“Look at it, how beautiful!! its an English garden”. I hear the words crisp and clear in her polish accent she is one of my English language students and was making an impromptu visit the other evening. She seemed fascinated to see so many different flowers happily growing together and lost no time in asking can I have some daisies to take home.
Ok if you look deeper, then you can see what I see the flaws, the holes the lack of planting but the overall impression of a deep English border is certainly working.
So why you may ask would I choose to move to Italy and then want to create an English garden?
I do love the English garden Style of Gertrude Jekyll and those who followed in her footsteps Rosemary Verey, Christopher Lloyd and even Prince Charles has a go. I used to love visiting many famous gardens where I admired and yearned for their deep billowing flower borders, . Crathes Castle, Banchory, Floors castle, Kelso, Hidcote manor, Gloucester etc. their planting schemes thrill me .Over the years I have created many gardens, especially show exhibits, creating borders with all the beautiful cottage plants that we all Know and love. But sadly for me, my own gardens have always been situated on steep hillsides with all the associated problems, I was continually battling the elements and designing around steep gradients. I have always wanted a flat piece of land with an empty palette to paint my picture. So here I finally have it.
The garden is huge where do I begin.?
It was quite daunting at first but thankfully I was blessed to be in an area with very fertile well drained soil and a perfect climate. Each season being markedly different .It can be a challenge to handle the droughts and slightly worrying when the temperatures hit lows of minus 18 in winter. But that is gardening!
The garden completely surrounds the house with a gentle slope to the rear where it changes into vineyard. The house faces south and here to the front of the building is where we started to beat back the wilderness.
At the beginning I made many plans, sketch after sketch I could see it in my minds eye but there were many considerations to be made, it had to be viewed not just from ground level but from the balconies and terraces above, it needed to be beautiful all through the year with its highlight throughout the summer, with plenty of interest, vistas and seats for our guests to enjoy . It had to be able to provide us with fresh vegetables and cut flowers for the house, it had to encourage wildlife and most importantly to be fragrant.
Our starting point was to create a pergola walk situated at the front of the house leading down the garden. We used an old existing wisteria as the first corner post. We cut this hard back almost to its roots, It took a couple of years to tame and this year it has finally rewarded us with long racemes of delightful scented lilac blossom.
The building of the pergola turned out to be quite a challenge especially for OH the first post was as I said the wisteria and the other 11 were to be planted with scented climbing roses. He spent a few days erecting the poles and completed the job with the help of our neighbour Antonio, while I was out shopping. I arrived home to inspect the work, took one look , shook my head and said have you viewed it from the balcony .
Poor OH a trained engineer had thought he was building a bridge everything was measured perfectly to enable the horizontal poles to be flat and level. He had overlooked the slight undulations of the land and when viewed from above the last posts gave a false perspective of being at least 1 metre higher than the start.
Lesson 1 in landscape design the eye is always better than the measure.
Lesson 2 although it looks flat it is not always what it seems.
To the side of the pergola we measured out a square area and we surrounded it on three sides with deep borders. In summer time when the flowers are in full bloom this becomes our secret garden only seen from certain view points.A vegetable garden called the orto in Italian. This is where OH grows , beans, sweet tomatoes etc etc all fresh and ready to eat.
My passion is the flower borders especially the two deep ones flanking the side of the pergola hiding the gardens beyond. I have spent the last three years experimenting , searching out,collecting and propagating the plants .each day I learn which thrive as its most important to plant those that love the conditions. Bulbs in the spring, iris, peaonies, daisies, roses,dahlias gladiolis and huge lilies all are enclosed with huge rounded grey lavenders bushes.
These give permanence to the beds creating ball like silhouttes in the winter and a silvery blue haze in the summer. The long purple spikes are a haven for bees, lady birds, and many goody insects along with a few nastiesl it is these two areas that give the English style.
The first bed is cool pinky hues planted with daisies,
The second is hot fiery colours deep red Dahlia bishop of Llandaff,
Crocosmia lucifer, roses terracotta,salmon and deep yellow gladioliis abd deepest red foliage of amaranthus all set against spikey forms of eryngiums which creating a bluey shimmer .
In the daytime the roses exude a fragrance light and musky and I brush along the lavender as I peer into the depths to catch a glimpse of a flowering treasure within.
I can hear the continuous buzzing of the bees and hover flies and hundreds of little orange white and blue butterflies flutter around my legs resting the delicate wings on the aromatic herbs extracting the nectar within.
Occasionally I hear a rustle under the leaves which sends Lucy into a tizzy darting about in the undergrowth searching out our resident Romaro ( big green lizard). Sometimes she is lucky enough to come across him and suddenly confronted by something a little larger than the norm makes her panic and she scadadles into the shade.
Often we take an evening walk with our little dog Lucy the scents waft in the evening air and the garden becomes quite intoxicating inviting in the little moths and insects to do their work.
For a gardener and a designer this is purely heaven,everything grows with such vigour performing to its hearts desire. I just love putting these schemes together and wait with grateful anticipation to see what works and what doesn’t.
My poor husband thinks i am obsessed well maybe I am ,just a little. But the garden is for the enjoyment of all and It pleases me to see OH pleasure as the tiny little green plants we set into the soil grow into such a masterpiece he is not a gardener and finds it difficult to foresee these borders in full bloom. His interest is more to the nature ,the bees, the vast array of butterflies and all the colourful birds that frequent our garden, sometimes I feel like we are living in a nature reserve. (well actually there is one closeby and I don’t think animals have any boundaries)
I love to give a tour to any unsuspecting visitor and will happily bore them to tears giving in depth information of each little beauty and quite often they can be seen leaving clutching a little cutting or two.
I just spend each morning keeping it in check always manicuring trying to purvey the natural.
It has taken three years to get to this point.
So today when I heard those words my heart warmed maybe I am finally managing to create my dream. An English garden at the foot of a Piemonte hillside.
Please keep reading next up will be the making of OH s rose garden.