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A hundred gardens to visit in Italy

— August 2011

Article read level: Art lover

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A formal parterre, laid out simply in box and grass, with pergolas overlooking the sea.

The Best Gardens in Italy: A Traveller's Guide

Kirsty McLeod

This is a book for everyone who loves gardens, especially if you love Italy too. And in contrast to those featured in  Italy’s Private Gardens,  which I reviewed for July’s Cassone, all these gardens are accessible to the ordinary visitor.  This book is intended for use as a practical guide as well as for armchair information.

Over a hundred gardens are covered, but the book packs in huge amounts of both text and visual information without appearing over-crowded. There are anecdotes and other useful details, in addition to individual histories and descriptions of design and planting. We hear the comments of travellers from previous centuries – some familiar and some rarely quoted before – and we hear from today’s owners too.   

The recent history of many of these gardens has been eventful as owners seek to conserve, re-create or develop them. Indeed, the current surge of interest in Italian gardens is largely due to the huge amount of work undertaken in the last couple of decades, a point made in the introduction by Robin Lane Fox (who also notes the dearth of publications on Italian gardens right up to the 1970s). Much of the work is careful restoration, informed by historical sources, as owners re-discover original layouts and planting.

Well-known gardens such as Isola Bella, Ninfa and La Mortola are naturally included, together with some relatively obscure examples. British owners and gardeners have put down roots (excuse the pun) all over Italy, and influences criss-cross between Italy and Britain. The Villa Capponi in Florence, for example, was in the hands of the Capponi family for centuries, until purchased by a British owner in 1882, then an American in 1929; it inspired many imitations, including Garsington in Oxfordshire.

The very informative text is accompanied by splendid photographs by Primrose Bell. Many of the photographs create a cheerful, even humorous note: for instance, the endpapers bear fourteen photographs of statues of lions at the front, matched by fourteen statues of dogs at the back. Wide sweeping vistas are contrasted with close-ups of a solitary moss-covered stone seat, or a single pot of rosemary. A splendid blend of visual essay and guidebook.

Each garden is indexed with details of addresses, websites, opening hours, advice on how and when to get to the gardens, and the products you can buy when you visit. The publication is the result of a considerable amount of personal travel and research, and makes it the best guide from which to plan your own tour of gardens the length and breadth of Italy.   

The Best Gardens in Italy: A Traveller’s Guide  by Kirsty McLeod is published by Frances Lincoln, 2011.  264 pp.,  450 colour illus. ISBN 978-0-7112-3183-2


Patricia Andrew
Art historian

Media credit: © Primrose Bell

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