On a recent trip to see close friends in Italy, I managed to sneak in visits to three big gardens; the Bardini Garden and Boboli Garden (what a great name!) in Florence and the Botanic Garden of Pisa. The Botanic Garden was founded in 1543 and sadly, apart from some wonderful, stately, mature trees – a Magnolia grandiflora planted at the time of the early settlers arriving in Australia (1787) being a fine example – there was little to see, with a strong sense of a lack of funding (despite the entry fee!). Fortunately the two Florence gardens more than made up for it.
There were two key learnings that I took from these Italian gardens. The first, was the beauty of simplicity. There is always the temptation to add a bit more here, a bit more there. Garden designers are extremely guilty of this in their own gardens, where they just can’t quite resist planting one more species they fall in love with, despite knowing better! But look at the geraniums in the photo above; simple, matching terracotta pots, just the two of them, and identical plants in each. So simple, but so effective.
Again, at the entrance to Hotel Lungarno in Florence, which incidentally is a wonderful place for lunch looking over the river, you see this simple display of plants. Buxus balls in terracotta pots and simple, repeated, white Begonia. So often a similar planting would mix whites and pinks or a couple of different plant types, but simple is often more visually attractive. More examples of this simplicity are shown in the photos below:
The second learning was around that difficult to pinpoint but magical when it does exist, ‘sense of place’.
Looking out over the Tuscan hills the colours and textures of the landscape are picture perfect. Olives and pencil pine muted greens along with sandy rendered houses with terracotta roofs combine to ooze Tuscan character. Not a thing jars, not a thing looks out of place.
Interestingly, the colours are not dissimilar to the natural colours of many Australian landscapes. Glance quickly and it could easily be a mix of Acacia and eucalypts. The challenge for us is to scale down these landscapes to garden proportions whilst retaining the natural appeal. Perhaps combining these two attributes of simplicity and native ‘sense of place’ is a way of looking at landscaping here in Australia. More restrained use of a few local species that perfectly fit a specific space rather than an attempt to directly recreate the bush. I look forward to seeing our ‘sense of place’ with regard to garden design develop in Australia, not least because this evening I attend my citizenship ceremony, after 5 wonderful years living here. A very exciting day for me!