Rule Britannia



There’s no escaping the gardening mother ship. English gardeners have made their influence felt everywhere. We read their books, we try to grow their favorite plants (which often fail here), and we visit their masterpieces. A lush and gracious reminder of the British urge to plant and landscape remains in the form of the Taormina public gardens, located right next to the hotel where we stayed.


Lady Florence Trevelyan (1852-1907, shown above) was a distant relative of Queen Victoria and spent much of her youth at Balmoral, where she and Victoria would discuss their shared interests in birds and botany (here are the two, below).


However, Trevelyan fell prey to the notorious charms of the future Edward VII, who was already married. This sort of thing never went over well with Victoria, so Trevelyan was asked to leave England in 1879. She settled in Taormina, where there was already a community of British aristocrats, married Salvatore Cacciola, a wealthy professor, built a villa, and, with the help of 40 Sicilian farmers, created the gardens. They were left to the town in her will.

If these gardens were not situated high above the bay with a view of Isola Bella and Etna, maybe they wouldn’t be so special. But they would still be distinctive, largely because of several structures, somewhat inspired by Asian architecture, scattered about.


I wasn’t able to climb into them, but they may have been intended by Trevelyan for bird-watching. There are lovely walkways bordered by olive trees, some neatly clipped shrubbery designs, bulbs, and plenty of tropicals. The gardens are on 3 different levels, which also adds to their charms. There’s also a weird rock array and, even stranger, some odd remnants of WWII, including a two-man submarine/torpedo that the Germans used. They’d have to stay in it long enough to send it on its way and then the pilots/drivers (?) would ditch.


One doubts if vintage armaments are exactly the kind of focal point Lady Florence would have wanted; what you see above is more like it. But kids love the little torpedo. It is kind of cute.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Who do I have to annoy to be banished to Sicily? I’m ready to make a pain of myself right now.

  2. There is another bad aspect to these ever-blooming hydrangeas; namely they have swamped the market to the point growers are having trouble selling any non-reblooming cultivars. A friend, and wholesale grower, near Williamsburg, Va. had developed a wonderful selection of cultivars for which there is no longer any demand! The world has been cheapened!

  3. Your comments about the influence of English gardening are interesting. The BBC have just finished showing a series entitled Around the World in 80 Gardens. The presenter, Monty Don, has travelled the world looking at gardens. I found it particularly interesting to see the early colonial gardens in places like S Africa and Australia which were very English/European. They seemed to jar with their surroundings unlike the more modern gardens which grew indigenous plants. If you can access the series via the internet its quite interesting.

  4. Lovely garden despite being English. Ha… Now these are some interesting garden structures. Wouldn’t it be grand to look out and bird watch from here??

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