Classic Italian gardens have stunned the world for centuries with their symmetry, elegance and sense of shape, form and scale. However the contemporary Italian garden now appears to display a rather confusing disregard for their Renaissance origins. Although created from aristocratic oppression and social poverty, these glorious works of Renaissance garden art could still be reflected in modern Italian garden design. I am an English garden designer in Italy and I chose to live in Italy nearly 15 years ago, so I realize that it’s not really my place to go judging the garden design efforts of a country that I am not native to.
However, I cannot help but perceive the way that modern Italian gardens tend to totally ignore their origins and the almost instinctive sense of shape and form that those classical Italian garden designs displayed. Although we do clearly live in an age of ‘fusion design’ where inspiration can be drawn from all across the board and from every corner of the globe I find that some interpretations of the modern Italian garden style leave a lot to be desired.
The use of kitsch colour schemes, plastic, coloured glass and other man made materials take me in a completely different direction to the age of ecological awareness in which I now find myself. I personally see a need to return to the origins of gardening, where the secrets of nature and natural materials should be admired, utilised and respected just as much as the farmers and craftsman who work with them.
Italy’s relationship with the land has always been a strong one, particularly during the war years, when the severe lack of food supplies forced the Italians to grow their own food. This hardship gave rise to the wonderful cuisine that we now consider to be one of the most delicious and healthiest in the world. In the days when pasta was a poor man’s dish and old, stale bread was transformed into refreshing dishes like Panzanella the gardens in Italy were full of vegetables, pigs and chickens. Treasures like Porcini mushrooms, Truffles and various herbs were gathered from local woods, meadowland and hedgerows etc and were transformed into mushroom risottos, wild leaf salads and even healing tea infusions. I feel that the future for garden design in Europe, and especially that of Italy , can be found deep in it’s past!
Fortunately we are slowly discovering that there really is nothing more modern than the past. Therefore I feel that by making Italian gardens that honour tradition, provide fresh vegetables yet, which are laid down upon a Renaissance garden structure, we can honour and represent a huge part of Italy’s complicated history through the contemporary Italian garden.
The modern Italian garden can be based around that wonderful Renaissance symmetry, allowing for elegance and style in the garden. Yet, one can adopt a contemporary stance on this style of Italian garden design, without using kitsch manmade materials and without selling out to modernism. There can be informal wild flower areas that provide visual harmony, salad leaves, medicine and much more. There can also be formal organic vegetable gardens that stock the Italian kitchen with aromatic herbs, fresh Italian vegetables and an inexpensive visual delight (when combined with flowering plants) that soon become the star of the show. All of this and more is possible if we strive to understand what the roots of a true Italian garden really are and interpret them correctly, before trying to design a ghastly contemporary version!