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30.03.2020. Le Sirenuse
One of the hashtags doing the rounds in lockdown Italy is #lanaturanonlosa: ‘nature doesn’t know’. In other words, even as the worst pandemic of the 21st century threatens our health and restricts our movement, fruit trees are bursting into bloom, asparagus spears are pushing their heads above ground, orchids and magnolia flowers are unfurling – while in the southern hemisphere, forests are turning russet gold and the wine harvest is in full swing.
Nature’s steady course reminds us that everything is cyclical and that, in the end, to quote an even more popular hashtag that’s trending in Italy right now, #andràtuttobene – everything will be alright. But there’s more than comforting maxims to be gleaned from the plant kingdom. Gardening is therapeutic even in normal times, all the more so when you find yourself self-isolating in a city apartment with little or no outside space.
Le Sirenuse is famous for its outdoor and indoor plants, from the lemon trees that frame the pool to the bougainvillea that climbs the walls and meanders over the ceiling of La Sponda restaurant. One magnificent specimen, the Strelitzia nicolai (giant white bird of paradise plant) at the foot of the stairs that lead down from the lobby, even inspired a site-specific work of art, Alex Israel’s mural Amalfi Dr., 2017, part of the hotel’s ongoing Sirenuse Art Projects initiative.
We figure that there has never been a better time to share a little gardening advice with all our friends around the world. The Sirenuse Journal is grateful, therefore, to the hotel’s plant curator Giulia Sersale, who in collaboration with Le Sirenuse’s head gardener, Nello Trapani, has chosen five of her favourite indoor specimens from among the many to be found inside the hotel.
We love this beautiful plant, which is native to the Philippines. Our guests can admire the drooping clusters of pink flowers on the table in our lobby, in our bars and in our corridors.
Commonly known as the Philippine orchid, Medinilla is an epiphyte, in other words a plant that grows on other trees but doesn’t draw nutrition from those trees as parasites do. In the tropics it is grown as a perennial, while in cooler climes, it is a common house plant. King Baudouin of Belgium was a big Medinilla devotee. He grew them in the royal conservatories, and they were even depicted on Belgium’s 10,000-franc bank note. The plant’s Latin name pays homage to José de Medinilla y Pineda, who was governor of Mauritius (then known as the Marianne Islands) in the early nineteenth century.
One of the largest of all plant families, Orchidaceae takes in around 28,000 species – that’s more than double the number of known bird species, and four times the number of mammals. They are among the most loved of all indoor plants, with many nurseries, enthusiasts and societies around the world focusing solely on orchids and the many hybrids and cultivars that have been created over the centuries. Although associated with modern horticulture, orchids have been admired for centuries. The earliest known depiction of the flowers in European art appears amidst the stone carvings of the Ara Pacis, an altar erected in Rome by the emperor Augustus in 9BC.
Orchids have long been an important part of Le Sirenuse’s indoor planting scheme. Among the species we love are Phalaenopsis, Miltonias, Oncidiums, Cambrias and Dendrobiums. These beautiful, decorative plants live happily indoors.
There is one plant at Le Sirenuse that we consider to be the mother of all the others: the beautiful Nephrolepis exaltata fern (also known as the sword or Boston fern) that dominates the third-floor bar lounge beneath Martin Creed’s neon artwork Don’t Worry. Looking like one of Tina Turner’s more extravagant hairstyles, she grows in a terracotta pot between the two French doors that lead out onto the pool terrace. She was placed there by our late aunt, Anna Sersale, who had a great passion for plants and curated all our terraces and common areas. I was honoured to take over her role after she passed away in 2004.
This beautiful Bougainvillea glabra sanderiana will be familiar to so many of those who have lunched or dined in our La Sponda restaurant, where it climbs up the walls and across the vaulted ceiling in long tendrils. It’s a vigorous climber that produces glossy green foliage and stunning magenta bracts during summer and autumn. It is the easiest bougainvillea to grow indoors, making it a popular house plant not only at Le Sirenuse but throughout Positano and the Amalfi Coast.
The largest genus of the arum family, anthuriums (also known as tailflowers or flamingo flowers) often grow in the wild in their central and southern American habitats as epithytes on other plants. At Le Sirenuse, we love our decorative red anthuriums, with are the perfect match for corridors with low natural light levels, and our white anthuriums, which are an elegant presence in many of our guest rooms. Beware that all parts of anthuriums are poisonous and may cause mild stomachache if ingested.