Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Florentine Fancy: Gardening with Tuscan Style

In a moment of indulgence, when the house was quiet and the washing up was out of necessity (again) soaking, I found with great relish 'A Room with a View'. A marvellous book which is so haunting and whose soul translates well to the film. Who couldn't help but love sumptuous shots of Florence's golden Duomo and the air thick with art, history and heat! The phone rang, the baby cried and chaos was once more restored to our household. However in those snatched moments and with the advent of someone helping us today with the mammoth task of heaving the rubble out of the garden, I decided that since I couldn't paint furniture (my workshop being used as storage for plants that looked very sorry for themselves), I would get to work on adding a Florentine twist to our humble plot!

A fragment from Fra Angelico's fresco of a garden scene from his 'Deposition from the Cross'

 I spent a winter out in Italy and have never quite got over it! I lived in a beautiful terracotta tiled flat in the eyrie of an ancient building, huge flights of stairs and dodgy wiring. (The oven only worked if the lights were off!) I soon discovered it was desperately cold, MTV was the only channel with anything vaguely English and my Italian only really worked in moments of hysteria such as shutting ourselves out of the flat on a snowy afternoon! However, I loved it and the lovely English girl who I been placed with. We wandered around our local greengrocer, being taught vegetables in an extremely fierce and aggressive manner by the owner, I have since forgotten 'melanzane'...We found pockets unvisited by tourists, restaurants alive with locals and food of which I spent most of my budget on and incidentally when I left Florence to travel, I ended up in a convent in Venice on Valentine's Day. I frequently walked up to the monastery of San Miniato, in the hills outside Florence, where behind small windows from the main church you could see the edge of a habit as a monk swept through the cloister and it seemed as if centuries had stood still. There is history in every street and it takes little imagination to be back in the Middle Ages or the Nineteenth Century doing the Grand Tour.

I do realise that a copy of the 'David' might be somewhat overbearing and I am not sure next door would appreciate his muscles rippling up and over their side of the fence so I have decided against my better judgement to employ some sense of restraint!

Michelangelo's David in the Accademia, Florence

However, I have come up with a few planting ideas that might add a few So in my quintessential English Garden, amongst fluffy tea roses and fox gloves and apple blossom there is to be a corner of Italy. In fact, incongruous as it might seem what could be more English! There is so much today in modern gardening that bears a strong resemblance to the ideas from Renaissance planting brought back from the Grand Tour, that the terraces of the Boboli Gardens and the structural elements of planting seemed ingrained in our gardening traditions. So whilst I don't think we can fit a lake and a tempietto, we could have a wispy cypress or a silvery olive tree, boxwoods to line a more formal front garden and over a thicket of evocative herbs such as rosemary and sage, vines can tumble around a seating area. A little bit of history, a terracotta pot here and there and the sense of a secluded archaic grove, just right for some artistic inspiration.
Boboli Gardens, Florence

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