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This study focuses on the role of bamboo in Garden of Ninfa, a 20th century garden constructed by an English-Italian family. It gives particular attention to the importation of the plants by Gelasio and Donna Ada Bootle-Wilbraham Caetani, and analyses this site in relation to two other sites associated with the family: Caetani’s villa and family church in Fogliano, Latina, and Villa Palmieri in Fiesole owned by James Ludovic Lindsay, the brother-in-law of Donna Ada.

My paper explores the possible reasons for the importation of bamboo to Ninfa, as well as the spiritual symbolism the plant brought to the Caetani family’s gardens. Using primary and secondary documents, historical photographs, family correspondence and personal diaries, it seeks to connect the circulation of this botanical species with the global connections of this multigenerational family spanning Britain, Europe and East Asia. Most notably, Hon. Hugh Lindsay, the great granduncle of James Ludovic, worked for the Honourable East India Company in Canton, and visited and described the residential compound and courtyard of the local Viceroy in 1811. Furthermore, my paper compares Ninfa with the other two sites in Fogliano and Fiesole, tracing common stylistic traits as well as the distinct spatial deployment and possible symbolic significance of bamboo in two particular environments.

My paper further historicizes the case of Ninfa by looking at a few precedents in the use of bamboo, including the Orto Botanico di Padova (with the bamboo at least traced back to middle 19th c.), and the English garden in Caserta (bamboo imported possibly end of 19th C.). While inconclusive, these sites offer preliminary evidence about the possible process of bamboo importation to Italy. The paper concludes by reflecting on the enduring legacy of the Garden of Ninfa and the significance of bamboo in its history and culture, both locally and globally. 

Xiaomin Jin
is a PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome studying history and conservation of architecture. Her dissertation “Garden of Ninfa, from “l’Etre” to “Vivre” -- the case study and a confrontational interpretation of the garden via the traditional idea of the garden in the Chinese culture” focuses on the formation and transformation of Garden of Ninfa, a landscape garden built on the ruins of a medieval city. She’s interested in the perception of different cultural and identity imaginations shaping garden spaces, to provide new perspectives for the conservation of historical garden as “living monument”.

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