Italy is known for its formal gardens, from the Borghese Gardens in Rome to the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace in Florence. But as I re-learned over the past few weeks, the whole country is a garden, whether it’s viewed from the car window zooming along an autostrade, walking through a small town, or climbing up a hill to see a church.
The landscapes of Le Marche, the rural region east of Umbria bordering the Adriatic, where I spent five days in late June, must be among the most gorgeous in the world. The hills are planted with grapes, olive trees, sunflowers and onions—fields of alliums. I couldn’t help but conclude that the number-one consideration in laying out an Italian farm isn’t efficiency of crop yield; it’s designing a pattern that will delight the senses and provide the most spectacular views for the owners and for their neighbors and visitors.
From le Marche, my husband Julius and I made our way northwest to Liguria, on the Mediterranean, driving through Tuscany. The most astonishing views were between Florence and Lucca, near the city of Pistoia, where much of the land is devoted to raising ornamental trees. For at least ten kilometers along the A-11, there are huge nurseries, one after the other, each seeming to outdo the next with row after row of yews and boxwoods, of palms, citrus trees and flowering shrubs including oleanders and bougainvilla, and of the columnar cypress trees that have defined the Italian landscape since they were first depicted in Renaissance paintings. These are the trees and plants, some already shaped into topiaries and spirals, that will grace Italy’s public and private spaces, piazzas, hotels, and private gardens—and that will be shipped around the world.