Close to the Italian village of La Mortola, but only about 3kms from the border with France, Villa Hanbury has spectacular gardens cascading down to the Mediterranean sea. These 'Giardini Botanici Hanbury' were created by their English owners between 1867 and 1960, when they were sold to the Italian state. Now under the care of the University of Genoa they are being restored to their former glory. With a huge range of plants from round the world, this is a 'must see' destination for anyone interested in gardens, plants and botany!
The first time I arrived at these gardens I discovered that in Winter they are shut one day a week!
But in August 2002, I at last had another chance. I was staying in Monaco, took the train to Menton Garavan and then walked for about 45 minutes to reach the Villa, crossing the French/Italian border on the way.
For me, the highlight of this garden was the excellent mature specimen of Microcitrus australis, the Australian Round Lime. This is almost certainly the oldest Microcitrus in Europe, and one of the very few outdoor fruiting planta that are publically accessible.
The tree is healthy, about 6m high and wide, and has six multiple trunks each about 15-20cms in diameter. It was fruiting prolifically, although in August not yet ripe.
Leaves on this tree were entirely the mature form. I could find none of the juvenile, linear shape produced by seedlings.
Click here for Microcitrus leaf information.
The 'Round Lime' fruits, about 2.5cms (1") across were more knobbly than I had expected. In fact they looked remarkably similar to small fruits of Citrus hystrix, the Thai or Kaffir Lime. When squeezed the peel exuded a milky fluid which was very sticky and left the fruit coated with a shiny, sticky film - and difficult to remove from the fingers.
The gardens also have an extensive citrus collection of many old plants plus some newer additions. Most were labelled, but specific variety names were often absent - probably they are unnamed cultivars or seedlings. There were numerous examples of Citrus maxima (pummelo or shaddock) and the bitter orange, C. aurantium. Several C. lumia 'Pera del Commendatore' were also noted.
The citrus trees were all recently sprayed with a chemical that had left a blue deposit on leaves and fruit. Possibly this was to counter the citrus leaf miner which is prevalent in the region. In August the fruits shown below were of-course still not fully developed.
General view with developing C. maxima fruit
A cluster of Thai Limes, Citrus hystrix or Combava
Labelled as "Citrus limon citratis 'Mela Rosa' con turbante"
A different form of Citrus limon citratis 'Mela Rosa'
Botanical Note: These names are dubious. A study of Risso's plates from 1818 shows two citrus types called Mellarosa -- Bergamotta mellarosa and Limonier mellarosa. The Risso pictures shown here match very well with my photos!
The 'Bergamotta' is used in France and Italy to produce oil for the perfume industry.
The official website of the Hanbury Botanical Garden is
Click here for a short video of the citrus collection