Garden Designer Nancy Goslee Power Speaks at VRG

Left to right: Randy Williams, Nancy Goslee Power, Ella Tetrault
Left to right: Christine Byers, Superintendent Diane Sipos

The word went out on our website that the famed garden designer Nancy Goslee Power was speaking at The Virginia Robinson Gardens on April 18, 2024! Her talk would focus on La Foce, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southwest Tuscany and Susan Rheinstein’s final garden in Montecito Garden which she lovingly designed. The famed California historian Kevin Starr once remarked, “Nancy Goslee Power is to landscape what Frank Gehry is to architecture.” The event sold out immediately!

Her talk began with the background of the fabled property of La Foce, which extends over the hills overlooking the Val d’Orcia, an enchanting and miraculously unspoiled valley in southern Tuscany, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Iris and Antonio Origo bought the estate and hired the English architect Cecil Pinsent to restore the Villa and surrounding buildings. They turned it into a working farm, helping to bring about improvements in the lives of share-cropping farm workers who usually lived in poverty at that time.

Iris Origo’s shrewd management of the 15th-century property, dilapidated when she and her husband took over ownership in 1924, is considered to have single-handedly revived the surrounding countryside, both economically and agriculturally. 

To create her garden, Pinset designed an elegant space that blended Italian and English design and made the most of the views over the countryside. His beautiful creation is a mix of English and Italian-style gardens that blend in with the buildings and natural landscape. One hundred years later, the garden design is still perfect.

Nancy talked about the pergolas of fragrant wisteria that cross the landscape and make a majestic display when they bloom in April and early May. She pointed out that wisteria is a very invasive plant but one of the most effective ornamental vines to be used in landscaping. Nancy also mentioned the importance of repetition in design and the famous winding road, lined with cypress trees and dotted with Tuscan vases. Italians are good about terracing. Through the wood, a path joins the garden and the family cemetery, considered one of Pinsent’s best creations where Iris and Antonio Origo are buried alongside their son Gianni who died very young.

Nancy recommended two books written by the extraordinary Iris to learn more about her and La Foce –War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 and Images and Shadows: Part of a Life.

The estate is still owned by the Origo family, and the villa has been made into a bed and breakfast. 

Nancy then reminisced about her lifelong friend Suzanne Rheinstein, an icon in the world of interior design, who was beloved for her kindness as well as her beautiful work. Suzanne was also an avid gardener and enthusiast of historical gardens.  When Suzanne purchased her home in Montecito, she turned to her close friend Nancy for help. 

Suzanne Rheinstein’s Montecito garden was inspired by the Spanish architect and landscape designer Alvaro de la Rosa in Mallorca. The landscape, which was restrained and chic, was the inspiration for the front of the house. 

Suzanne also admired Piet Oudolf, and her love of his wild gardens are reflected in the area around the pool. Nancy interpreted these two inspirations and created a garden that Suzanne said was perfect for her Montecito home. 

Suzanne was a great supporter of The Virginia Robinson Gardens. She designed several beautiful rooms at our annual Garden Tour and Showcase House events. The Friends were thrilled to honor her as our Grand Marshal in the 2016 Garden Tour, “De Colores: The Art of Botanical Seduction.”  Suzanne said that much of her work was botanically inspired. In 2016, she gave a lecture at Robinson Gardens on her stunning book, Rooms for Living: A Style for Today with Things from the Past. Suzanne also generously opened her spectacular home and gardens in Hancock Park and in Montecito for the Benefactors, Patrons, and Fellows to visit.

Suzanne’s gardens feels like their own beautifully harmonious and intricately integrated world.

Before and after the lecture, guests enjoyed delicious quiches, bagels, and pastries from Clementine restaurant. A big thank you to Superintendent Diane Sipos who curated this series of popular lectures on “Master Architects.”

Post by Joan Selwyn
Founder of the Friends
Event photos by Linda Meadows, Sharon Gart, and Krista Everage

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