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Villa Arvedi, Grezzana (Verona) 14-15th October 2000

Judith Bernardi, our Italian Secretary, had her company, Grandi Giardini Italiani, which promotes many of the old and beautiful gardens of Italy, initiate a two-day conference last October.

The theme was Topiary. Judith Bernardi invited the garden owners, Italian journalists, and speakers from other countries in Europe. She also invited representatives of the European Boxwood and Topiary Society, as she had done with her Milan exhibition in 1999 (Gardens: the New Grand Tour), where she had shown illustrated examples of great gardens from all over Europe.

The EBTS was given the opportunity to present material and promotional literature, and also give a lecture. The Society was featured as a sponsor of the conference, on the introductory slides of each speaker, and all EBTS literature, placed on the table at the entrance, had gone by the end. It was a very useful exercise for the Society and illustrated the importance of visibly supporting our Continental European Secretaries.
As they had in Milan, Elizabeth Braimbridge and your ex-chairman attended the conference. This was held just outside Verona at the 16th Century Villa Arvedi. The villa was decorated by artists such as Veronese, and owned by the Arvedi family. It stands on a steep slope, looking out onto a magnificent parterre, which is the only one of its kind in Italy. It is characterised by fan-shaped patterns of centuries old box, surrounded by large and variously shaped box topiary. The Villa is also known for the beauty of its stately building, in which the banquet truly a banquet! was held.

Both days were filled with lectures on the subject of topiary and associated topics. These were mostly in Italian, but were well illustrated with slides so that Italian illiterates could understand the essence. Speakers were from Italian universities and polytechnics, so the standard was high. Apart from the extensive review of Italian topiary, of the non-Italian speakers, Eric de Jong from Amsterdam spoke on the history of Dutch topiary. Monique Mosser, of the Versailles School of Architecture, described the topiary of French gardens. Clemens Wimmer, from Potsdam, spoke of German topiary from the Dark Ages to the 20th Century. English topiary before 1730 was described by David Jacques of the University of York, and Elizabeth Braimbridge showed how different varieties of box could be used architecturally in the garden. It was a thorough review of the topiary of Europe throughout the ages, and a credit to Judith Bernardi for having persuaded so many authoritative speakers to attend.
A feature of the conference were the lunches, held at two famous villas and gardens, one being the Villa Poiega, with its green theatre. The venues and lunches were of such a calibre that the afternoon sessions were not noted for their punctuality, particularly as the delegates were treated to the excellent vintages of the visited estates. This part of Italy is famous for its Valpolicella, and it was a feature that there were no gardeners as such, the gardens being maintained by the vineyard workers of the estate in their off-periods.
Following the conference, your two delegates were invited to the two magnificent villas and gardens on Lake Garda, owned by the Contessa Rizzardi. One adjoins the lake itself, and the other is on the hillside behind. There is no doubt that the Society will have to return to Northern Italy in the not too distant future! We are also very fortunate in having such a keen promoter of the Society in Judith Bernardi.
Mark Braimbridge

NB: Judith Bernardi is holding a Festival of Contemporary Topiary in Lucca, near Pisa. This will be at the Villa Oliva and the Villa Grabau, where designs using topiary predominantly are being constructed by seven garden designers. The Festival is open to the general public and will begin in June, and last a month.
Any occasion will be a good excuse to have a good time, between good friends to be and connoisseurs!
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