The Ravishing Camellias of Compitese

Pieve di Compito is a lovely place for a visit with its gentle hills and mild micro climate. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (e.g. at ) camellias arrived here in the early nineteenth century, largely thanks to English ex-pats who chose to stay among these hills during the torrid Tuscan summer in the plains. The camellietum can be visited any time (see my post at ) but it’s when the festival takes place during the March week-ends that it’s possible to visit the gardens of the historic villas and truly take in the wonderful ambience of this extraordinary plant without which no-one would have been able to drink their favourite cuppa in this world.

Yesterday was a true-blue almost paradisiac day for the last week-end for the Camellia festival of Compito. One leaves the car at a parking and catches the local shuttle bus service to this absolutely delightful valley, for the roads are narrow and only locals are allowed to use their vehicles. Alternatively, of course, one could bike there.

This year the displays were as wonderful as ever and the exhibition centre was beautifully decked out with a display illustrating Tokyo life fifty years ago. Thanks to Yoko Himada, president of the national association for Italian-Japanese cultural exchanges, there were examples of tatami (mats for sitting on), zabuton, (square cushions), yonomi (tea-drinking cups), nuribon (lacquered trays), jimonos and kyusu (ceramic teapots).

There were also contributions from Pilnitz, the great German Camellia centre near Dresden.

What was missing was any contribution from London’s Chiswick gardens’ own display (so beautifully described and photographed by fellow-blogger Fran at

Two hundred years of Camellias at Chiswick House

Luckily, Sandra had a leaflet from Chiswick which she’d visited just over a week ago and hopefully, thanks to her conversation with an administrator of the Compitese festival there might well be a closer connection between Chiswick and Compito for there needs to be!

Here are some of Sandra’s photos taken in the Camellia greenhouse in Chiswick Gardens the other week:

After all, it was Robert James of Essex, who is supposed to have brought back the first live camellia to England in 1739 and made Europe aware of this heavenly plant.

From thence the plant spread to Germany’s Pilnitz and, of course, to the Compitese via those English ex-pats.

This year we added a climb up the watch tower at the top of the village to gaze on some of the most spectacular views of Lucca we have ever seen.

We also took a look inside the Pieve di Compito itself with its fine baroque details and organ.

The whole village is filled with picturesque house and noble palaces and there is a particularly delightful stream traversed by ancient bridges which runs down one side of it.

It seemed, to us, truly a delightful place to live it.

The highlight, however, remained the Camellietum, beautifully restored after a huge landslide destroyed part of the valley in which it flowers.

Each section of the Camellietum, which contains over six hundred varieties is named after a famous Tuscan composer: Geminiani, Guido d’Arezzo (who invented the system of calling notes by do, re mi ), Mascagni, Catalani and, of course, Giacomo Puccini.

If for some fame comes by having a square named after them then I feel a camellia named after one would be the ultimate accolade on earth: there were camellias named after several great Italians including Eleonora Duse and Puccini for example.

A lovely girl with camellias in her hair approached us and asked us if we should like to listen to her recitation of some poems on Camellias. She was, in fact, a volunteer of the camellietum but for some minutes she became transformed into a dryad of the woods before us.

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The Compitese Camellietum has been recently received an award as one of the world’s great gardens. For me it is one of the utmost delights in our whole area. To see these wonderful varieties of camellias rising up with their multifarious blossoms among the Mediterranean pines of the Pisan hills in all their divine beauty is surely one of the most glorious sights to encounter on our planet.

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