Last year I visited Sicily for the first time, travelling between the capital Palermo and the east coast through intensely green April countryside. Palermo is an impossible Roman/Norman-Arab-Byzantine/Baroque architectural dream, its derelict palazzos and gorgeous churches cut with Mussolini-era slabs like the monumental Palazzo delle Poste. Alongside the city's marauding cats, pink and gold football kit, arancine and chickpea fritters and abundant antifascist graffiti, I kept being distracted by inventive planting. Hollyhocks grew out of the stumps of felled palms, familiar houseplants (money, cheese, all the essentials) thrived in plastic pots on the pavements and bolted kale was an inspired addition to municipal plantings.
Taormina, by contrast, is moneyed and manicured, a well-oiled tourist machine for a century or two where the main drag alternates between Valentino-lined boutiques and outlets punting fridge magnets and majolica ceramics of variable quality. Its incomparable setting, high above the Ionian Sea with Mount Etna as a backdrop, is best appreciated from the eccentric follies and geranium-infused air of the Giardini della Villa Comunale. The town’s cable cars were out of commission so I spent a lot of time making my way up and down through the outskirts, where seas of poppies, acanthus and borage felt like heightened versions of more familiar wildflower meadows. My abiding memory is of the graffittied cacti growing in abundance around the Greco-Roman amphitheatre - prickly pears with ‘LOL’ punched through them.