San Quirico d'Orcia, controversy over works at the Horti Leonini: a havoc. The municipality: no, work in a workmanlike manner

There is controversy in San Quirico d'Orcia over work carried out in the Horti Leonini, a splendid 16th-century garden. For environmentalists a havoc, but the municipality defends itself.

Controversy is raging in San Quirico d’Orcia over maintenance work carried out in the middle of summer, between July and August, in the splendid Horti Leonini, one of Italy’s most beautiful gardens: they were created in the 1680s after the Grand Duke of Tuscany Francesco I de’ Medici donated land in the village to the architect Diomede Leoni, a friend of Michelangelo. Here, Leoni decided to create a sumptuous garden made not for his own private enjoyment but as a place to be made available to pilgrims traveling to Rome (San Quirico d’Orcia was in fact an important stop on the Via Francigena).

The Horti, as mentioned above, underwent maintenance work (officially "maintenance, securing and restoration," which, however, had an indisputable aesthetic impact on the appearance of the Horti: in particular, the holm oaks that enclose the garden in the upper part (in the so-called “ragnaia,” that is, the grove where nets, called “ragne,” were placed between the trees in ancient times, which were used to catch small birds), and the boxwood hedges arranged in geometric shapes in the lower part have been heavily pruned. But that is not all. The accusations that the environmental associations (among them, Opera Val d’Orcia, Legambiente circolo "Terra e pace," Italia Nostra Toscana, Italia Nostra Siena, Club Unesco Siena, Rete dei Comitati per la difesa del Territorio, APIGI Associazione Parchi e Giardini d’Italia, GUFI ITALIA Gruppo Unitario per le Foreste Italiane and several others) address in unison to the Municipality of San Quirico d’Orcia concern other points as well.

In fact, the associations contest the way in which the contract was awarded: according to them, the work was in fact entrusted to a company that would not have had the requirements to intervene in one of the intervention categories provided for in the call for bids. In addition, again according to the environmentalists, the work, which was to be carried out in functional lots over a five-year time frame (or in any case cadenced so as to limit the visual impact as much as possible), would be done in less than two months. The manner in which the pruning was carried out is also disputed: “largely,” the environmentalists write in the text of a petition asking Minister Dario Franceschini to stop “the havoc” of the historic garden, “by the method of pruning, an outdated method that the most up-to-date theories rightly consider to be seriously harmful, over time, to the trees. Method, that of tree trimming, now banned from interventions related to monumental trees or otherwise inserted in historical contexts.”

In fact, the environmentalists point out that the holm oaks of the Horti Leonini are centuries old and therefore “would have deserved a careful and analytical evaluation and at least the intervention of a company specializing in greenery, rather than a company that works on road surfaces.” In addition, it is pointed out that the Horti have been closed for months.

The municipality, however, does not stand for this and defends its actions. In a statement issued at the end of July, the Municipality of San Quirico d’Orcia declared that the works would be carried out in a workmanlike manner: “as certified by the last inspection with the technicians and the Superintendence,” says the mayor of San Quirico d’Orcia, Danilo Maramai, “the works are proceeding in full compliance with what was foreseen in the recovery project, but of this we had no doubt. We are sorry for the political instrumentalization that a few have artificially tried to create, causing, moreover, serious damage to the image of our territory and our economic operators who with great sacrifices are recovering after the health emergency. Within a few weeks the garden will reopen. The work thus carried out has in fact made it possible to limit in time the inconvenience for a prolonged closure of the Horti, given that the implementation of the work in stages of progress was only dictated by the needs of economic resources available to the municipality and certainly not to the final result of the securing and restoration.”

As for pruning, the City presents the account of the technical report: “pruning,” the report states, “was conducted with both nodal and internodal cuts generally respecting and, therefore, not exceeding the precautionary measure of 6-8 cm in diameter. Larger cuts were carried out, primarily, to remove decayed and unstable branches and, secondarily, to recover the linearity of the outer boundaries of the forest, contain and equalize the development in height, and open both the central avenue and part of the secondary paths. In the first case, the intervention was also an alternative to the felling of some plants that would otherwise have been necessary to ensure the safety of people.” “With few exceptions,” the technicians explain, “the plants are regrowing well with numerous sprouts that, in some cases, are well developed.” Finally, the municipality stresses that “the management of a tree stand in geometric forms involves overcoming the conception of the plant as a single element in favor of the whole. Each plant then becomes an element that competes together with the others not only biologically and ecologically but also in structure and form. Form that for some plants may even be exclusive. From the design of formal restoration descend some of the internodal pruning carried out with cuts greater than 6-8 cm. The removal of trees and portions of them coupled with the particular structure of the plants, generally characterized by mostly hollow crowns inside, are the causes of the current state of illumination of the ragnaia forest. Given the good regrowth, from the pruned plants, of new shoots, a complete visual recovery can be expected within 3-4 years.”

The Horti were reopened to the public last August 8, but the municipality’s explanations did not convince environmentalists and the opposition. During an inspection following the reopening, the environmental associations had the opportunity to analyze the pruning of the ilecci and also that of the boxwood hedges, which were allegedly pruned in the middle of August (photographs taken in July, in fact, would document the absence of pruning). This would be, according to environmentalists, a “very serious detriment even to the historic geometric hedge planting that constitutes the sixteenth-century Italianate garden layout.” And an opposition member, Riccardo Galligani (the League’s leader in the regional elections), announced just before mid-August that he will file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ascertain whether the work on the Horti Leonini was carried out following proper procedures. The end of the controversy thus promises to be far off.

Pictured: the Horti Leonini’s ragnaia before and after pruning.

San Quirico d'Orcia, controversy over works at the Horti Leonini: a havoc. The municipality: no, work in a workmanlike manner
San Quirico d'Orcia, controversy over works at the Horti Leonini: a havoc. The municipality: no, work in a workmanlike manner