Garden of Ninfa, Italy.

A triumphal synthesis of humanity’s imagination and nature’s richness 

The bewitching Garden of Ninfa (Giardini di Ninfa) is set amongst the ruins of a medieval town and is located 70 kilometres southeast from Rome in the territory of Cisterna di Latina within the central Italian region of Lazio.

Described by many as the most romantic garden in the world, the origins of Ninfa go back to Roman times and are immersed in myth. Tradition tells that Ninfa was named after a temple consecrated to the water divinities, nymphs, the locals believed occupied the natural springs and gentle flowing river that meanders through the verdant landscape. 

Prior to developing into a garden of rare beauty, Ninfa was a small town of strategic importance and political influence. From the 8th century, travellers traversed the route through Ninfa to get from Rome to Naples and when the Appian Way (Via Appian) was impossible to traverse because of flooding rains.

In 1159, Cardinal Rolando Bandinelli was consecrated at Ninfa as Pope Alexander III. He was inaugurated at the Church of Santa Maria, whose evocative remnants are visible today.

The distinguished Caetani family, who had ties with the papacy, took control of Ninfa in the 13th century, buying out local proprietors and titleholders.

During the papacy crises, known as the Great Schism (circa 1378), anti-pope factions razed Ninfa to the ground. Never to be rebuilt, the town lay deserted for several centuries, mainly because of the untamed growth of the nearby marshland, a breeding ground for malaria. 

I asked, amazed, what that most puzzling great garland of flowers, that mysterious green ring, could be. “Nympha, Nympha,” said our host. Nympha! then that is the Pompeii of the Middle Ages, buried in the marshes – that city of the dead, ghostly, silent. 

Ferdinand Gregorovius German Historian – when he first viewed Ninfa from the hilltop town of Norma in 1852

Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.
View of the serene waters of the Ninfa river and the Ponte Romano (Roman Bridge). Town on top of the hill is Norma. Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, members of the noble Caetani family, lovers of botany, created some foundations of the garden seen today.

The garden remained abandoned until the 19th century, when visionary members of the Caetani family rolled up their sleeves and began the arduous process of regeneration and restoration. The legacy of their energy, boldness and foresight endures today.

The garden, a botanical, wildlife and spiritual sanctuary, spreads over 8 hectares (20 acres). Abundant in faunae and native and exotic flora, the garden has over 10000 species of plants, 152 species of birds and a rich variety of fauna that inhabit the lake and river.

The leafy winding pathways are a softened with dappled light and burst with ethereal vistas. The paths unite all parts of the garden and gently pull you to explore the curious and ghostly ruins of the medieval towers, walls and churches, all of which are romantically cloaked with plants such as climbing roses, ivy and scented jasmine.

Several ornate bridges span the serene river named Ninfa, as it serenely drifts in its progress through the lush landscape. And the 12th-century castle and tower cast mirror like impressions on the small lake they border.

The garden of Ninfa is the visionary fusion of many generations of the Italian, English and American-born members of the family. A tour de force of man and nature, Ninfa is a beguiling union of humanity’s creativity and the grandeur and order of nature.

Note: Ferdinand Gregorovius was a German historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome. He is best known for Wanderjahre in Italien (Years of Wandering in Italy), his account of his Italian travels in the 1850s.

Click to view the complete Ninfa image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Cappadocia, Turkey.

Extraordinary Rock Formations.

Cappadocia is an extraordinary historical region in landlocked Central Anatolia, in the Nevsehir Province of Turkey. 

The area is most distinguished for the remarkable dramatic rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape. Formed millions of years ago, the otherworldly scenery is the collective work of lava spluttering volcanoes being eroded over time by wind and water. 

The region is famed for its basalt capped fairy chimneys, natural rock formations in various shapes. Some rock formations have been excavated and hollowed out and converted into houses, hotels, chapels, churches and monasteries. 

Aerial landscape view. Cappadocia. Turkey.
Cappadocia. Turkey. Aerial view from a hot-air balloon of the spectacular rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape.

The Goreme open-air Museum is a microcosm of the Cappadocia region. Goreme has some dramatic rock structures and a cluster of several fine christian chapels, churches and monasteries with exquisite frescoes dating from the 9th century onwards and built out of the volcanic tuff.

Cappadocia is one of most magical places in the world to take a hot-air balloon ride and I spent an hour slowly drifting over the lunar like landscape taking several images in the early morning summer light. 

UNESCO lists the Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia as a World Heritage site. 

Click to view the complete Cappadocia image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.   

The Collared Sparrowhawk

Delicate yet lethal.

A frantic exodus of birds can only mean one thing, a predator, a feared Collared Sparrowhawk.

Looking out from my kitchen window, I witness and hear a chaotic scramble of birds taking flight away from the serenity of my backyard. These feathered friends, which include Sparrows, Spotted Doves, Crested pigeons and Miners, startle easily, but on this occasion, my sense was they feared for their life.

As stepped outside, it confirmed my feeling as sitting quietly, almost nonchalantly on a branch of my apple tree was a Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey.

Sparrows and various other small birds that frequent my and my neighbours’ backyards in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia have particularly attracted predators that are skilled in hunting small birds.

Confident and relaxed, this modern feathered dinosaur (a Velociraptor to be exact) was not all unsettled by my schoolboy type enthusiasm to set up my camera to capture images. Occasionally, it gave me the death stare with those wide, piercing yellow eyes, perhaps warning me to keep my distance.

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird? – Sir David Attenborough

A Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey.

Collared Sparrowhawk. Melbourne. Australia.
View of a Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey. I took the image in my backyard. Melbourne. Australia.

Found in woodlands and forests across Australia, Collared Sparrowhawks are handsomely marked, with slate-grey wings and head, chestnut rear neck collar and reddish-brown and cream banded chest and front.

