About Me

Born in Toronto, Canada I was raised in the strongly Anglo-Saxon milieu that Toronto once was. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t like mucking around in the dirt and growing things, so my love of gardening was innate.

Italy was an acquired taste, one that in many ways began with my decision to enroll in the  University of Toronto’s Third Year Abroad program.  By the end of that year, which began in the south of France and was supposed to finish up in Germany, I had traded German for Italian – which I found was a lot easier to speak after a glass or two of wine – and was living in Florence.

When I eventually returned to Canada, I re-enrolled at the U of T  (this took some doing, as they were not pleased that I had abandoned their program and “gone native”) finished my degree, taught Italian at York University for a few years and settled into life back in Toronto, where, gardening-wise, I now volunteer as a guide for visitors to the TBG and Allan Gardens, and am active in the Leaside Garden Society.  Recently I started to give talks on the gardens of Italy.  It was the wonderful feedback from the people who attended these talks that inspired me to create this blog.

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20 Responses to About Me

  1. Andy McCraw says:

    Hi Donna, saw your super presentation at the TBG last night and made so wanting to get back to Italy as soon as possible. Mary found your website and it’s even more outstanding. You can now count me in as a “follower”,Cheers,
    Andy
    http://www.andymccrawphotography.com

    • donnafenice says:

      Hi Andy, am so glad you liked the presentation – and my website too! (and kudos to Mary for finding it – usually I mention it when I give a talk, so that garden club members who aren’t able to make it to a meeting – especially on a bitterly cold night – can have a look on-line, but it totally slipped my mind the other night)
      Hope you and Mary can make it back to Italy soon. Grazie, Donna

  2. Zara says:

    Hello Donna,
    Before I read about you, I came across your “In the Garden of Amateurs” article as I was looking for some information about Villa Cimbrone. I visited it 10 years ago and wanted to revive my memories by viewing some photos and reading about it. I found a few articles and I have to confess that yours is by far the best. It’s not about listing all the celebrities who have ever visited the Villa or featuring the most famous view from the terrace, but about exploring every corner of the gardens, including the lesser known ones, the statues, the inscriptions, etc and attempting to express the spirit of the place and its creators. To my delight when I then clicked on “about me” page, I discovered that you are from Toronto, because that’s also my home town. Please let me know if you’ll be doing any presentations on Italy any time soon as I’d love to attend! Thank you again! Zara

    • donnafenice says:

      Hello Zara, Thank you so much for your comments. You have beautifully captured what I aim for in my posts. I hope to meet you at one of my talks. Several are in the works right now and as soon as I have the dates and locations – Toronto Reference Library for sure – I will let you know.
      Mille grazie, Donna

  3. AJ Alberti says:

    Hello Donna,
    I saw a notice that you are scheduled to give a presentation in Toronto’s west end on 24 October but I didn’t note where you will be speaking. Can you enlighten me? Thanks.

  4. I just found your post on Elsie’s Garden in Chinon, a place that I grew to love over many years… it captured her and the garden so perfectly– and I wondered if you knew she had returned to Belgium to return to being a rose supplier– and sold the lovely property in Chinon? What a loss, because as you pointed out, in the larger context of famous Loire gardens, Elsie’s was a haven for those who prefer a private, small, and intriguing garden, created out of love and “passion” and talent, it makes me very sad to drive by there now and not be able to see Elsie and share a Rose Kir, made with the local wine of Saumur and her hand-crafted elixir of roses.
    Thank you for reminding me of a place I adored.
    Jane

    • donnafenice says:

      Hello Jane, I am gratified that you felt my post captured Elsie and her garden, but saddened to learn that she is no longer there. I had no idea. Hers was such a beautiful and powerful story and whenever I have given a presentation on the gardens of the Loire Valley it was always one of my favourite parts. Although living in France would have had its challenges, it must have been heart-breaking for her to leave behind the first garden she had created for herself. Let’s hope she has found a beautiful property in Belgium where she has created another wonderful garden. I am saddened – selfishly I guess we like fond memories like this to stay frozen in time – but thank you so much for telling me. Donna

      • thank you for replying! Was she aware of your blog about her? If not, I’d love to send her a link because your photos are so stunning!

        I am now enjoying your posts on Sicily, as we are going in late May, and always focus on gardens wherever we travel. Thank you for such wonderful articles!

