Sentimental Journey: A Visit to the Villa Taverna Garden, Rome

Me, Rose Thorne, James. Frisky puppy behind me to the right.

As the youngest grandchild of the US Ambassador to Rome, my husband James spent four glorious summers in the mid-‘70s at the American ambassador’s residence in Rome, a 14th century estate known as Villa Taverna. Recently, when we learned that a vegetable garden had been planted at the property, in the style of Michelle Obama’s White House garden, we felt it was time to go back for a visit.

Villa Taverna flower garden

James and I made plans to visit in September, when we would be in Italy for a friend’s anniversary party. On the appointed day, we took a cab to Rome’s elegant Parioli neighborhood, and pulled up to the main gate of the imposing walled estate. James hadn’t been back in thirty-five years, and he had goose-bumps.

We walked down a long driveway lined with trees, flowers and shrubs to the front door of the Villa, where a cute, gangly puppy on a leash dispelled any formalities by promptly dashing off into the trees.


The puppy belongs to Rose Thorne, the wife of Ambassador David Thorne, and once the dog had been recovered, we trekked behind the house to see the Orto — that’s “vegetable garden” in Italian — that was planted in April.

Ambassador David Thorne, Rose Thorne, and students inaugurate the Orto

In developing the garden, the Embassy had students from a local agricultural high school come up with design plans.

Rose Thorne and students plant seedlings in the Villa Taverna Orto

Ms. Thorne is passionate about the Orto that the students created: “It’s a wonderful juxtaposition to the manicured gardens on the rest of the property. This edible garden is wild and exciting!”


Among the plants fruiting at the Orto are kale, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and even pomegranates!


Not only will the garden eventually be certified organic, but it’s fertilized with compost, and filled with native plants in an effort to preserve biodiversity. “It’s really important to be connected to your food source, and so many people don’t even know that their food comes from a garden,” says Thorne. “This garden shows people the direct connection between who we are, what we eat, our health, and the health of the planet.”

On camera

A camera crew of stylish Italian men shot a video of our visit, while James and Ms. Thorne mused over the customs of the Villa, like the finger bowls adorned with fresh flower petals that are provided for hand-washing during meals. When the puppy ran off with a vegetable planter, it was time to go.

James and I pose, while the puppy tries to escape a patch of lettuce.

James was downright misty as we got to the street. He once again felt connected to that enchanted time in his childhood, and I got to share my enthusiasm for seasonal food with someone who’s as passionate as I am. The Villa has a special place in my heart, now, too.

A big thanks to Dana Biasetti of the Foreign Agricultural Service, and Gimena Campos-Cervera of the Information Resource Center at the US Embassy, Rome, for making our visit possible.

All photos courtesy of the US Embassy, Rome

2 thoughts on “Sentimental Journey: A Visit to the Villa Taverna Garden, Rome

  1. It's great to see the organic and local food movement supported by people in positions of influence, like the Ambassador and his wife, and of course, Michelle Obama herself. It tells the world that caring for the environment, and our health, isn't just for eco-renegades and hippies anymore, but that it's simply the right thing to do. As the birthplace of the SlowFood movement, Italy is the perfect setting for this kind of public outreach, and I'm proud that the U.S. ambassador and his wife are supporting that with their Orto. Buon fatto!

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