Living an average of only 4 years, males and female Collared Sparrowhawks are similar in appearance; However, females are larger than males.

Birds of Prey or raptors females are between 20-100 percent larger than the males. This is the opposite of most other birds, where males are larger than females.

A distinguishing feature of the Collared Sparrowhawk is that it has long thin wiry yellow legs and a long middle toe, which it uses to clutch its unfortunate victim. This is one feature that differs from the Brown Goshawk, for which it is mistaken for.

My charismatic visitor eventually tired of my antics and flew off, perhaps to enchant another mere mortal or more likely, to find a meal.

Click to view the complete Collard Sparrowhawk image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, Victoria. Australia.

Nestled near the mountain village of Olinda, one hour’s drive from central Melbourne, is the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, a showcase of stunning exotic and native flora. 

A dazzling exhibit of the wonderments of nature, the garden is one of the key allures of the Dandenong Ranges, which is set in the low mountain ranges roughly 600 metres above sea level. 

Formerly recognised as the National Rhododendron Garden, the vast 40-hectare Garden (100 acres) includes an extensive range of cool-climate plants along with 30,000 Rhododendron and Azalea species and hybrids. 

Entry is free, and I spent a relaxed two hours meandering the 5 km of paved walkways during a recent summer visit and was delighted with the diversity of plant life and arrangement of the garden. 

“The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is Victoria’s premier cool-climate garden. With breathtaking views over the Yarra Valley, the garden features important collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and more, in a setting of native and exotic trees. Seasonal changes ensure the garden is a year-round delight,” Quote from the Parks Victoria website.

Click to view the complete Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia.
Dazzling pincushion flowers of the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ plant, a member of the Proteaceae family. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia. Native to Southern Africa, the genus Protea was named in 1735 after the Greek Sea God Proteus, who could change his form at will.

Monet and I, inspired by the masterpiece of nature.

What does an obscure photographer stuck in the concrete landscape of an Australian suburb and Claude Monet, a French impressionist master, have in common?… the love for nature, gardening, flowers and the symphonies of colours.

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.’ – Claude Monet

Born on 14 November 1840, Claude Monet is one of the most significant, influential and universally celebrated figures in the history of Art. Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting (late 1800s) which focused on emotions, form and changing light and movement rather than realism. 

Impression, Sunrise, a most splendid painting by Monet, is credited to inspiring the name of the impressionist movement.

Monet is perhaps most famous for his monumental series of oil paintings depicting water lilies, serene gardens, and Japanese footbridges. Monet’s water lily series was painted on his property in the village of Giverny, in northern France, where he lived his final 43 years from 1883 to his death on 5 December 1926. 

Throughout his life, Monet grew flowers and cherished gardening and being outdoors, at one with nature. In his later years, specifically during his life at Giverny, he became a zealous student of botany.

Monet was the architect and visionary of the extensive and splendid landscaped gardens (five acres of flowerbeds and water-lily ponds) which became the subjects of some of his famous masterpieces. 

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’ – Claude Monet

To achieve his grand vision, he devoted himself to flower gardening and employed several gardeners for additional support. He sourced and imported plants, some rare, from around the world including irises, daises, nasturtiums peonies, delphiniums, rhododendrons, Oriental poppies, asters and many species of sunflowers and the water lilies for his famous lily pond. 

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

Monet didn’t let finances impede attaining his dream, and he said, “All my money goes into my garden,” but also: “I am in raptures.” 

Today Monet’s house and gardens attract over half a million visitors each year, testament to his visionary brilliance. It was Monet’s love of plants and flowers and not painting that inspired him to transform his property into an oasis. 

And as Monet, I created my garden beds purely for the pure joy, inspiration, and companionship that plants and flowers provide. Graceful, enchanting and full of zest, flowers with all their eccentricities and richness of colours never cannot captivate the senses. As with Monet, I can’t imagine life without being surrounded by nature. 

‘I must have flowers, always, and always.’ – Claude Monet.

Images included in this post (and found in my image gallery) were captured in my garden. I concentrated on my collection of showy merry African daisies (Osteospermum) of which I clearly adore. The scientific name is developed from the Greek osteon (bone) and Latin spermum (seed). 

As homage to Monet, several of the photographs are impressionistic in style, with a dreamy soft, almost defocused effect, gushing with vibrant colours.

I used the multiple exposure photographic technique, also known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). I superimposed nine exposures to create a single image in camera. I then converted raw files into jpegs with very minor basic adjustments in Photoshop.

Official website of Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny.

Claude Monet Quotes

‘Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.’

‘My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature” “I am good at only two things, and those are gardening and painting.’

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’

Click here to view the full African Daisy image gallery.

 All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria Australia.

Otherworldly and awe-inspiring, Wilsons Promontory National Park represents Mother Nature in all her splendour, a magnificent reminder of how fortunate we are to living on this absolutely unique Planet, Earth.

Wilsons Promontory is a peninsula that forms the southernmost part of the Australian mainland and is a long but scenic three hours’ drive east from Melbourne in the state of Victoria, Australia.

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

– Albert Einstein

Home to abundant native wildlife, the Park size stretches to over 50,000 hectares (125,000-acres) and has a maze of walkway and hiking trails that provide a magical journey through a pristine and rugged wilderness including white sandy beaches, secludes coves, dramatic rock formations and verdant native forests.

Sweeping views of Wilsons Promontory and its rugged coastline are offered via a 3.4km trek up to the granite rocky summit of Mount Oberon, which rises to an elevation of 558 metres. Further information about Wilsons Promontory–Parks Victoria Website.

The complete Wilsons Promontory image gallery.

All Text, Images and Content are copyright Steven Sklifas