I dont like to be manipulated, but in a garden, well that is different. La Foce is Cecil Pinsent (1884-1963) at his best. This was the guy, who in the early 20th century, everybody, who was anybody, wanted to design their garden. Today, it’s a name that only academics recognize.
La Foce was purchased by Iris and Antonio Origo in 1924. Iris had the money and Antonio had the charm. It was Iris who wanted the garden. There was only one problem: water. In 1930, right after the crash, Iris’ great grandmother gave Iris the money to build a water pipe to La Foce. The pipe was six miles long.
The only way to see La Foce is to take a guided tour. I prefer to wander around and take my time, but there is no choice at La Foce. Our guide, Sabine talked about the garden from a design perspective, as well as a chronological one. Pinsent used two devices at La Foce to trick the eye. The Upper Garden of box appears to be on one level… the hedges are all the same height and so are the topiaries. Or so you think. It is only when you reach the stairs; you ascend and realize the garden is actually on many different levels. It’s a great illusion.
The same goes for the lower garden. Just like Raphael or Leonardo, Pinsent used perspective to elongate and narrow the lower garden. Fooling the eye all the way to the vanishing point.
Our tour took a weird turn when talk of the garden became mixed with talk of the politics of the day. Both Iris and Antonio were admirers of Mussolini. The 7,000 acres that comprised La Foce were barren. The Origos’ were enamored with Mussolini’s plan to revive farming. They created 57 farms on their land and invited tenant farmers to work it. Iris lost her admiration for Mussolini. She gave partisans a house on the property and created an orphanage for children displaced by the war.
Antonio wore a black shirt during the day. He was in charge of the regional district of Val d’Orcia for the Fascists. When she heard gunfire, Iris fled La Foce for higher ground: the house was taken over by the Germans and used to house British prisoners of war.
It was at this point in the story, that one member of our group spoke up. A Scotsman, by accent, he asked our tour leader whether or not, Antonio was imprisoned for his collaboration with the Germans. “Oh no! she cried “if Antonio had not cooperated he would have been executed”. A look of knowing, but not saying crossed our Scotsmans’ face. I thought I knew what he was thinking. So many were executed for non-cooperation. Shortly after this conversation, we were escorted to the shop and out the door to ponder what we might have done in similar circumstances.