In his biographical notes about Verdi, Arrigo Boito wrote at length about Verdi’s estate, Villa Sant’Agata, and Verdi’s love for nature.
Among colors, he answered, the one I like best is red (a peasant’s taste, he added).
Among flowers: The rose, the blood-red, almost black variety the best.
Among plants: The durmast oak, the poplar, the weeping willow.
And all of these preferences befit him: The oak because it is strong; the poplar because it is straight and tall; the weeping willow because it is romantic and sad.
In May 1872, Verdi wrote an amusing letter that touches on gardeners and gardening to one of his greatest friends, Countess Clara Maffei.
Peppina, many days ago, ordered that fellow whom we call our gardener to make a great basketful of many different flowers to send to you. This so-called gardener of ours came to me completely mortified, saying that he had almost no flowers except roses, first of all because I have him plant very few flowers; and then because the few flowers that there were had been ruined by many rainstorms.
After all, you know that this so-called Garden of mine consists of twelve willows, eighteen poplars, and twenty-four rose bushes!!! I adore flowers, but to have beautiful flowers one must have a Great Gardener… I detest all tyrannies, especially domestic ones. Great Gardeners, Great Cooks, Great Coachmen are the true tyrants of a home. With them around, you are no longer free to touch a flower in your own garden, to eat a simple egg with salad, to make use of your horses if it’s raining or too sunny! Etc. etc. etc.
No, no: I alone am enough of a tyrant in my home, and I know the effort that this costs me!!! Nonetheless, I am a tyrant who always ends up doing what I don’t want to do. The proof? I write operas… It’s the thing I like doing least of all!! Quelle blague!! Forgive, then, my so-called gardener if he has no flowers that are beautiful and worthy of being sent to you.
And you, my dear Clarina? How are you? I hear that you suffer from strong migraines. Take care of yourself and try to keep calm and still. A little Sant’Agata would do you much good! Would you like to come? I’ll come up to Milan to fetch you. You know well how glad Peppina and I would be!
The beautiful photo of Sant’Agata is © gbroccardi.