The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Italian Villa Garden Design

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100. The villas of Italy differ from those of Britain in nothing more than in the disposition of their pleasure-grounds and gardens. �In an elevated situation,� Rose observes, �the formal garden, known by the designation of architectural, is sometimes enclosed with a wall too low to impede the view: in ordinary situations this wall is usually higher; but, as the Italian seems to consider a garden merely open at top as we do a room lighted only by a skylight, he usually, besides an iron gate, the spikes of which are often gilt like those of the Tuileries, breaks out two or three windows in the wall. These, which are of course unglazed, are always trellised with iron. The walled garden near the house, which conveys the idea of seclusion and repose, pleases me; the iron gate, too, which serves as a sort of breathing-place, and lets in a peep at the horizon, seems well-imagined; but the wall-windows, which are nearly down to the ground, and expose one to a cross battery of starers, appear to take, in a great degree, from the picture of repose and retirement which is suggested by the general design. What is without his garden the Italian wisely leaves to the farmer. He has, indeed, a passion for an avenue, perhaps less on account of its antiquated grace, than the convenience of its sunproof branches in so broiling a climate; but what has been facetiously called the belted scrubbery (shrubbery) is a monster not yet naturalised in Italy. He has as little idea of the melancholy monotony of the English park, and least of all of a large extent of level lawn.� He adds, that �the characteristic of the Italian villages, as well as of the Italian towns, is picturesque elegance. The farm-house, where it is large, is surrounded by arcades; the villa is shrouded with cypresses, which harmonise happily with the building, and make a pleasing break between its formal lines and the dishevelled foliage of the middle ground and distance. The church is such as would form the ornament of a city in England or France; and the oratory under trees, by the roadside, with its fresco paintings, completes the scene. The remote cause of this elegance seems to have been the magnificence of the Italians when 'wealth was theirs;' and the impulse would appear to have continued after the cessation of the cause. Many circumstances have seconded this; and hence, perhaps, Architecture has survived many of her sister arts. One of the most obvious is the plenty of materials, which are furnished by stream and mountain, and the cheapness of manual labour. Other causes, too, have indirectly contributed to this effect. Thus, the proprietors (at least in the plains), being almost always rich, naturally seek to give stability to their farm-houses, and to adapt them to the purposes which they are to answer. These purposes themselves, in this climate, come in aid of architecture: for here porticoes and arcades form the cheapest and pleasantest apartments during the greater part of the year, and are, moreover, conducive to the purposes of husbandry; as such, for instance, in affording a place of deposit for the cars of the Indian corn, where it is laid to dry, and afterwards beat out for use.� (Letters from the North of Italy, p. 147.)