascades of wisteria reflected in the clear waters of the river and springs, all in the shade of Mediterranean and exotic trees. They restored a number of structures, most notably the Tower, which became the emblem of Ninfa, as well as the Palazzo Comunale, where Lelia, the Caetani family’s last descendant, went to live. The hall, the former council chamber, became a site for artistic and cultural meetings that Lelia and her mother Marguerite arranged. In the midst of this luxuriant vegetation, thanks to the works of the writers who have loved and described it, present-day Ninfa has spawned its very own literary tradition.