An Italian garden with an English flavour
Vast lawns, roses and a mix of cottage-garden favourites give this stylish garden in central Italy a distinctly English flavour. Words Tim Richardson, photographs Claire Takacs
For the past century and more British garden designers have gone out to work in Italy, offering something of our romantic Arts and Crafts style to a different climate and culture. Cecil Pinsent, Russell Page and Dan Pearson are among the leading designers who have trodden this route. Stuart Barfoot – who runs an international practice from Brighton – in fact worked for a decade as head gardener at one of Pearson’s Italian gardens, before going on to train as a designer himself. So he was well-placed when asked in 2012 to advise on a one-and-a-half acre garden surrounding a sturdy shuttered farmhouse in the agricultural countryside of northern Lazio.
“My first reaction whenever I go somewhere is to see what is there – the natural landscape,” Stuart says. “It was very strong in this case. There’s a huge energy. I think it’s something to do with the Etruscan history of the area – a spiritual atmosphere.” But Stuart also saw something strangely familiar in the landscape. “It felt like it was almost English: rolling countryside, a lot of green. There are sheep and arable farms, and woodland, and lots of wildflowers in hedgerows. It does look a little like the Cotswolds.”
Stuart’s clients are a couple who had decided to relocate to Italy. “They’d had enough of London, I think,” he says. “They said that they wanted a sanctuary
from their busy working lives, something magical that transported them. They believe in [landscape] energies, which do not move in straight lines. That’s
why they wanted no straight edges and nothing geometric in the garden.”
Accordingly, the main moves of Stuart’s design are a substantial amorphous terrace on the southeast side of the house with two oval lawns spinning off it, enveloped by large-scale, shrub-dominated plantings, where roses – especially ‘wild’ sorts such as Rosa forrestiana and Rosa californica ‘Plena’ – create an ‘English’ feel. These large areas of planting might even be described as shrubberies, if that wasn’t such an unfashionable term.
What Italian garden with English inflections.
Where Lazio, Italy.
Size One-and-a-half acres.
Soil Fertile and free-draining, with chunks of tufa (limestone).
Climate Short, hot and dry summers, with temperatures rising to 42ºC and long, cold winters with temperatures dropping to -7ºC.
Hardiness zone USDA 9.
On either side of the lawn on the main garden front are shrubberies, lent structure by clipped box shapes, offset by the intense blue of Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’, foxglove spires and the acid-green of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii.
The scarlet Rosa ‘Scharlachglut’ is the rose that perhaps lends most definition to the garden, cropping up as a link plant across the piece. Here, it adds excitement to the swimming pool area, with roses Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ on the banks, and Rosa Iceberg (= ‘Korbin’) on the pergola next to the house. Later on in the season, green mounds of Hydrangea paniculata take centre stage, alongside the rugosa rose Rosa ‘Blanche Double de Coubert’ with asters and Pennisetum grasses coming
into play by late summer.
A little farther from the house, the planting becomes even more unburdened in tone – groups of Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ with nepeta and the spiky foliage of Cynara cardunculus, set against a backdrop of Rosa moyesii and white Philadelphus coronarius.
A sculptural group of cypresses, set in the grassy meadow at the fringes of the garden, helps to anchor everything in place. In the foreground are the frothy Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora, white foxgloves, nepeta, Geranium ‘Brookside’ and Nicotiana alata, together with the box balls, which provide a sense of structural weight to the overall planting design.
Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’, here used as a link plant, is one of a number of classic cottage-garden plants deployed by this English designer for his clients, who were previously based in London.
The rose Rosa Munstead Wood (= ‘Ausbernard’) makes a deep, rich pool of red amid clipped box and nepeta, gathered around a secluded terrace with seating.
Beyond, white foxglove plumes and golden Stipa gigantea light up shadier areas.
A mown path wends its way through the grassy slope above the swimming pool, with thickets including wild species roses such as Rosa rubiginosa and – beyond – more Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’.
A mown oval lawn creates a play area at this family garden set deep in the Italian countryside. Big-scale shrubberies seem to embrace the house, while beyond it the land rises up sharply towards an area of newly planted ornamental thickets.
Garden critic and landscape historian, Tim Richardson is also founder-director of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.
Claire Takacs is an Australian garden and landscape photographer who seeks to be surrounded by beauty always.
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