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Visiting botanical gardens is the main reason to travel, right? Right. Sometimes my traveling companions do not understand this fact.

While my sister was spending a year in Rome, I went for a visit. Our first day in Rome, she gave me a very nice tour of the city along with a complete history lesson, which, if I’m being honest went in one ear and right out the other. Here’s what I hear when anyone talks about history: “buildings, buildings, war, some old guy…” and then it repeats. The next day when we planned to meet up , I had to admit how little I retained from my tour, when my only frame of reference was, “I’m at the building you said used to have cows.” I do have a memory for plants and animals.

My only agenda item in Rome was checking out the botanical garden hidden in plain sight in the picturesque Trastevere. Once you find the 30 acre garden, which is surprisingly easy to miss right in the middle of this huge city, you have the place nearly all to yourself. It’s such a welcome break, when you’re in the middle of a fast paced crowded city where you don’t speak the language, to step 10 feet off the street and find yourself surrounded by peace and quiet and 3500 plants.

3 palm walk
The “big crowd” was gathered here. The rest of the joint was deserted.

I laughed, looking back at my photos. I hadn’t taken a single photo of the city. Just the plants. Clearly I have my priorities straight. I’ve tried to select photos that prove this garden was in Rome and not California.

An Acer palmatum is a pretty common site here in the Pacific Northwest. But it took on a new personality surrounded by new companions: palm trees and the bust of, um, some old guy. Did I mention I’m not a history buff? I’ll update with the identity if I remember to ask my sister, the walking Roman history encyclopedia.

5 acer palmatumthunbergii var. palmatum


The Monumental Staircase was built in 1730 by Ferdinando Fuga while this space was the private garden of Palazzo Corsini. This is the extent of the history I picked up from this garden.

7a monumental steps
A view of the monumental staircase from the ground
7c monumental staircase
The fountain is built into the monumental staircase.


I am calling this area the House of Euphorbia. I’ve included plant names as they were labelled, although some names seemed to be abbreviated so I’m not entirely sure of the named variety in all of these.

9a Euphorbia canariensis
Euphorbia canariensis
9c euphorbia ingens e mey
Euphorbia ingens e Mey.
9b euphorbia coerulescens haw
Euphorbia coerulescens haw
9d euphorbia neriifolia
Euphorbia neriifolia
9f euphorbia triangularis desf and crown of thorns and friends
Euphorbia triangularis Desf. with Crown of Thorns and friends

9u unknown euphorbia
Unknown euphorbia, possibly also labeled Euphorbia ingens e Mey.
9g euphorbia triangularis desf
Euphorbia triangularis Desf.
9h Pachypodium lamerei
Pachypodium lamerei next to some Alluaudia stems


The desert garden doesn’t look too shabby with the palatial backdrop, which serves as a good reminder we are still in Rome.

10a agave and gates
11a opuntia and palazzo

10b agave
A huge Agave, although it’s hard to get a sense of its size
10c agave with taylor for scale
One 5’4″ sister for scale
10f agave americana variegata
Agave americana ‘Variegata’


I kept wondering what seemed so funny about some of these familiar plants, and finally it dawned on me. I don’t think I’ve seen Nolina in a lawn before. I’m used to climates where it’d be too wet for the Nolina or too dry for grass. Or I haven’t been paying attention.

12b nolina longifolia
Nolina longifolia
12a dasyliron acrotricumum zucc
Dasyliron acrotricumum Zucc.


Conifers behind the aloe also struck me as an unusual combination.

12b Aloe Barberae
Aloe barberae
12c nolina recurvata Lem
Nolina recurvata Lem. in the foreground
12d Yucca elephantipes Regel
Yucca elephantipes ‘Regel’


Another architectural element from the 1700s. One of the things I do love about the city of Rome is this incredible sense of the past all around, things that are in various stages of aging, surrounded by people going about their business thinking about life in the 2000s. We don’t get as many reminders of generations before us when traveling the younger country of the United States.
15 old structure


Citrus trees in a garden always seem so magical. They’re all over Italy, in courtyards, public gardens, botanical gardens.

17a citrus maxima 2
Citrus maxima


The bamboo grove was especially surreal.

20a down the bamboo path
Bamboo garden entrance


Step inside and you’re in a different world.

20b bamboo path
Inside the grove


When you emerge, you have a view of the vast expanse of city right outside the garden gate. The contrast was striking.

20d bamboo path view
On the other side


The scene looks tranquil but there was actually quite a lot of racket in the trees. I was shocked to find the source of the commotion…
110a wide view of parakeet trees


Wild ring necked parakeets. Apparently escaped pets have colonized and live in cities with mild winters and tropical plants. I would have missed them if it weren’t for all the squawking. I think this was my favorite garden surprise of them all.

110b ring necked parakeets
110c ring necked parakeets 2


Tip: If you’re in Rome and have the opportunity to visit, bring your 8 Euros per person. They don’t accept cards and there were no ATMs to be found in the area.