Elements of a Traditional Italian Garden

For some, traditional Italian gardens conjure up images of Renaissance palace grounds replete with precisely trimmed hedges, fountains and paved linear walkways. For others, Italian gardens embody a rustic, casual design, with winding pebble paths, trees, herbs and arbors covered with flowering vines. Although visually quite different, both contain a variety of elements common to most traditional Italian gardens.

  1. Native Plants

    • Whether designing a simple or elaborate Italian garden, consider using native Mediterranean plants for authenticity. A mix of evergreens like dense boxwood and conical cedars provide greenery year-round. Fruit-bearing figs, olives and citrus thrive in warmer climates and offer shade. Climbing vines such as jasmine, wisteria and bougainvillea add a romantic touch to outdoor seating and dining areas. Wildflowers sewn on hillsides add a casual touch to formal gardens. Include a patch of oregano, rosemary and basil for a true taste of Italy in the garden and the kitchen.

    Planting Containers

    • When planning a traditional Italian garden, budget for planting containers. Heavy stone or concrete urns and pots look right at home in formal Italian gardens. Country gardens typically feature a combination of large and small terra cotta containers. Nothing says traditional Italian garden more than spherical or ball topiaries planted in oversized containers. Clay pots lined up in window boxes showcase colorful flowers in an Italian cottage or patio garden. Select matching container styles and follow symmetrical placement within the garden to capture the essence of Italian garden design.

    Water Features

    • In ancient times, Italian garden fountains provided irrigation and an oasis of relief from the heat. Modern water features serve as aesthetic design elements in traditional gardens. To break up an expansive wall or fence line, think about installing a wall fountain. In gardens with several pathways leading to a central courtyard, a circular, tiered fountain serves as a classic focal point. Urn-type fountains suit intimate Italian garden settings.

    Garden Structures

    • Choose a garden structure style that suits the personality of the house and landscape. Traditional Italian garden structures include the pergola, arbor, trellis and pavilion. Garden structure materials consist primarily of wood or wrought iron. For wooden structures, consider rough-hewn, construction grade lumber or natural branches and twigs. Train creeping vines onto garden structures to introduce shade and to lend a sense of privacy to seating areas.

    Stone Surfaces

    • Italy’s rocky terrain is echoed in the stone surfaces of traditional Italian gardens. Construction of pathways, patio areas, ornamental structures and walls utilize a variety of hardscape materials. Exposed aggregate concrete and stone in the form of cobblestone, travertine and flagstone directly relate to the organic character of Italian gardens. Select stone in natural colors to complement elements of the house and surrounding grounds.

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