By Roger Fischer
The travel scholarship to the north of Italy during September 1996 gave me an excellent insight into Italian garden art and, therefore, enhanced my knowledge of the subject.
The Italian imagination, flair for design and craftsmanship extended into every facet of life. Italian gardens, like other facets of art and literature, is not coldly rational, but very human and individualistic. Each garden has its personalised charm and touch of the unexpected. It has been an object of study for a long time. Edith Warton wrote Italian Villas and their Gardens in 1905 which was reprinted in 1976. Luigi Dami’s collection of photographs and old engravings came out in an English edition in 1924 (The Italian Garden) followed by the renaissance garden plans of J. C. Shepherd and Geoffrey Jellico.
In the 1930’s the English landscape architect, Cecil Pinsent, went to Italy where he created a number of Renaissance inspired gardens. `I Tatti’ and Villa `La Voce’ in the Val d’Orcia.
At the University of Florence the architectural faculty is experimenting with a course on garden preservation and restoration.
Harold Peto’s architecture was strongly inspired by Italian architecture which can be seen in Britain and the south of France.
The north of Italy was subjected to the proximity of top French fashion of the 18th century. Yet the French garden is basically an outgrowth of Italian gardens, so elements of classic gardens remain. Some gardens have undergone transformation into English landscape parks.
The Italian elements include a strong symmetrical axial design with interpenetration of villa and gardens. Gardens were designed with geometrical parterres, pergolas, lawns, clipped hedges, fountains and grottoes. Beyond them were orchards and game preserves.
The gardens are usually located out of town and not easily tracked down. Property owners change as do the names of the villas. Many gardens are protected by Italian law, but this does not ensure their upkeep.
Public interest is growing and the demand to visit private gardens is increasing. The Fondo Ambiente Italiano (F.A.I.) is attempting to preserve properties in Italy, opening them to the public but without government support for their costly maintenance.