Thirty years ago when Valerie Thornhill began restoring a ruined farmhouse with a water mill near Cortona, she little realised that this would lead to a novel [In Restoration] about the area and the creation of a highly unusual garden recording her life as a writer.
The idea of making a garden of memories was inspired by Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli with symbolic buildings evoking the Emperor’s favourite places in the world. She started with a monument to Guido the stonemason (who restored La Casa del Mulino) with an inscription from Dante, the poet who first attracted Valerie to Italy as a Cambridge University student.
She placed statues of Venus and Apollo within formal hedges of myrtle and laurel – their respective symbolic plants – in the style of the classical landscape gardens of England. These were followed by a stone circle recalling her roots in England and Scotland with their prehistoric monuments; also an Etruscan Temple representing the ancient culture of the area where she had made a second home.
As the impact of landscape is a major theme in Valerie’s writings, she created a pergola with seats overlooking the Val di Chiana with Monte Amiata in the distance This is dedicated to the celebrated 18th century garden designer William Kent who created the internationally famous Giardino Inglese. Most unusual is Venus of the Rocks – Valerie’s enigmatic sculpture of the goddess emerging from a pile of boulders, surrounded by an ilex hedge.
Annalisa Izzo, Valley Life July 2010