Tapis Vert at Villa Centinale, Sienna, Italy

Tapis vert, tapis vert, tapis vert.  You are slowly walking between columns of oak and ilex with a carpet of grass under your feet. Yes, pull away those blankets of snow. There is a gateway ahead of you.  A hermitage high on the hill.  Just climb those scala santa. Edith Wharton wrote about the tapis vert of the Villa Centinale near Sienna, Italy in the early 1900's. The villa is simple, not grand like the Roman villas.  "The glory of Centinale is its park," wrote Ms. Wharton in her book, "Italian Villas and Their Gardens" published by The Mount Press, Rizzoli. Vivian Russell in her book, "Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens" published by Bullfinch Press Book, Little, Brown & Co. , 2000, writes, "Behind the villa ... a long green walk extends between high walls.   The tapis vert leads to a crossroads." So back on the shores of the USA, what constitutes a tapis vert?  One could call it wishful thinking for some sign of grass below the white of snow.  The green that we can write home about.

Four Things to know about Edith Wharton and her book, “Italian Villas and Their Gardens”

  1. Villa Lante, Itlay
    Villa Lante, Italy, Photo courtesy of Roberto Piperno
  2. Read Introduction by John Dixon Hunt of " Italian Villas and Their Gardens," a book written by Edith Wharton originally published in 1904 by the Century Company, in 2008 by Rizzoli and The Mount Press.  Why did Henry James describe Edith Wharton's villa and garden visits as "excursionism?"
  3.  What is difference between garden writer and travel writer? Which was Edith?
  4. Charles Platt wrote a book about Italian gardens about the same time that Wharton did.  How did their writings differ?
  5. Did Edith approve of  Maxfield Parrish's pictures he painted to portray the gardens she wrote about? Do she have literary control?
Beautiful book to read and that is just the start of it!    

Andorno, Italy and Its Landscape as Described by Edith Wharton

Billowy azaleas, credit: CarlisleFlowers
Billowy azaleas, credit: CarlisleFlowers
Edith Wharton was a writer in the late 1900s into the first third of the 20th Century. The biographer, R.W.B. Lewis writes in his book, Edith Wharton A Biography that Ms. Wharton scoured the Italian countryside to study and write about its beauty and to document its many villa gardens.  Mr. Lewis refers to an article Ms. Wharton wrote for the Century Magazine called, "The Sanctuaries of the Pennine Alps,"  about Andorno's landscape in the Italian Piedmont.  "Wildflowers of spring and summer seem to meet: narcissus and forget-me-knot lingering in the grass, while yellow broom - Leopardi's lover of sad solitudes - sheets the dry banks with gold, and higher up, in the folds of the hills, patches of crimson azaleas mix their shy scent with the heavy fragrance of the acacia." Horticultural knowledge is not necessary here.  The reader's eye is taken on a visual tour from valley to the hills, violets, gold, crimson and green.  Perhaps the reader could imagine the shapes of the plants, small in the meadow, sticks on the hills, billows and trees scattered on the top.  Would one know the reference to Leopardi's lover of sad solitudes? One of Italy's most famous poets, Giacomo Leopardi,  Edith Wharton references his poem, "Canti" in her description of the Italian landscape, "let those who praise our existence visit

these slopes, to see how carefully

our race is nurtured

by loving Nature. "

Narcissus of unknown origin, credit: CarlisleFlowers
Narcissus of unknown origin, credit: CarlisleFlowers