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
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