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Lady Walton (1926 - 2010)

On March 21, Lady Walton, widow of the composer Sir William Walton, and a charismatic figure in the world of gardening and music, passed away peacefully at her home, La Mortella, on the Island of Ischia. She was 83 years old.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1926, Susana Walton might have led a quiet, comfortable life amid the haute bourgeoisie into which she was born, but she had other ideas. An independent-minded girl full of passion and curiosity about the world, she wanted to work and to challenge herself. She visited the USA with her father before she took a job at the age of twenty-two at the British Council in Buenos Aires, despite the disapproval of her family. It was there that she met William Walton, a well-known British composer, who was then forty-six. He had traveled to Argentina to participate in a conference; Susana organized a press conference to introduce him to the Argentine press corps. There he noticed this attractive and vivacious brunette with enormous grey eyes amid a crowd of journalists, and decided on the spot that this was the woman with whom he wished to spend the rest of his days.
That same evening, Walton asked for her hand in marriage. Despite initial misgivings, after two weeks Susana accepted, much to the dismay of her own family and of Walton’s friends and colleagues, who were unconvinced by this tale of love at first sight. Despite some resistance from those around them, they were married two months later, after which they departed for Europe.
With Susana at his side, William was able to fulfill his dream of leaving England and making a life in Italy. In October of 1949, the couple moved to Forio d’Ischia. After renting a house for a few years, the Waltons bought some land where they planned to build their own home. They asked the famous landscape architect Russell Page to help them design a garden on this wild plot carved out of volcanic rock. Page, a great admirer of Walton’s music, agreed, and it was he who designed the basic plan of the garden.
But the practical realization of Russell Page’s project—the overseeing of the work, the selection and distribution of plants, in short, the actual creation of this wonderful garden of La Mortella—was left to Susana Walton. For over fifty years, she has devoted her legendary energy, her indefatigable enthusiasm, her passion, and her botanical wisdom to this garden.
After Sir William’s death in 1983, Susana transformed the property into a living monument to the life and genius of her husband, through the creation of the Fondazione William Walton e La Mortella, which has the twin objectives of promoting musical education and performance by young artists, and the protection of the garden with the purpose of promoting a love of nature and gardening. La Mortella opened its doors to the public in 1992; since then the number of visitors has increased yearly, reaching a peak of 70,000 in 2007. Many of those visitors had the unforgettable experience of encountering Lady Walton as she worked tirelessly in the garden, discussing projects with the gardeners, pulling the odd weed, stopping to admire a flower, or greeting a visitor and telling a colorful story about a particular plant or about her life with William.
Susana set-up the annual Master Classes on the performance of opera: the Actor-Singer course which ran for over ten years, and always included a wonderful concluding party at the house. She showed tremendous zeal in promoting William's compositions and gave brilliant performances of the speaking role in Facade despite never learning to read music. Susana also negotiated the successful sale of the manuscripts of major Walton works to Yale. Susana had a great passion for embroidery and tapestry work; she was a regular attender of the Chelsea Flower Show where her most creative hats would be toured with great aplomb.
Thanks to Susana’s efforts, the Fondazione now organizes visits to the garden and public concerts, courses for young musicians, music festivals, and masterclasses. Until recently, Lady Walton continued to manage every aspect of the garden and the Fondazione’s many projects, the most recent of which was the creation of the “Greek Theatre”, an open-air amphitheatre with a magnificent view of Forio, filled with aromatic plants. In this theatre, symphonic and operatic concerts, showcasing young artists, are held during the summer months.
During her lifetime, several honours were conferred upon Lady Walton. She was created MBE in 2002 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Nottingham in England, and the title of Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana.
She is the author of two books: Behind the Façade, a biography of Sir William Walton, and La Mortella—an Italian Garden Paradise, a history of her garden at La Mortella.
According to her wishes, her ashes will be buried in the “Nymphaeum” on the mountainside at La Mortella, near those of her husband.
There will be a private cremation in Naples on Wednesday 24th March. The ashes will be interred on Thursday 25th March. There will be plans made for a memorial event in the UK later in the year.
Obituary supplied by Debra Boraston


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