      • donnafenice says:

        Whenever I write about a personal encounter, I always write the individual to let them know and also to ask them to tell me if I have got any of the details wrong. So yes, Elsie read my post and – to my immense relief = liked it very much.

        Late May is a wonderful time to visit Sicily. Buon viaggio!

  5. LauraH says:

    Hi Donna,
    I came across your blog recently and am enjoying it greatly – always exciting to find a blogger based in Toronto! Although I was in Iran in October and missed your talk at Brentwood, I’m hoping to catch the upcoming one on Sicily. Based on what I saw on my trip, there are some interesting affinities between Persian and Italian gardens. Italian gardens and Roman ruins are going to be the focus of my next trip. I plan to go in the off season – either late March/early April or October/November but I can’t quite figure out where the gardens would be at their best during those times. I know it’s cheeky to ask…but can you point me in the right direction to find this information? Or am I worried about nothing and the gardens look good pretty much all year long. Living here, that’s a hard concept to get into my head 🙂 I would appreciate any advice or suggestions.
    Thanks.
    Laura

    • donnafenice says:

      Hi Laura,
      Yes, Italian gardens have borrowed a great deal from Persian gardens. Would make an interesting post. In the meantime, I would suggest Central Italy for your next trip. It is a region full of Roman ruins – Rome, Ostia Antica, Hadrian’s Villa – as well as many fascinating and diverse gardens. Also I believe it is the region most likely to have had more consistently mild temperatures by the time you intend to travel, which would give its gardens a head start over gardens in other regions. I encourage you to begin your trip as late in April as you can manage. One indication of when to visit a garden is the list of opening days. In the list below, which I copied from the website for the Garden of Ninfa (fabulous!) a couple of things stand out – first, it isn’t open in March and second, going by the number of days it is open in April, it looks like that month would be a great time to visit. I also checked Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Until mid-March the entrance fee is discounted and visitors aren’t even allowed into the gardens, which leads me to believe there isn’t yet much to see. Other gardens, where colourful seasonal bloom is less a factor – Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, Villa Lante in Bagnaia and Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo – are open all year.

      Another option would be to head south. Close to Naples are the gardens of the Reggia di Caserta, Italy’s ‘mini’ Versailles. Continuing south to the Bay of Naples, you could satisfy your interest in Roman ruins with visits to Pompeii and Ercolano (Herculaneum). From Sorrento you could take a ferry to Ischia and visit La Mortella (fantastic!) which typically opens around April 1st, and back on the Amalfi Coast you would then have two more must-see gardens – Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo in Ravello.

      Happy planning!
      Donna

      GIARDINO DI NINFA PUBLIC OPENING DAYS 2017
      April 1 / 2 / 9 / 16 / 17 / 23 / 25 / 30
      May 1 / 6 / 7 / 14 / 21 / 28
      June 2 / 3 / 4 / 18
      Juy 1 / 2
      August 5 / 6 / 15
      September 2 / 3
      October 7 / 8
      November 5

      • LauraH says:

        Donna,
        Thanks so much for your detailed reply, it’s such a help to get the goods from someone who really knows. I’m in the middle of researching all the stuff I want to do. With so many possibilities, it’s hard to stay focused so I’m trying to group things together. Given three weeks, I’m planning on Rome and surrounding area, Pompeii/Naples area and maybe Sicily. Since I don’t drive I’m looking into tours to see if they get me to more gardens and ruins than I could by myself. Although, like you, I much prefer to travel at my own speed. Lots of exciting decisions!

        I look forward to hearing about your next talk.

        Laura

      • donnafenice says:

        Hi Laura, As all the friends I’ve helped over the years with their travel plans would tell you, my philosophy – and I kind of harangue them on this – is to stay focused – not easy when you’re talking about all the fascinating sites to see in a country like Italy – and remember that you do have to sleep. And eat! Three weeks is a wonderful amount of time. It’s just the ‘maybe Sicily’ part that makes me a little uneasy. But I see there are lots of flights from Naples to Palermo so perhaps…

  6. LauraH says:

    Hi Donna,
    Just catching up on your recent posts from Sicily and I see that I’ll have to consider a tour. From what you’re saying, transit just won’t be feasible and I don’t drive. Hmmm….have to give this some thought. Once I work out the logistics of getting to the gardens, the timing may be the deciding factor. Thanks again for your advice.
    Laura

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