But it's not just the gardens that appeal to me, it's the spirit of Iris Origo which seems to have seeped into the old stucco walls of the villa.
You can sense her quiet, overseeing presence everywhere and, looking out at the incredible view from the gardens over the surreal and almost lunar landscape of the Val d'Orcia, you feel the passion and love that she must have felt for this wild and beautiful countryside.
On 4 March 1924, Iris married the charming Antonio Origo. They moved together to their new estate at La Foce, near Chianciano Terme in the Province of Siena. It was in a state of bad repair; the land around it arid and barren and the tenant farmers nearing starvation. But with great insight and a feeling for the landscape, and after much hard work, care and attention, they succeeded in transforming it.
Now the gardens are a truly magnificent mix of Italian formal garden and English country garden, gradually loosening up to meet with the surrounding wooded wilderness. I love a bit of box hedging, and the smell of an 80 year old wisteria in full bloom...
During the Second World War, the Origos remained at La Foce and looked after refugee children, who were housed there. Following the surrender of Italy, and the confused mayhem that swept through the country, Iris also sheltered or assisted many escaped Allied prisoners of war. Sometimes up to 30 people a day would arrive at La Foce; all on foot, many starving and ill, all seeking to make their way through the German lines, or simply to survive.
Her intellligent and level headed account of this time is recorded in her war diary, 'War in the Val D'Orcia'. It is one of my favourite books about this area.
As part of our recent Botanical Illustration courses we have visited Iris's gracious gardens at La Foce and it's a trip that really is balm for the soul, both uplifting and inspiring. So, with thanks to the lovely ladies on our recent Botanical Course 2nd to 9th May, I have included some photos of our wonderful day out there.
The best thing I ate:
At the moment, bunches of fresh, wet garlic are heaped on the market stalls, their skin is moist and beautiful, blushed with purple and pale green and, as the garlic gets older, the skin drys to the palest ivory and becomes dry and brittle. The flavour changes too.
New garlic is mild and sweet, the plump cloves beneath the skin are the brightest white and full of juice. The taste is subtle and, for those with no romantic rendezvous lined up, it is delicious eaten raw, sliced thinly into a fresh green salad. In fact I would encourage you to convince you lover to partake with you in an orgy of fresh garlic-eating - that way you can enjoy the fleeting moment together. Or rub a cut clove over a toasty piece of griddled bread, drizzle over the ubiquitous olive oil and enjoy the simplest form of bruschetta.