Bring your holiday home….the Italian Garden

Olive groves and Italian Cyprus trees are seen at sunset in the Medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto. Italy. Image: Kim Newton / Alamy 

Returning from a Roman holiday? Missing the Mediterranean? Read on for our top tips on bringing an artfully elegant latin look to your garden.

It’s all Greek…

You might figure that the gardens of grand Renaissance Villas like those at Villa d’Este and Villa Lante, represent the birth of the classical Italian garden, but these 16th century masterpieces were in fact inspired by the gardens of ancient Rome, which were in themselves inspired by the gardens of ancient Greece.

Many of our great British gardens in turn drew strongly on the Renaissance, borrowing common Italianate features. Follies, temples, specimen planting and the use of focal points were all popular influences during the 18th century and some of the finest examples of this can be seen in gardens such as Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Painshill Park in Surrey.

So how can you bring a touch of Italian style to your garden? You don’t have to have vast acres. Big or small, key elements can be adapted to suit any outside space.

Water

A moss-covered woodland grotto or secret spring inspired by Italian gardens

A woodland grotto or secret spring

Whilst Villa d’Este boasts a total of fifty-one fountains and nymphaeums, 398 water-spouts, 364 water-jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, many Italian gardens have a simple stone pool with a single central fountain. Got a bit more room? How about creating your own grotto? Forget fancy shell-encrusted Temples of Venus; smaller, more naturalistic grottos are enchanting when set within woodland areas or stumbled across in sheltered spaces.

An original Vicenza fountain with artichoke spout

An original Vicenza fountain with artichoke spout from a selection at LASSCO Three Pigeons

Planting

Any Italian garden worth its salt should cast edible plants as star players. Gnarled olive trees near the house make for easy pickings and are more tolerant than you might think, they’ll live quite happily whether planted directly in the ground, in large pots or built-up planters. Mix topiaries of cubed box, lollipop bay trees and tall, straight cupressus (Italian cypress) to lend an air of the Tuscan landscape as well as providing definition to vistas.  For instant effect, pots of rosemary, oregano and jasmine placed on patios and by kitchen doors not only look the part, but scent the space with fresh, warm and earthy fragrances.

Cubed, rounded and tall topiary trees and bushes

Balance & Symmetry

The idea here is the imposition of order on nature, think clean lines and geometric forms. Parterres of box or ligustrum delavayanum can be used to create formal beds surrounding specimen plants or even miniature mazes. Moving further away from the inner garden, determine your boundaries and borrow from your surroundings to create views that draw on the landscape beyond your fence.

A gnarled olive tree in a pot

Gnarled olives trees, sourced by us, lend an immediate air of Italy

Materials & Accessories

Whilst conditions in the UK don’t often produce the same warmth underfoot of a sun-baked Tuscan terrace, with carefully chosen colours and materials, you can inspire a similar mood. The warm, soft tones of sandstone work particularly well though reclaimed red brick, with it’s rich yet worn appearance, can also work to create an aged mosaic effect. For complete authenticity, The Oxfordshire Gardener’s very own Italian-trained Environmental & Landscaping Consultant, Dr. Matteo Meloni, suggests sourcing stones “like travertino, granite, marble and natural rocks” throughout the garden to set off the landscape.

A range of terracotta amphorae arranged by a vicenza stone bench

Urns and Vicenza stone benches. For more visit LASSCO Three Pigeons

Outsized terracotta urns, pots and planters of various sizes grouped together, along with weathered busts and statues placed at interludes, all combine to create the look. Base your colour palette around the hues of the northern Italian countryside – soft greens and russets with hints of plum and the grape tones of scattered vineyards and you’ll find yourself transported back to Tuscany (minus the packing) in no time.

The Oxfordshire Gardener picking out tall cypresses

The Oxfordshire Gardener picking perfect cupressus for an authentic Italian look

Tuscany or Amalfi?

Matteo also mentions one final point to consider, whilst the formal gardens of northern Italy immediately spring to mind when we think of the quintessential Italian garden, in the last 20 years especially, it has evolved into the somewhat looser, less formal style of the Mediterranean coast. Predominant in the southern regions of the country and the across the islands, the planting here combines aromatic plants like rosemary, lavender or winter savory with succulents, such as sempervivum and cacti.

Whether you’re looking for an Italian garden designed and installed or a few landscaping nods Livorno, The Oxfordshire Gardener can help. For more on our landscaping services, click here.

Glorious in the garden now….September

Blooming Anenome 'September Charm' nodding it's head in the wind, is our plant of the month for september 2017. It's glorious in the garden, autumnal sunlight now.

…Anenome ‘September Charm’

At it’s best:

‘September Charm’ flowers in August and, as it’s name suggests, September, making it a top choice for our ‘plant of the month’. Its host of soft pink slightly cupped, yet saucer-shaped flowers are a deeper pink on the underside of it’s petals and are set-off splendidly by its yellow stamens. The flowers are held aloft on fine upright stems that are slightly taller than other varieties, allowing them to gently nod and dance in the wind (which may account for their common name of ‘Windflower’). Winner of an RHS Award of Merit for its many virtues in the garden, it also makes a great cutting flower for vases in the house.

