Sand-colored tufo, celadon leaves of wisteria, grapevine and fruiting trees. Woven together down staircases and through arbors and porches, the two are inseparable in Civita, a garden city in the clouds.

Who’s to say whether the stones arise from the gardens, or if the gardens grow from the stones? Inseparable, entwined, they brace one another — vines holds bricks at the edge, and the bricks invite the vines to grow, to splay across them for sunbathing.

Who can number the lives that take place inside those green palaces? Bumblebees so big they shouldn’t be able to fly, though nature forget to tell them so (or, perhaps they refused to listen.) Wasps, mosquitoes, moths, and flies buzz in and out of the vines while beetles and spiders nestle in hidden nooks near the earth.

Who knows how many residents a stone home can house? Scorpions live there, emerging only for midnight strolls. Smarter than some, they cling to the walls, inviting neither love nor tragedy. We’ve made peace for now, my scorpion and I; si chiama Hortenzio, and we’ve agreed on separate quarters. In good faith, I’ve offered him the opportunity to observe me at his pleasure, so long as he doesn’t become fresh.

Who’s to guess at how many meals these gardens provide? Insects work both soil and flowers that burst forth our pomodori and lettuce, cucumbers and basilico, and – most importantly – il nostro vino. Each outcropping of stones holds a garden that holds meals which hold families; together the gardens and stone hold our lives. Tony’s five garden turtles heartily agree.

Who can guess at how something simple like shade feeds our very relationships? Arbors make patios for dining al fresco while stones make benches to rest. Secret cool inlets tapestried in vines are places for lovers to share stolen moments. While the shade lasts, they are no longer mother or father or son or granddaughter, but only two people in love, fighting the knowledge that soon someone will mewl for their attention, breaking the spell.

Who can determine which holds more fidelity, the intractable tufo or the supple greenery? They’ve grown together for so long that each bears qualities of the other: the tufo holds water and permits tendrils to grow within its cracks, while vines and stumps petrify as they age, clinging to the very walls they support, reinforcing that ancient strength with new life ever-growing.

Remove the stones, and there’s no place for gardens; remove gardens and there’s no life in the stones. Young and old, flowering green plants and cool gray bricks, in sun and in shadow they play for us a series of perfect –and never-ending– foils.

Insects crawl in and fly out of these places, momentary pestilent reminders that, without nature in the city, no city can really remain.