For any gardener, the public garden is a ‘must see’. Stunningly sited, very nicely maintained, interestingly planted, they are decorated with some quite astonishing and eccentric pavilions. Wonderfully gimcrack, they can’t be explored, but must once have been a delight, especially at night when the lanterns (many still in situ) were lit, tables were laid, and music wafted through the palms and bougainvilleas.
The ensemble was designed by a mysterious woman, whom the Italian entry in Wikipedia calls ‘Lady Florence Trevelyan’, born at ‘Hallington’ in Northumberland. She can’t have been a ‘Lady’, as she was [probably] only the daughter of a younger son of a baronet (she would have to have been the daughter of a Duke, Marquess, or Earl). She seems to have been soon an orphan, and was presumably brought up in her Trevelyan uncle’s family seat in Northumberland, which is at Wallington, not Hallington.
Then the story goes, she was often at Balmoral, had some sort of entanglement with Queen Victoria’s son, Edward, and was banished from Britain. All rather odd. Her uncle had no Court connections that I can discover. She was described as ‘plain’. And if all the women, both grand and lowly, who became involved with the Prince of Wales were banished, Britain would have been much depopulated. Perhaps my own great-grandmother would have ended up in Italy too. If only…
However, the Trevelyans of Wallington were, and have remained, seriously into gardening, though the property is now in the care of the National Trust. Gardening was in her genes. She may have reached Taormina as an independently prosperous young women – her only sibling died in childhood. She married a successful doctor. As a number of wealthy expatriates found, Italian land and labour was cheap. They built gardens. And she built hers.
None of the others, though, went quite so overboard with pavilion building. The Italians seem to believe that she used them for bird watching. Hmmm… With so many stories? With so many so close together? With verandahs, balconies, flights of steps (some dizzyingly dangerous), with so many lanterns? Come on… They were for entertainment, for parties, for hot summer nights, for delights that chill Northumberland squires knew nothing about. They are whacky, fairground things, quite unique, and the greatest fun. Perhaps her private papers still exist. Perhaps we could find out more about them. Certainly, there’s a story there.
And surely she can’t have called herself ‘Lady’. Of the rich, famous, aristocratic, educated, folk that came to see her, many would have been aware of her relatively modest origins.