When and where to plant:

Perfectly positioned in partial sun, though it will tolerate full sun so long as it’s kept well-watered, September Charm loves to be in rich, moist but free-draining soil. Whatever you do, don’t let it dry out. Prefers a sheltered position and will grow to 3-4ft tall with a spread of around 2-3ft. In the right location they will naturalise prolifically and can become a bit of a thug, albeit a very pretty one, however this low maintenance plant dislikes being moved around so once planted is best left alone. Mixes well with grasses and other perennials such as asters, it works wonderfully when planted in the borders of a cottage garden style or a naturalistic prairie or meadow planting scheme. Salt-tolerant, this versatile little gem will also look great in coastal gardens.

Pearl-white double-anenome

This pearl-white double anenome makes an attractive alternative to the ballerina-pink of ‘September Charm’

Tolerance and resistance:

Resistant to most insects and disease, plus it won’t be nibbled away by visiting deer or rabbits. This is a hardy perennial, though in colder parts of the country it may need mulching in the winter.

Wildlife:

Anenomes are attractive to both butterflies and bees, so are a good addition to any wildlife-friendly garden.

Curious cuttings:

Often described as Japanese, this type of anenome is actually a native of China, the confusion arises from its cultivation in Japan over many centuries. The plant was first introduced to Britain in 1844 by plant-hunter, Robert Fortune, after he found it growing in China, where it was traditionally used to commemorate family ancestors and offer protection from evil spirits.

If you’d see to know what we chose as our plant of the month for August 2017, simply click here.

How to… create a stunning late-summer planter

The Oxfordshire Gardener shows us how to put together a gorgeous display of late-summer colour

Ingredients:

1 x Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’

1 x Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

2 x Agastache ‘Black Adder’

2 x Crocosmia

2 x Gaura

2 x Persicaria affines ‘Darjeeling Red’

1 x Physalis ‘Gigantea’

 Method:

  • Fill a water bath or tray with a couple of inches of water, add the plants in their pots and allow them to soak up the water by capillary action for a minimum of 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight. Don’t leave them much longer though as the roots will start to rot when left too long.
  • In a large planter or pot, add some drainage aids such as crocks. In a heavy pot like this one, Simon recommends using some empty plastic plant pots with holes in, placed upside-down as they’re lightweight and it will make moving the planter to its final location a lot easier.
  • Next add peat-free compost, here Simon is using a mix of Melcourt (RHS approved, organic compost, widely available from garden centres) and his own compost mix (1 year old, twice-turned).
  • Starting with your main focus plant (in this case our dahlia), begin removing the plants from their pots, teasing out the roots and arranging in the planter. It’s a good idea to test out the overall effect and style by placing the plants in the planter whilst still in their pots, you can then move them around until you’re happy. Simon has created a naturalistic style by allowing the plants to meld in with one another for a relaxed look and not focussing on planting round the rim.
  • Look at each plant as it’s goes in and snip any old leaves and spent flowers.
  • Once all the plants are in, add more compost in any gaps and press to firm the plants in a little.
  • Give your planter a good watering.
  • Sit back and admire your handiwork!

A gorgeous display of late summer colour in a large terracotta pot

Full late-summer colourful container

Update: Going strong one month on. Here’s how our planter looks in the autumn sun this morning (19th September 2017):

Late-summer container in September and full to bursting with colour

For more late summer colour, click to see our plant of month for August 2017.

Glorious in the garden now…

 

Plant of the month for August - Achillea Terracotta with it's flat heads of ochre-coloured flowers

…Achillea ‘Terracotta’

At it’s best:

Achilleas generally flower from July through August and September, providing colour ranging from whites, pinks and reds through to shades of yellow and muted orange tones, perfect for reflecting the hazy golden sunlight of late summer and early autumn. Foliage is fernlike, sometimes silvery and downy. The seed-heads continue to offer interest into late autumn and winter, both in the garden and when dried. For the best effect allow Achillea to form a good sizeable drift and try pairing with large daisy-like flowers such as Helenium and Rudbeckia. It also makes a great cut flower.

When and where to plant:

Plant out in a sunny or partially sunny location. Reaching from anywhere between 45cm (18″) to 200cm (6ft) with a spread of up to 50cm (19.5″), depending on growing conditions. Achilleas tend to do best on chalky soils but will be fine on slightly acidic soil too. Longevity is prolonged when planted on poorer, drier, free-draining soils.

If you have a heavier soil, then try cutting the flowering stems back to the ground around early-October as this can bulk up the base and allow the plant to fare a little better over winter.

Tolerance and Resistance:

Good resistance to both pests and disease, though you might find the odd greenfly in warmer weather. A hardy perennial and drought-tolerant too, Achilleas are mostly trouble-free plants.

Wildlife:

Loved by hoverflies and butterflies, though not bees. The seed-heads will also attract finches, who enjoy feeding on the seeds in winter.

Curious cuttings:

Named after the Greek hero Achilles. Legend has it that his soldiers used Achillea to treat their wounds, which explains why it’s also known as All Heal and Bloodwort.

