Italian Gardens

I have been in Italy for a family wedding and was charmed by the Italian gardens. The terrain there is often steep and requires some terracing and most gardens in this hot climate do not rely on flowers because of the extreme heat. When flowering annuals are used they are mostly planted in pots or in a special cutting gardens.  I saw plumbago cascading down balconies along with walls covered in bougainvillea.

Garden in Tuscany: Cypress, Oleander white & pink, Mimosa tree and red geraniums

Garden in Tuscany: Cypress, Oleander white & pink, Mimosa tree and red geraniums

The four plants that are the staple of Italian Gardens are: Cypress, Stone pine trees, boxwood and olive trees. The towering Cypress seems to rocket you straight to heaven- at least that’s how they work on me. The Italians love to repeat cypress trees in lines to frame a view and line the roads to their Villas.  Stone pine (Pinus pinea), also called Italian stone pine, umbrella pine and parasol pine provide much needed shade for most of the day. It was near 100 degrees most days during my visit and under these pines was the place to sit and wait for a breeze. Olive trees besides providing an important crop, also add a whimsical element to the garden with their grey leaves and weeping habit. Their texture, in contrast to the evergreen of the pine and cypress, brings a light poetry to the scene. Boxwood hedges frame paths and borders and create the bones of these gardens. Rather than looking at flashy colored flowers the Italians appreciate the structure these 4 plants provide in the strong Mediterranean light.  I marvel at the simplicity of just how few plants are needed to make a garden!

Cypress often line roads

Cypress often line roads

Cypress used to frame view

Cypress used to frame view

Stone pine provide much needed shade

Stone pine provide much needed shade

Olive grove softens the boxwood hedging. Tuscan Garden

Olive grove softens the boxwood hedging. Tuscany

 I did notice other plants including Mimosa trees, Oleander shrubs, and lots of lavender, sage and red geraniums in pots. I think we can learn a lot by looking at the small number of plants that make up one of the most beautiful landscapes on this earth.

Chestnut tree planting provides shade as well- boxwood en-closer

Chestnut tree planting provides shade with boxwood en-closer

Mature cypress

Mature cypress

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7 Responses to Italian Gardens

  1. beckynielsen says:

    Thanks, Don! What a great article and loved the photos you included! I’ve wanted to go to Italy for so long – this just makes me more committed to making that happen!

  2. Deirdre in Seattle says:

    Gardeners around here sneer that certain plants are “common”. There’s a reason they’re ubuiquitous. They work. The Italians have figured out what works in their climate, and don’t go hounding after the latest novelty from Asia or New Zealand. As a victim of plant lust, I am a sucker for the rare and unusual, but I’m not one to sneer because other people use the old war horses, so long as they use them well. My husband, the former architect, would be delighted if I limited myself to three or four plants.

    • Don Statham says:

      Hi Deirdre,
      I am a sucker too for the rare and unusual. When I was designing small urban gardens the ‘Italian approach of limiting plants’ is what worked and made those small garden unified and cohesive in design. I have tried to do that in this very lush landscape upstate NY. by having two seasons per room. So on average I am repeating about 5- 9 plants per room. Nature is so wild here. I only heard one bird song when I was in Italy and only saw one bird. My first night back home I heard several variety of owls and saw blue hereon and many other birds. The variety of native plants here is just mind blowing after being in such a hot country.

      • Deborah Banks says:

        And then we had this wonderful rain last night to welcome you back! I’ve been looking forward to your Italy post. Great pictures!

  3. Clay, Julia () says:

    Gorgeous! Those photographs are a reminder of what gardening is all about. Those heavenly trees! ________________________________

  4. Holly B.K. says:

    So interesting and lovely. I too have been hoping to visit Italy. We almost went last year! In our own garden I have been moving towards simplicity too. It was generally a matter of discerning what works in my small semi urban environment, deciding what I love, what satisfies my need for beauty and serenity and what survives without struggle. It is an ongoing process. I have also discovered that a garden is not just plants. It is the birds, bees, butterflies, reptiles and small animals that happen by. Whatever you design needs to take them into consideration too. So the winnowing continues. I hope that as my knowledge grows, so will the appeal of my garden. 🙂

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