A well used expression for the English in Italy was “matti Inglesi”, meaning “crazy English” and not only because they enjoyed gardening. One of the craziest (to the Italians, but definitely not in reality) was Florence Trevelyan, who created Taormina’s most important garden before Casa Cuseni (see Casa Cuseni – Part 2) The outstanding features of her garden were a series of extravagantly eccentric pavilions in rococo, Romanesque and Gothic styles, made largely from architectural salvage. The townspeople grew to love them and when her gardens were turned into public gardens they became one of the town’s main tourist attractions.
Although Florence Trevelyan was described as “short, unsmiling and fairly plain”* somehow the rumour began that she was King Edward VII’s favourite mistress. When the king visited Sicily she received him, but that was only because she had been brought up at Balmoral. As it happens, the King’s real mistress, Alice Keppel, went to live in Florence, but there the rumours attached to her husband. As Charles Quest-Ritson relates “Modern visitors to their house on Bellosguardo Hill are shown a photograph of Colonel George Keppel and told that he was “the last of Queen Victoria’s many lovers”!”
If the Sicilians were indulgent of the English for being mad and sex-mad, they were less so, apparently of that real English passion, our love of dogs. In a corner of Florence Trevelyan’s garden there’s a dog cemetery, which include the following rather poignant inscriptions:
“Dear Fanny. Faithful Friend and Companion. Poisoned June 27 1899 aged 15 years” and
Jumbo Perceval (Terrier) True Honourable Loving Little Friend and Helper. September 3 1887 – Murdered July 24th 1904. Never Forgotten”
*Charles Quest-Ritson “The English Garden Abroad”