Plant the Look - Italy
Have you always dreamt of an Italianate garden?
Do you wish you could be enjoying a gelato in Genoa right now, to the sound of a Rossini aria?

As it's difficult to get abroad at present, we're bringing you ways to feel like you're somewhere else, even when you're at home.
We show you how to create the look of an Italian garden in your own back yard.

Italian Style Gardens - natural landscape

monastery garden

There are two notable - and very different - styles of gardening which come to mind when thinking about Italy.

The first Italian style draws on the natural landscape, which would have been familiar to travellers on the Grand Tour two hundred years ago, and is still enjoyed by modern tourists today.

You can see this style in the header image above, and in more detail here.

Italy is known for its culture, its history, its architecture - and also for its distinctive trees.

Beside almost every monastery or palace or ancient ruin you will often find a trio of evergreen trees - a tall skinny dark cypress, a wide spreading blue-green conifer, and a gnarled wind-eroded ancient pine. Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation


This traditional group of three can be seen in many early Renaissance paintings including da Vinci's The Annunciation.

Covering the hillsides around - in the artworks and in life - is a carpet of annual summer wildflowers and bulb flowers like lilies.

Take a look at the films A Room With A View and Much Ado About Nothing for an idealised version of this landscape (and a good romance).

The wildflowers grow in poor soil, with little rain - good soil and precious water are saved to use on the vegetable gardens.


Italian Style Gardens - formal colour

Italian carpet bedding The second Italian style is a waterside one, often seen in the holiday destinations around Venice, Capri, Lake Como.

It's a formal style of gardening, intended for small spaces and close inspection, creating beauty from intense blocks of colour.

It's more like painting than landscaping in many ways, and similar styles of gardening are often called 'carpet bedding'.

Intricate living tapestry rugs of flowers are created by planting in contrasting hues and patterns, positioning the individual plants so closely together that they appear as one, with no soil visible between.

Bright colours - rose pink, peach, magenta - are often combined with silver-leafed plants, to give delineation to the designs.


Venetian balconies Town centre balconies, like these in Venice, are festooned with trailing flowers and foliages, squeezed into the tiniest of gaps.

It's not a thoughtless jumble - each balcony focuses on one or two colours, one or two plants, for maximum impact.

You can see red and white blooms carefully alternated here, with apple-green trailing plants at each corner to soften the hard edges of the architecture.

There's bound to be one or two essential herbs hidden alongside the cascades of foliage, oregano and basil maybe, to add fragrance to the air, flowers to the display, and flavour to the sauce.

plants for the Italian look

Italian Style Gardens - get the look

Essential plants to get that Italian look are dark slender cypress and juniper pines.

Pines are among the longest living trees on earth, so if your garden lasts as long as the Roman Empire's remains, the trees will be around for hundreds of future generations to enjoy.

the Italianate styleOleanders stand up to sandy soils, sea breezes and hot sun; and will flower brightly in warm months.

Plant up windowboxes with bright flowering annuals like impatiens (busy lizzy) and petunias.

Create a living carpet design in your garden borders with mass planting. If you want a longer-lasting design for all your hard work, plant it with coloured foliage instead of flowering plants. We suggest vibrant alternathera and silver lamb's ears.

Remember always to make room for a little kitchen garden for tomatoes, basil, zucchini and eggplant, essential for nonna's melanzane alla parmigiana. All that gardening is hungry work!