page created 19th September 2007
The 16th-century Villa Grabau, near Lucca in Tuscany, is surrounded by beautiful gardens, mostly re-designed in the 19th century. However, the area to the rear of the house is believed to be original. It is formed by two oval beds and a round pond with a central fountain. Every spring about a hundred potted citrus from the nearby 'limonaia' or lemon house, are placed around the beds and fountain. The layout can be clearly seen on this aerial image from GoogleMaps.
Citrus pots around the oval lawns
The south-facing limonaia, dating from 1600 to 1700, is unheated, but the doors and upper 'windows' can be closed when frosty nights are likely.
The limonaia is at the top left, and the villa itself is at the bottom centre. The dots round the oval lawns are the citrus trees in their pots.
Multi-stemmed lemons & sour orange growing in a 270 year old terracotta pot
Ancient rootstock has been allowed to re-grow
To locate Villa Grabau see my interactive map of Tuscany
The citrus pots are very old, often decorated with the coat of arms of the purchaser, and sometimes marked with the name of the potter and the date manufactured. Many of the pots, like the one below dated AD1736, are now held together with various pieces of thick wire.
The citrus varieties were mostly not labelled, but are mainly lemons and the 'limonimedica' types historically grown in Italy. The rootstock is generally sour orange. Often a shoot from the original rootstock has been allowed to grow, so there is now a mixture of fruits produced.
A bud mite, Aceria sheldoni, can cause distorted fruits. Here are Citrus limon 'Florentina' and Citrus limonimedica 'Perettone'.
Ordinary lemons, variegated lemons and sour oranges are visible here.
A typical pot from the Villa Grabau citrus collection.
Lemons above and Bitter Oranges beneath.
Here the centre of the original rootstock appears to have rotted away, but two new shoots have been allowed to re-grow from the remains.