Sandy’s Garden ... Italian Cypress

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

My wife and I are known to holiday in the charming town of Garda.

Situated on the shores of Lake Garda in Veneto, that region of Italy which stretches from the Dolomite Mountains to the Adriatic Sea, we are sure to visit Verona … the region’s second most important city … several times. Verona, the home of the Montague and Capulet families in Italian literature, is where the tragic story of the love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet is enacted in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; and one of Verona’s many tourist attractions is what is said to have been Juliet’s house, where the most famous balcony scene in all literature was played out. Add the historic arsenal, the yet more historic arena, a veritable clutch of fine cathedrals, much wonderful architecture and … for those who need some retail therapy to help them through a sight-seeing day … as many fine shops as the most demanding shopper could wish for and one has a recipe for a great place to visit.

Yet, while we are drawn to every one of these tourist magnets, none of them has anything like the drawing power of our very dear friend Alessandra, whose home is in Verona. And we use the bus to travel from Garda to Verona, arriving in the city at the important road intersection called Croce Bianca by virtue of the white cross which stands in a small landscaped area right at the junction. The bus enters the long, straight, wide Corso Milano here; and we can identify our stop from a long way off from the fine cypress tree which stands, proud and tall, very close by. The bus drivers almost always try to make sure that we really do want to alight at this stop … the Farmacia San Marco in their timetable … for it is in a residential part of the city which, while very attractive, is not on any tourist map.

But enough of the travelogue of Verona; let’s look more closely at this tree. It is a type of tree native to the Mediterranean region, originally in countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Greece, but spreading towards the west both naturally and with human intervention. It may well have been introduced into Italy by the Ancient Greeks: but is now so well established throughout that country that Cupressus sempervirens is most commonly known as the ‘Italian cypress.’ It is a coniferous evergreen tree which grows straight and narrow into a perfect column of dark green with soft foliage and attractive round cones. It doesn’t need any trimming, it is very drought-resistant and it is very easy to grow, being exceedingly undemanding. Some experts recommend the Italian cypress for use as an accent plant or to give a classic look used on either side of an entrance: but one is going to require a large garden to indulge in this sort of luxury, for a fully-mature Italian cypress is quite likely to reach a height of 35 metres … say 115 feet in old money … and that’s the height of a nine-storey block of flats!

In the right place … such as in the verge of a main road entering a city … the Italian cypress has many advantages. It’s tough and is unaffected by the many air-borne pollutants; it needs very little maintenance; it isn’t fussy about the soil in which it is grown provided it is reasonably well-drained. It is also remarkably long-lived and, while details of the birth dates of trees are pretty scarce, it is thought that there are Italian cypresses that are more than a thousand years old. As befits a tough, durable tree, the scented wood is also tough and durable and is sometimes used where quality, attractiveness and strength are of much greater consequence than cost. The doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City are made of Cupressus sempervirens: but, attractive as these are, and eye-catching as Verona’s tourist attractions and cypress trees are, none of them attract me as much as Alessandra does!