Phil and I recently followed in Lawrence Johnston’s footsteps to spend a week on the French and Italian Riviera, visiting several gardens in the region, including Johnston’s own La Serre de la Madone. The beautiful Boccanegra was our base camp – here garden owner and manager Ursula Salghetti Driolo put us up for the week, feeding us exquisite home cooked Italian food in exchange for mornings spent working in the garden. Created by the famous plantswoman Ellen Wilmott (she of ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ fame) in the early 20th century, Boccanegra is a wild, rocky, terraced botanical garden laid out on a steep south facing slope overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Paths follow the natural contours and crevices of the rock and the garden is awash with the kind of botanical gems an English plantswoman could only dream of growing in England. As you will see from Phil’s blog, while the garden was very different from the gardens we’re used to seeing back in England, sadly the weather was not – the region was hit by rain so severe that walls in the garden and beyond began to crumble and fall. Fortunately Phil and I had both come prepared so on went the waterproof trousers and the Wellington boots and out into the garden we went to help Ursula with a little planting and clearing around the garden (I planted over 200 2 year old seed-raised Amaryllis in drifts beneath old olive trees) and, when the weather was truly unbearable, to give the greenhouse a good tidy. In our free time we tried to immerse ourselves in Italian culture, enjoying Ursula’s generous Tuscan-style cuisine, drinking deliciously strong Italian coffees and vino rosso, visiting an olive oil producers, attending dinner parties, and even accompanying Ursula to church in Ventimiglia on Sunday for a bit of spiritual enlightenment.