When asked what makes Lake Como different from the other lakes in the region, an Italian friend who is a proud comasco replied; ”it’s the villas.” And it is true, the historic villas and adjoining gardens that adorn the lakefront are a big part of what makes the scenery on Lake Como unique among the lakes. Lake Como is also very much a “12 months lake”, unlike the other lakes whose population swell during the summer months then retreat into hibernation as the weather gets cooler, Como has a resident population that live here year round, albeit with some fluctuations further up the lake, breathing constant vibrancy to life on the lake.
Owing to the surrounding mountains that create a unique microclimate distinct from the rest of Lombardia, the area is blessed with lush vegetation and it is through this companionship with nature that the appreciative audience welcomes the marking of the changing seasons. The cascading geranium that adorn the balconies or the well aged wisteria on the pergola are not there simply to create picture perfect photo opportunities for the visiting tourist. Italians are keen gardeners and the lake life attracts them here for this reason. The gardens of Villa D’Este in Cernobbio and Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo are certainly worthwhile excursions to experience gardening splendor, but you don’t always need an invitation or to pay an entrance fee to enjoy the showcase of plant life. From the majestic ceders that have aged over time with the history of the villas, down to the moss and fauna that cling to the hand-laid stone walls in the narrow passageways, there is a panoply of vegetation in the narrow backstreets of Cernobbio, Moltrasio or any one of the more populated enclaves along the lake where a keen gardener has added his or her dab of color to the palette of natural beauty. You simply need to get lost to discover them.
One plant that adorns many gardens here is the star jasmine, it’s scientific name being “trachelospermum jasminodes”. Otherwise known as “falso gelsomino” or the fake jasmine, because technically speaking, it is not really a “true” jasmine – these are members of genus Jasminum, an evergreen vine or spreading shrub in the Apocynaceae or dogbane family, but is so called due to the wonderful jasmine-like perfume produced by the flowers on this vine. Whereas the true jasmines are more delicate and require a temperate semi-tropical climate to grow, the star jasmine variety we see on the lake thrives even in northern Italy where temperatures can drop sub-zero in the coldest winter months. It is an incredibly hardy plant that takes well in the soil around this area but can also be grown in containers, even if you are not equipped with the greenest thumb. An evergreen that keeps its leaves even after the flowering season is over, it is a climber that works well as covers on fences, pergolas and walls. This plant is a perennial, so once it takes root, all you need to do is to replenish its thirst and give lots of appreciation for its rustic beauty hence one of the reasons that the star jasmine is ubiquitous and is strongly associated with imagery of the lake. However the most outstanding feature of this plant is the intense perfume released by the white star shaped flowers which typically begin blooming in May-June and continue until after the summer. Once you recognize its intense smell, it will follow you everywhere during the blooming season and will become very much a part of your memory of the warmer weather on Lake Como.
written by C.T. Baldwin