Summer is the perfect season to explore Italy’s most beautiful gardens. From isolated island escapes to secluded secret gardens, Italy offers an impressive collection of vibrant and verdant landscapes to explore. Here we unearth some of Italy’s most meticulously manicured gardens and soak up the heady scents of summer. Judith Wade founder of Grandi Giardini Italiani – the country’s largest network of gardens – shares her personal favourites with Envy Italy.
Island of Garda, Lake Garda
Saint Francis of Assisi built a hermitage on this island in Lake Garda in about 1220, and it later became an important ecclesiastical centre. Now one big privately owned garden, it opened to the public only recently. The perfectly groomed Italian parterre faces the lake, as do the glasshouses. The ticket price includes the return boat trip from several points around the lakeshore and a drink on the terrace of the villa.
Barberini Garden, Castel Gandolfo, near Rome
The pope’s summer palace, Castel Gandolfo, has only recently been opened to garden lovers. The gardens are on the south-west shore of Lake Albano and built over the ruins of an ancient Roman villa, Albanum Domitiani. It has a grand belvedere and a perfectly pruned Italian parterre. This is one of the very few gardens you can visit and admire in the pouring rain (a rare event south of Rome), thanks to a Roman cryptoporticus, or covered passageway. There is a magnificent magnolia collection and a model farm that grows produce for the pope’s table.
Castello San Pelagio, Padua, Veneto
This 300-year-old castle was reopened as Italy’s first privately owned museum of flight in 1980, with displays of flying machines from da Vinci to the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. The garden is unique in that it also features vintage aircraft: Second World War hospital planes alongside the spectacular rose collection, and, next to the maze, an Italian air force fighter. Aviateur Blériot is a yellow rose named after the French aviator who crossed the English Channel in 1909. There is a rich collection of cypress and ancient lime trees, plus lavender, jasmines and clematis.
San Giuliano, near Siracusa, Sicily
Halfway between Catania and Siracusa, the 60-hectare grounds of the Marquis of San Giuliano’s estate include four hectares of garden and groves producing a million kilos of oranges; their scent fills the air. In 1990, landscape designer Oliva di Collobiano created a garden of four distinct spaces enclosed by drystone walls. There’s an Arabian garden, with ponds and water lilies; a tropical garden, with palms and monumental cacti; a Mediterranean garden with roses and grapefruit trees; and a scented garden, with frothy helichrysum, liquorice plant, myrtle and citrus. Rachel Lamb, the British head gardener, has added a new area dedicated to varieties of cactus.
Villa Reale di Marlia, Lucca, Tuscany
The Royal Garden of Marlia, whose first owner was Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Princess Elisa Baciocchi, has recently undergone a major restoration. A luxurious green lawn, the teatro di verzura, laid in the 17th century, rolls from the Renaissance villa down to a picturesque lake. This has been restored, with terracotta statues in their original places. Trees, shrubs, camellias and boxwood hedge walks have been cut back to the original size and shape designed by Jacques Gréber in 1924. The colourful Spanish garden is particularly impressive, with fountains fed by a network of irrigation channels.
Palazzo Malingri, Cuneo, Piedmont
This garden was remodelled at the beginning of the 19th century, with winding paths, panoramic viewpoints and shady woods. Owner Aimaro Oreglia d’Isola, a prominent Italian architect, and his wife have added a fine collection of sasanqua camellias and other acidophilus plants, plus anemones, hydrangeas, hostas and a carpet of wild violets in the woods. The garden is surrounded by stone walls, and outside are vineyards and a deer park.
Villa della Pergola, Alassio, Liguria
Saved from developers by the Ricci family a few years ago, with the help of Italian landscape architect Paolo Pejrone, this garden has been brought back to life. Abandoned for years, it now has a newly planted collection of agapanthus, long pergolas of wisteria and cascades of pink banksia roses. (The Ricci family also renovated the Hanbury botanical garden, near the French border.) The villa itself is now a luxury hotel.
Castello Visconti, Grazzano Visconti, Emilia Romagna
This majestic 14th-century castle is still home to the Visconti family and is where film director Luchino Visconti spent his childhood. Avenues weave in and out of a wooded area where cypresses, pines and holm oaks have grown into their full splendour. The Italian parterre is colourful and neat, dotted with statues on pedestals. Roses and hydrangeas add colour and variety in summer, and there is a children’s play cottage. The nearby village of Grazzano Visconti was created in neo-medieval style by the duke’s grandfather.
Il Negombo, Ischia, Naples
Built in 1946 by Duke Luigi Silvestro Camerini and his wife, both plant collectors and ecologists, Il Negombo has grown into a spectacular Mediterranean garden with a fine collection of modern art, including sculptures by Arnaldo Pomodoro and Giuseppe Maraniello. The park rises from the semi-circular sandy bay of Montano, with plants from Japan, Brazil, Australia and South Africa, such as orbea variegata, hakea, encephalartos and cycas, around the park’s 12 thermal pools.
Palazzo Patrizi, Bracciano, Lazio
Palazzo Patrizi is a 16th-century castle built on the slopes of the Tolfa Mountains near Lake Bracciano. The estate covers miles of countryside, with a hunting lodge. The gardens, including one of the most beautiful rose gardens in Italy, are the work of the current marchesa, Umberta Patrizi Montoro. Hundreds of rambling roses cover both the castle and the walls and also grow in the kitchen garden beside the vegetables.
Author: Judith Wade is founder of Italian garden network www.grandigiardini.it