I’ve never been a big fan of nature. Creepy-crawlies give me the chills. I loathe hiking, abhor camping, and detest bike rides (but that’s another story). Given all of these things, it is surprising that I elected to spend a morning perusing the Gianicolo Botanic Gardens. It should be even more surprising that I coughed up four euro for the privilege of communing with nature, unaccompanied and uncoerced.
La Sapienza, the University of Rome, maintains the Gianicolo Botanic Gardens, but the space was originally part of a 16th century villa along Via della Lungara. The Republic of Italy bought the property from the Corsini family in 1883 and created the botanic gardens, which look about the same today as they did 128 years ago.
As I have explained, I don’t really care about shrubs. I came to the gardens largely because they are three blocks away from my apartment. In order to get to the nearest ATM, I have to walk past the ticket booth for the gardens. One day, I brought a book on my Bancomat run and decided to peruse the park for a few hours and see what the gardens are all about.
As it turns out, the gardens are about trees.
It’s mid-morning and I have the place to myself. Aside from a few guys with string trimmers and a class of 8-year-olds feeding ducks, it is just the plants and me. I am strangely ok with this.
I follow the numbered tour on the photocopied map from the ticket taker, winding my way up the Janiculum Hill. I stroll down a lane of palm trees, through a bamboo forest, past some ancient Aurelian walls, and around a pagoda in a Japanese garden. Along the way, I am treated to remarkable views of the city. Palm trees frame the domes of churches in the distance.
I find a bench in the sun near a grove of pine trees – the tall, skinny kind that fall on houses during ice storms in North Carolina. The ducks in the pond nearby are causing a commotion. Mamma can’t find her bambini, probably because all eight of them have hopped over the ledge of the pool and onto the sidewalk path. She rounds up the duckies with a ruckus, ushering them back in to the water with what can only be described as a perturbed quack.
All sorts of birds are chirping, cawing, and calling. Their twitters blend with the whirring grind of an approaching lawnmower, creating a not-altogether-unpleasant sort of white noise. As I fish my book and apple out of my bag, I slip off my boat shoes, tentatively toeing the grass. A sudden breeze pelts my bare legs and ankles with spiky seed balls from the trees nearby. Flustered by this unexpected onslaught, I gather my things and move to a different bench. My new seat is still in the sun, still near the pines, but safely away from the grass and the dirt. I much prefer pavement.