Italian garden today: the sources of a style

11 October 2017

Talking about the italian garden almost always means to quote our history; by being distinguished as one of the countries most prolific in terms of stylistic inventions and tastes, Italy has written memorable pages of garden art, but what about now? Does it exists a contemporary garden’s style in Italy?

Italian garden style in history

It’s impossible, spending just few words, to talk about the style of gardens in our history. During the classical age styles were already common which are still recognizable in contemporary garden, like for instance the topiary art, the common use of water in every conceivable use, nurseries, fountains, statues, low-relief, etc… Obviously their use and the general context of design was different.

During the Renaissance, thanks to the wealth of the upper classesand the presence of geniuses and a renewed technology, even theitalian garden changes his style . Stylistic innovations introduce to athree-dimensional view of the shapes of the ground, terracing, stairways,cliffs, and a three-dimensional view of the plants also with
hedges, green traps for birds, evergreen groves etc…

Garden’s scenographies are enriched with ornamental water features,grottos, and exoctic plants collections, especially thanks to a newincetive to import them from the far east or from the newlydiscovered America.

Another extraordinary phase of the Italian garden has been for sure at the end of the XIX century when, thanks to the discoveries in the newly explored lands, italian flora got enriched by new species which contributeto adorn the newly build (but most frequently, restored) garden, following the most appreciated styl of that age,the english style.

It’s easily understood, even by those few words, that since the late ‘800 not only exotic plants, but even exotic styles are imported, in fact, after the English style a more oriental fashion follows and after that a true eclecticismbecome widespread to the point that sometime a veritable potpourri can be found!

It’s true that immediately after the beginning of the XX century traces of a renewed interest for italian and renaissance garden can be found, and such approach spawned wonderful garden like the one in in Villa La Foce,but since then, as whole, the Italian garden lost its character and originality.

La Foce italian garden in Chianciano
Evergreen mediterranean hedge in BoboliGarden
Citrus collection in Castello’s Villa Reale near Florence

Italian garden as style and model

Over the centuries we oscillated between luxurious gardens that represented the power of the dominating lordof such epoch, and ages where the economic difficulties forced the garden to be used as sources of food andthe unproductive plants were unkempt. The style, over the centuries, however, has followed its course remainingrecognizable and as such has spread throughout the world the model of “Italian garden”.

Since the beginning Italian garden’s style has been characterised from an approach which favoured more abeautiful design and a formal harmony between its components than any other aspects: variability, colour,“naturalness”, etc. This peculiarity has lost its originality since the end of the 20th century without, ever, regainingmomentum and recognition in the style of the gardens and leaving just to individual episodes, although verysignificant, the defence of the identity of the Italian garden.

One of the examples, perhaps the most important, of the modern Italian gardens and landscape design style, is to Pietro Porcinai, a Florentine landscaper who characterized much of the 20th century. A lot has been written about him so I would only bring back one of his emblematic phrases:

Most architects abandoned the world of things built in harmony with nature for cowardice or for money, allowingbad cities to arise and horrible suburbs to be built. It’s the duty of the landscape architect to remedy to thissituation, but ha has to be be someone who is capable to think before act… to avoid the dissemination ofugliness and the destruction of tastefulness, and to let the pleasure of the beauty to become widespread.

Those few words already show that pleasure from beauty of, and harmony with, Nature, are compelling concepts in the Porcinai aesthetics; he was able to decline such concepts by maintaining a personal style which perfectly fits in the great tradition of Italian Garden.