Secret garden

Nestled in the heart of Pieta the Villa Frere and its gardens are a nature’s paradise where one can see nature at its best in a historic context. Villa Frere and its beautiful gardens came into being when the Rt. Hon.

John Hookham Frere, a renowned English scholar, politician, poet, and diplomat, retired in Malta accompanied by his ailing wife, Lady Elizabeth Dowager Countess of Errol, and his sister Susanna in 1820. They first resided in Valletta but a year later Frere took out a 99-year lease from the nuns of St. Catherine of a property on the Pieta waterfront commissioning the best architects to build a grand estate which later became Villa Frere. We are also proud to say that as a nation we know where our Maltese written language was born. Thanks to John Hookham Frere and some of his close friends Mikiel Anton Vassalli the father of the Maltese written Language was brought back from exile in France. He became a close friend to John Hookham Frere and they used to spend time discussing Maltese literature together. With the support of John Hookham Frere, Mikiel Anton Vassalli started teaching Maltese at the University of Malta and also wrote his first books in Maltese at Villa Frere.

As you enter the enchanting gardens of Villa Frere you immediately sense the peace and harmony as you are greeted with the beautiful cool refreshing colours of the cineraria which are in full bloom in the upper gardens. They are an eye catcher and give visitors a warm welcome. As you start to stroll around the many pathways one could not help notice the different flowers in all shapes and sizes in bloom coming together to form a beautiful tapestry. Each and every corner of this enchanted heaven has its own magic. The different terraces and levels of the gardens give the visitors different viewpoints and secret corners where one could appreciate and take in the show of beauty the gardens of Villa Frere offer. From shaded corners full of Calla Lilies in full bloom to bright sunny belvederes with sweet-scented carnations and freesia each and every part having their own charm. The high walls of Villa Frere gardens give shelter to the collection of exotic plants and trees also helping to reflect heat, their colours and sunlight that then shines through the tree branches giving the leaves a sparkle. This microclimate is an ideal place for different varieties of plants and trees to flourish.

Sadly The Rt. Hon. John Hookham Frere passed away in 1846 enjoying his finished masterpiece for only 10 years. The house was shut up and abandoned for a number of years until Count Rosario Messina in 1876 took the remaining 55-year lease and gave it as a dowry present to his newly wedded Daughter Josephine to Commander Edward Price. The couple raised a family and lived in Villa Frere for 47 years until their death. During their time living in Villa Frere Commander Price who was a keen gardener added a succulent garden, gnome garden, rose garden and a Japanese garden. Commander Edward Price being President of the Malta Royal Horticultural Society, Villa Frere was the headquarters of the Malta Royal Horticulture Society and was award- ed the prestigious title of Botanic gardens. Villa Frere was visited by royalty and distin- guished guests due to its beautiful gardens and variety of exotic trees and plants. Queen Mary of England visited in 1912 and Queen Marie of Romania in 1924. The gardens were also featured in the prestigious garden magazine Country Life in 1930.

Following the end of the 99 year lease the government embarked on plans to construct the new St. Luke’s general hospital. Works were postponed for the duration of the Second World War, during which time the gardens received some bombing damage. In 1952 Villa Frere was leased to the Spiteri family but the extensive gardens were now radically downsized due to the hospital complex as well as a new primary school built onto the Japanese garden and Wilderness. Thirty years later it was reduced even further when a helipad was laid out instead of the upper part of the gardens. In June 2013 a dedicated group of volunteers got together to form the Friends of Villa Frere charity, with the sole intention of saving and restoring what is left of this grand estate and its context. Unfortunately only 30% of the original footprint remains, our mission is rendered even more critical. However, thanks to increasing media exposure, such as the President of Malta’s official visit in 2018, and a joint management agreement with Heritage Malta. 2020 saw the scheduling of Villa Frere and its gardens as Grand 1 national monument by Plan- ning Authority and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage thus continuing to raise awareness about the beauty and historical and cultural importance of Villa Frere preserving what remains of its context for present and future generations.