Touring the Great Gardens of Italy in the Italian Language

Nov 26, 2012

Orange tree in pot

I grandi giardini d’Italia

The Great Gardens of Italy 

a guest post by Barbara Philip

A while ago I bought the book Edith Wharton’s Italian Gardens, by Vivian Russell, and fell in love with the Renaissance gardens (giardini rinascimentali) that she described with such enthusiasm. But way back in 1904 Wharton wrote and published her own definitive book: Italian Villas and their Gardens (Le ville italiane e i loro giardini).

Since then thousands of travelers have set off to Italy clutching this book in search of the hidden treasures (i tesori nascosti) she described. I too would love to follow in their footsteps and take a painting tour (fare un tour pittorico) of Italian gardens. 

In her book, Wharton spoke of her delight at the ordered symmetry (la simmetria ordinata) that she noticed throughout Italy — in the olive groves (olivi), the avenues of cypresses (viali di cipressi) and in the architecture (nell’architectura). I also love the formal structure (la struttura formale) that pervades Italy's gardens — in the clipped box hedges (siepi di bosso tagliate), the balustraded terraces (le terrazze balaustrate) and the fountains and statues (le fontane e le statue).

Wharton understood that Italian gardens had almost nothing to do with the art of gardening (l'arte del giardinaggio) and everything to do with the garden as a work of art (il giardino come opera d'arte). Renaissance gardens are seeped with the symbolism (simbolismo), allegory (allegoria) and vision (visione) of the poets, philosophers and writers of Italy’s history.

Asked to name one thing that symbolized the Italian garden for her, Wharton said that it would not be the splashing fountains (le fontane spruzzanti), the lines of boxwoods (le linee dei bossi), or the statuary (la statuaria) but a single lemon tree (un albero di limone) planted in a terracotta pot (piantato in un vaso di terracotta). These lemon trees, the pride (l’orgoglio) of Italian gardens, poignantly evoke the glory of Italy’s past (la gloria del passato in Italia).

Here are some of my paintings inspired by the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace in Florence:

Boboli 1


Boboli 3

I also admire the gardens of Villa Pamphili and Villa D’Este in Tivoli, Valsanzibio south of Padua, and the Giusti Gardens near Verona. Here is an image of Cetinale near Siena,


I can only dream of visiting the magnificent flamboyant Baroque showpiece island garden (magnifico esempio di sgargiante giardino barocco), Isola Bella, named after Count Borromeo’s wife Isabella, in the tranquil and picturesque (tranquillo e pittoresco) Lake Maggiore. That would be heaven indeed! (Mi sentirei proprio in paradiso!)

Words and Expressions

giardino zoologico — zoo

giardino botanico — botanical garden

giardino d’inverno— literally a winter garden, a glass-roofed and walled greenhouse

giardino pubblico / privato -– public / private garden

Giardino dell’Eden –- Garden of Eden

Barbara Philip is an accomplished artist from South Africa who paid me the lovely tribute of collecting all my blog posts in a handbound book (below). Click here to view a sampling of her wonderful paintings and designs.

LBL blog book

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La Passione
Mona Lisa
La Bella Lingua