Villas in Italy have an historic significance in the world of citrus fruit. Originally meant as countryside homes of aristocratic families, in the Renaissance period they became a sort of hub of intellectuals who possessed, among other interests, a great enthusiasm for the cultivation of rare and exotic citrus plants. There are a number of villas all over Italy that have fascinating collections of citrus fruit, thanks to the passion of their wealthy patrons – some still amazingly looked after to this day.
TUSCAN VILLAS AND THE BIZZARIA
Tuscany in particular, is noteworthy due to a few villas that made a significant contribution to the study of citrus fruit in Europe. One of them is the Villa Carobbi in Florence: the garden at this villa is where, in 1640, the first hybrid chimera citrus tree ‘bizzaria of Florence’ was discovered. A wonderfully strange hybrid, the bizzaria tree shows some outer branches of one side with regular citrons, the other side with sour oranges, whilst the middle shoots display characteristics of both fruits, in the branches, leaves and the fruit itself. The adjacent street where the Villa used to once be, is named ‘Via del Giardino della Bizzaria’ (the street of the garden of the bizzaria) in its honour.
THE CITRUS LEGACY OF VILLA MEDICEA DI CASTELLO
The bizzaria was thought to be lost until it was rediscovered centuries later in the 1970s at the gardens of Villa Medicea di Castello near Florence. This villa is famously known for its vast collection of more than 500 rare and exotic citrus fruits. These were mainly collected by the Medici family from around the mid-15th century when citrus cultivation began in Europe. Some of the plants are now more than 300 years old.
The collection was once considered the largest most diverse citrus collection in Europe and its magnificent garden became a citrus paradise that left visitors from far at awe. The design of Villa Medici’s garden is considered to have influenced many gardens of the period that took on citrus trees as a key ornamental feature.