Gardens of Villa Taranto
Strolling along the paths (covering a surface area of 7 kilometers) of Villa Taranto’s gardens is like taking a trip through distant lands. The park is located on the Italian shores of Lake Maggiore in Verbania-Pallanza and is easily accessible by car from Locarno (or by boat from Italian towns of Cannobio and Luino). The garden offers one of Europe’s largest collections of exotic species, collected during the early 1900s by its founder, Scottish aptain Neil Boyd McEacharn, who travelled the world in search of rare species. The springtime blooming of its lavish landscaping, set against the stunning backdrop of the lake, is nothing short of a breathtaking experience.
“A beautiful garden does not have to be large, but rather the realization of a cherished dream, even if it is only a couple of square meters wide and situated on a balcony”. This is the vision that inspired Captain Neil Boyd McEacharn, an academic and a member of the Royal Company of Archers, to create this magnificent 20-hectare park in 1931, a perfect example of an English Garden in Italy. His goal was to build an environment capable of housing the richest collection of precious exotic plants, in compliance with the biological features of each species, while simultaneously satisfying both aesthetic and botanical requirements. Following its purchase, the property was readapted, with terracing and excavation works, in order to accommodate the park of his dreams. The cultivations that required shade and shelter from the wind were placed in a protected, artificial valley, while the ones that needed sunlight were planted in the park’s terraced gardens. A special pumping system, designed to drain water directly from the lake thanks to a pipeline measuring 8km in length, was built in order to guarantee an adequate water supply.
The plant life of Villa Taranto is extremely rich: it boasts over one thousand foreign plants and nearly 20 thousand varieties and species of significant botanical importance. Among others, visitors can admire magnolias, eucalypti, rare tropical plants, lotus flowers, chestnut trees, birches, tulips, dahlias, Indian paintbrushes, azaleas, narcissi, rhododendrons, hydrangeas as well as several exceptional specimens of beech trees. While strolling along the paths of the park you will come across terraces, turfs, waterfalls and ponds.
It was 1931 when Captain Neil Boyd McEacharn read an advertisement in the London "Times" stating that the Marquise of Sant’Elia intended to sell her estate “La Crocetta” in Pallanza, on Lake Maggiore. From the description, the place seemed ideal to fulfill the Captain’s life-long dream, namely the creation of one of the world’s most beautiful botanical parks. He had already tackled a similar challenge with the renovation of the vast park of Galloway House, his family’s castle in Scotland. Negotiations with the Marquise of Sant’Elia were concluded shortly thereafter and reconstruction began in 1931.
Neil Boyd McEacharn came from a wealthy Scottish family. Not only was his father an Anglo-Australian shipping magnate, but his wife’s family also owned rich iron and coal mines in Australia, as well as a vast sheep farming estate, boasting over one million sheep, thereby guaranteeing the import of wool into England. Neil visited Italy for the first time at the tender age of eight, docking in Livorno during a cruise on his father’s yacht. According to him, it was a question of love at first sight. Even while studying at Eton and Oxford, he used to spend his holidays – as was customary for members of the elite – on the Mediterranean, painting Italian landscapes. He went on his first trip around the world aged just sixteen, repeating the experience five more times throughout his life, trawling the four corners of the earth in search of rare and unknown plant species to show and spread across Europe – and, most importantly, to display at his marvelous gardens surrounding Villa Taranto, where he lived until the year of his death in1964, aged 80.
His remains are housed in a chapel-mausoleum expressly built in the gardens.
In 1938, Neil Boyd McEacharn donated the park to the Italian State, maintaining life estate. Villa Taranto’s Botanical Gardens have been open to public since 1952.