The Italian Garden
This article was written by Ronda Swaney and was featured in our February issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.
ENHANCE YOUR YARD WITH ELEMENTS OF THIS FORMAL STYLE
Formal Italian gardens emerged during the Renaissance. Their arrival was an evolution of Italian medieval gardens, which were walled off and private, mostly tended by monks, and focused on practical plantings of herbs and vegetables. The Renaissance style broke down the walls between interior and exterior, linking the architecture of a home to the landscape architecture of surrounding grounds, connecting both stylistically and physically. The rich and powerful built these gardens, which were open so they could be seen by others, and formally cultivated evergreens to celebrate balance and control. Only wealthy landowners could create them because they required space and money to build and maintain. These gardens disdained practical medieval style in favor of pure pleasure. They were meant to be looked on, savored, and envied by others.
Even if you don’t have the acreage to build a grand Italian garden, elements of the style can be added to most yards. Here are some ways to make it work for you.
The Italian garden celebrates symmetry and control of natural elements. Install pavers in geometric patterns to create walkways or to delineate “rooms” in your garden. Other hardscape options include statuary and urns. Statues create focal points in the garden, while urns provide a convenient spot to plant annuals that add interest and color amid the abundance of evergreens.
Italian gardens focus on cultivated and trimmed evergreens. For this, use plants suitable for shaping into hedges and natural screens. The most common example is boxwood, but camellias, hollies, and gardenias can also be trained into formal shapes. Camellias and gardenias add the benefits of flowers, fragrance, and color among the evergreens. Hollies boast showy berries that can provide interest and color as well.
The summer sun and heat of the Mediterranean are well known, but everyone needs relief from the sun eventually. Italian gardens sometimes feature pergolas entwined with vines that offer shade on sunny days. Or, plant small shade trees in an evenly spaced row. This adds to the formal evergreens while also embracing the order and symmetry this aesthetic is known for.
Large ponds and fountains provide focal points in this garden style. Add these features to your yard on a smaller scale with a bubbling statuary fountain or a small pond where you can grow water-bound plants such as water lilies, mosaic plant, or water poppies.
Mediterranean flowers thrive in warm climates and can survive the occasional dry spell. They flourish in areas with long summers and short, mild winters. These flowers provide bursts of brilliant color to enliven the evergreen landscape. Consider adding lavender, bougainvillea, sage, catmint, oleander, and yarrow.
Italian Renaissance gardens were meant to be looked on and envied, but they also celebrated pleasure. Italian gardens include private niches and secret places that only the owners may ever see. Create your own secret garden hemmed in by hedgerows and concealed by espaliered fruit trees. It can be a peaceful and shady oasis hidden away from the world.
Look up imagery of the famous Italian gardens listed in the sidebar to see how they feature some of these elements. Draw inspiration from them for your own garden, and get planting.
|FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
|Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina, US:
The various estate gardens are as famous as the house itself. The Italian garden is steps from the home’s entrance and its three pools feature a bloom of water lilies every summer.
Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada:
Butchart Gardens is a fifty-five-acre display garden. The Italian garden features a flower-studded pond, multiple surrounding flower beds, and a statue of Mercury.
Kensington Gardens, London, England, UK:
Kensington Gardens is one of eight royal parks in London. The Italian garden is believed to have been a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. Four main basins provide the foundation of the garden, and include statuary and urns.
Villa d’Este Gardens, Tivoli, Lazio, Italy:
Created in the late 1500s, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO notes that these gardens had a profound influence on the gardens of Europe.