The Italian Almanac


Garden of the Ancient Rose

For centuries roses have been synonymous with romance and have captivated poets from Yeats to Goethe. The Victorian writer George Eliot once wished for the sky to 'rain down' their soft petals. Now a little-known Italian museum near the northern city of Modena is inviting those with a passion for the popular flower to come and see 750 different varieties. The museum was created by designer Roberto Viti and his son Riccardo who were looking to escape the noise and pollution of city life in nearby Modena and live in the country.

"We decided to buy a place for a change of life," Riccardo Viti said. "We already had a passion for garden and plants but this is a totally different thing. We left a garden of 500 sq metres and created 43 hectares." There are 3,500 flowers on display at the Museo Giardino della Rosa Antica (Garden Museum of the Ancient Rose) many of them emitting their legendary perfume.

Every year the museum attracts around 500,000 visitors, around a quarter of the estimated two million people who choose various types of gardens and botanical visits as a holiday destination in Italy. The museum is located in rolling hills in Serramazzoni, 25 km from Modena, and is open from the beginning of April to the end of October

The Vitis have transformed the site since they took over an abandoned valley and artificial lake in 1995. They left the site untouched for seven years before planting their garden with traditional varieties of roses as well as 20,000 other plants. "For 15 years we have been using natural methods to manage the garden, without any chemical substances, to create a habitat presupposed by the real biodiversity of the place," Viti said.

This rare museum also runs creative cooking classes for foodlovers with advice on which types are best suited for cooking from the Cardinal de Richelieu to the Marie de Blois. Many recipes date back centuries and include pastas with rose-flavoured sauces, risotto using the classic York and Lancaster rose, rose-flavoured chicken and salmon, and rose icecream.

The museum has become a popular point of reference for botanists and rose lovers from Italy as well as the United Kingdom, Europe, Taiwan and Israel.