The Park of Villa della Pergola, situated in Alassio, is a unique example of an Anglo-Mediterranean park that has preserved its original size.
It was created in the late 1870's, to fulfill General Montagu McMurdo and his wife Lady Susan Sarah Napier's desire to restore a private villa on the Italian Riviera that was intended to be their winter and spring retreat. Originally, the Villino della Pergola was the summer residence of the Counts of Lengueglia.
The 18th century estate was surrounded by terraced citrus, olive and carob groves - whose fruits were used to feed pack animals - and featured pergolas for the growing of grapes.
By adding ornamental plants and terracotta balustrades to border the most appealing vantage points, the McMurdos' creative gardening turned a typical Ligurian farmlandinto a true pleasure park.
The McMurdos also commissioned the construction of Villa della Pergola, the main building located inside the park, and added wooden bridges to join the two wide sections of the park and make it possible to cross over the old mule track without leaving the park.
According to the records of that time, in 1900, when the estate passed into the hands of Sir Walter Hamilton Dalrymple, the number of ornamental plants increased significantly. The cypress groves – which still dominate the landscape - the grand eucalyptus located in front of the Villa della Pergola, the large pergola-climbing wisteria and Lady Banks' roses were planted.
Sir Walter also commissioned the erection of the many fountains still scattered around the park, and introduced the first water lilies and aquatic plants.
In 1906, the park gained such universal fame and admiration that William Scott wrote in his book entitled "The Riviera": “"A worthy rival to the famous Mortola gardens of Sir Thomas Hanbury is to be found in the superb grounds of the Villa della Pergola, belonging to Sir Walter Hamilton Dalrymple, where a real love of nature, an intimate knowledge of gardening, and a perfect taste in arrangement, combined with judicious and generous expenditure, have produced one of the marvels of the Riviera".
In 1922, Daniel Hanbury, one of Sir Thomas Hanbury's sons, became the new owner of the Villa and began work to increase the collections of plants in the park. He had magnificent specimens of Washingtonia, Date, Canary Island Date and Mexican Blue palms and cycads, a collection of Cactaceae, Agave and Aloe plants shipped from his Ventimiglia garden.
Based on what his father had done in Ventimiglia, he ensured a supply of exotic and botanical material for the garden. Thanks to the generosity of the Hanbury family, the park flourished and attracted several visitors, including some members of the Italian royal family.
When the Second World War broke out, the estate was seized and closed. The park deteriorated significantly, due to neglect and incursions by wild animals. The situation did not improve during the German occupation in 1943-45.
After the war, Daniel's widow, Ruth, began restoration of the park, primarily of the areas surrounding the two villas. The eastern side facing the suburb of Solva became increasingly wild and overgrown with acanthuses, ivy, bindweed and brambles that covered trails and dry stone walls.
In 1982, when Ruth died, the estate passed into the hands of the De Martini family, who did some restorations of the buildings.
In 2006, a group of friends headed by Silvia e Antonio Ricci purchased the estate to save it from property speculation. Under the enthusiastic direction of landscape designer Paolo Pejrone, they began a diligent and accurate restoration of the park.
In addition to the pruning and care of the imposing trees that survived, the park had to be fully cleared of debris, weeds and whatever else had piled up during the decades of neglect. Clearing the land revealed the collapse of dry stone walls and structural problems typical of a terraced park.
The first phase of restoration involved security and stability measures for all retaining walls and the installation of an irrigation system. Restoration drew inspiration from the blurry photos taken during the Dalrymple and the Hanbury times. While preserving the substantial character of the park, intentional changes were also made, with the awareness and belief that a huge historical park is something alive that changes over time.
The Hanburys' adored Wisteria were reinstated and the old Agapanthuses were replaced by a brand new collection including over 300 different species. A citrus plant collection was introduced, the Hanbury's beloved Cactaceae and giant Strelitzias were reinstated, and an aquatic environment for lotuses was created on the huge water storage tank.
The park has now regained the splendor exhibited during the Dalrymple and Hanbury eras and is one of the botanic marvels of the Riviera and the Mediterranean.