Conservation of historic gardens and citrus collections: Conclusions of the gardening seminar ‘Citri et Aurea’

Conservation of historic gardens and citrus collections: Conclusions of the gardening seminar ‘Citri et Aurea’

The “Citri et Aurea” project, which has been successfully implemented since 2019, has been unfolding remarkably well, like the cooperation between the Uffizi Gallery and the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów. In early September, a specialist seminar was held. It was attended by Italian and Polish conservators of botanical legacy and historic gardens. The event featured a presentation of both countries’ achievements in the field of conservation of historic gardens and citrus plant collections. The event is held under the patronage of the European Route of Historical Gardens.

The strengthening of diplomatic contacts between the courts of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III Medici and King Jan III after the victorious battle of Vienna resulted in sending eight crates of plants to Wilanów in 1684. Among the plant varieties mentioned by the historical sources was citrus lumia, dubbed “Adam’s apple” (‘Pomum Adami’), gifted at the time as a token of friendship. The sensitive goods were sent on a long 1600-kilometre road from Florence to Warsaw. The extraordinary history of plants from almost 340 years ago became a starting point for the cooperation concerning the historical citrus collections between the Boboli Gardens, managed by the Uffizi Gallery and the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów. This was made possible thanks to the membership of both gardens in the European Route of Historic Gardens.

The Boboli Gardens can boast a remarkable citrus collection, which is believed to be one of the most important in Europe, encompassing more than 500 pots with citrus trees, including around 90 various varieties, including 20 historical varieties from the Medici era. To this day, the plants are grown in line with traditional Tuscan cultivation methods and gardening ways.

Citrus lumia fruit from the Boboli Gardens, photo by Ł. Przybylak
Citrus lumia fruit from the Boboli Gardens, photo by Ł. Przybylak

The specialists of the Boboli Gardens will support the Wilanów Museum staff with their expert knowledge, aiding the Polish museum with an extremely difficult undertaking – reconstruction of the collection of historical citrus varieties. The process of its reconstruction began in 2016, when 38 specimens of orange trees in characteristic oak pots painted in white and green stripes appeared in the Baroque garden, The Wilanów collection currently comprises more than 100 citrus trees, encompassing 7 varieties, and is a rare collection of orangery trees in Poland.

The Citri et Aurea project

During the first stage of the “Citri et Aurea” project, which was carried out in 2019, three employees of the Wilanów Museum came to Florence for a study visit to learn about traditional cultivation methods and Tuscan gardening. The visit was an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience in the field of conservation of historical gardens and citrus tree collections.

This year, during the Polish-Italian online garden seminar, held in early September, achievements of the institutions from both countries in the field of conservation of historic gardens and citrus plant collections were presented. The event was attended by distinguished experts and practitioners working for historic mansions. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was represented by Dr Bianca Maria Landi, coordinator of Boboli Gardens and botanic legacy conservator, as well as Architect Paola Ruggieri, architectonic legacy conservator, who gave a lecture on conservation, protection and restoration of Boboli Gardens. The 470-year-old traditions of the historic citrus plant collection located there, from the viewpoint of plants and architecture, was discussed by Gianni Simonti, a gardener in Boboli Gardens. Jacek Kuśmierski, specialist for historic gardens at the King Jan III Palace Museum in Wilanów, elaborated on the past and the future of citrus plant collection in Wilanów, while Łukasz Przybylak, head of the gardens, presented the history and further prospects for restoration of the orangery garden in Wilanów. The Museum in Nieborów and Arkadia was represented by Agnieszka Chmielewska, from the Greenery Department, who gave a lecture on the facts and the myths concerning the museum’s citrus plant collection. The seminar was concluded by a presentation by Beata Kańska, head of the Łazienki Królewskie Museum gardens in Warsaw, who discussed the 250-year-old history of orangeries and citrus plants history to be seen in Łazienki.

Citri et Aurea garden seminar organized by King Jan III Palace Museum in Wilanów and Uffizi Gallery in Florence is a unique example of cooperation between Poland and Italy in the area of garden art. Prof. Dorota Folga-Januszewska, deputy director of King Jan III Palace Museum in Wilanów, reminds that Florence and Rome are probably most often mentioned in Polish literature as ideal cities, which people visited to witness beauty, educate themselves, for entertainment purposes, but also to find nature’s fruit and visions of gardens. Since the 16th century, thousands of sheets have been filled with notes on journeys to Italy, yielding architecture, painting, sculpture, but above all the art of gardens. Wilanów – a palace and a museum, and the gardens that surround it, are a perfect example of this tradition. Our Museum, where the culinary tradition is approached in the same research-oriented and scientific way as history of any other arts – is definitely a place where experiencing the Ciri et Aurea project complies ideally with the history of senses, sensations and feelings.

Eike Schmidt, director of Uffizi Gallery, said: The Citri at Aurea project makes me proud, as it makes it possible to think about the prospects of fruitful cooperation between Poland and Italy, which has lasted for generations and which was initiated in the Baroque period by Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. 

Thanks to the partnership between the Boboli Gardens King Jan III Palace Museum in Wilanów, this centuries-long exchange of experiences and well-proven solutions – focused on gardening in general, and especially on the collection of citrus trees and their nurturing – could be successfully resumed.

What makes me even more satisfied is the fact that nowadays, despite a difficult moment in the history of us all, caused by the pandemic which has radically changed our lives, we can use digital technology to participate in the event and share the experiences gained by our Botany Department.

I send my regards to all our friends in Poland, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Uffizi Gallery, wishing our community, currently functioning only in virtual space, to be able to come back to traditional form of meetings in the near future.

The video recordings of the lectures are available on the YouTube channels of King Jan III Palace Museum in Wilanów and of Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Project co-financed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland within the framework of the “Inspiring Culture” Programme. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is a strategic partner. The initiative is supported by: Polish Cultural Institute in Rome, Polish Academy of Sciences Scientific Center in Rome, Italian Cultural Institute in Warsaw, European Route of Historic Gardens and Polish Tourism Organisation. The seminar is held under media patronage of the Gazzetta Italia magazine.

Resource: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów

About European Route of Historic Gardens