Maths and mindful planting, an unparelleled Oxford garden comes to fruition

The Oxford Seat of Learning Garden

A mathematician’s mind of circular geometry, vertical dimensions and precision joinery influenced this shape-shifting landscaping project in Summertown, Oxford. A natural stone pathway sweeps with exactitude towards a circular seating area, graced with a majestic arc of Taxus baccata. 

Made-to-measure diamond trellis panels add depth and dimension, offering not only support but also providing a focal point of their own. Rising up, they give a splendid backdrop to the sweetly scented climbing Trachelospermum jasminoides underplanted with leafy Polystichum, Brunnera and Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

Alice in Wonderland was all about a child’s craving for access to a secret garden. Walking through the swaths of HeleniumHemerocallis and Phlox in the densely planted beds, you can imagine you are in a secret garden of your own. When writing the book, the mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) observed the Oxfordshire landscape and college gardens. The Cheshire Cat is thought to have been modelled on Alice’s cat Dinah who sat on a low-hanging bough of the horse chestnut tree in the Deanery garden at Christ Church.

Early narcissus bulbs start the year mingled with prostrate evergreens. Aquilegia vulgaris follow, with their hanging hoods rising above the burgeoning greenery. The green and gorgeous Heucherella happily combine with the dreaming spires of Agastache, Perovskia and Kniphofia. Flourishing blooms and waving grasses are in abundance to provide interest throughout the year.

At the heart of this garden are two radial beds with bespoke ‘green heart hardwood’ soft-angled seats set within the outer curve to provide an unobtrusive spot amongst the Acer palmatum from which to observe the naturalistic view – a new enchanted garden within which to dream up a new fantasy adventure.

Waking up to Autumn’s jewels

Planting Autumn’s natural jewel colours to pep your mood
prairie-planting

Gaze out on an autumn morn at ruby reds, the lustre of emerald greens dappled with soft sapphire pinks swaying in the breeze. Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’, with its blousy ruby-red flowers has great textural form planted in long swathes with a plethora of echinaceas (pinks and whites), feathery grasses and rudbeckias for the relaxed spirit of prairie planting – and you don’t need a great plain you can plant mini-prairie in a smaller garden. Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ takes us through the autumn harvest with its warm summer yellows to its dark, dramatic seedheads adding magical winter interest when covered in a sparkling frost. Underplanting with bulbs such as long sweeps of Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ gives spring interest.

Feel inspired? See wild, herbaceous planting in The Walled Garden at Broughton Grange, Oxfordshire.

Tall, beautiful pleached and in glorious colour?

When we think of pleached trees and panels we tend to think of tall and green, screens of deciduous natives; hornbeams or lime. Ah but there is so much more, seek out the spectrum of colours with seasonal interests to add to the garden. Great backdrops; straight or in an arc to underplant and create interest throughout the year.
These can be planted with underguying, overguying or a more traditional pyramid staking dependant on the clear height stem and location.

Malus Evereste

Liquidamber
A firm favourite at The Oxfordshire Gardener

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Rejuvenating a Victorian garden in Oxford

Victorian garden in Oxford

A Victorian garden in Winchester Road, Oxford with a long and elegant garden required some rejuvenation and a refocus. Simon worked with the client who was looking for a classic Oxford garden design and landscaping ideas, together they developed the garden design to maximise the light and form of the garden, starting with an examination of the existing plants and structures. “So often we can make dramatic improvements by rejuvenating the existing mature plants. By reviving them through pruning, shaping, tying up, feeding and spraying, we can turn them into great features of the garden, rather than merely ‘plants that have always been there.'”

Photos from Jose Winchester Rd

The garden services in this Oxford garden included uncovering a water feature in the shady garden whilst landscaping the rear walled garden. Taking into account the client’s love of symmetry and regular proportions, we created an open space. Preparing the ground and laying of a new verdant green lawn with shaped buxus sempervirens to the borders leading to a painted iron bench with a new instant yew hedge behind, all visible from the beautiful glass kitchen extension. Through healthy pruning, we gave new life to mature shrubs and created a topiary feature out of an existing mature viburnum.

Idea for Spring window box, pot or basket

Looking for something a bit different to give a great display and last through Spring…into Summer?

Tew planter

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, the painted lady fern will brighten a shady area with its spectacular wine-red petioles and richly coloured fronds. If it does catch a little sun the colours become more intense. Here we have planted painted lady with a vivid Ajuga reptans in a lead trough for a client whose garden we maintain in Great Tew.

All spring container planting

Whilst in a lovely Oxfordshire garden in Chinnor this week creating a herbery and giving a good seasonal Spring tidy-up we planted these baskets, three of, giving a repeat effect with maximum style in an old stone house courtyard. Sorry photograph is not the best in the rain! Scilla campanula, Iris pixie, Ajuga reptans, Hedera trailing and Pansy white with yellow blotch. Lots of form and texture, little informal and unexpected pops of colour from the Iris.

Herbery

Perennial herbs with good culinary use were planted including bay, chives, hyssop, oregano, curly parsley, french parsley, sage and common thyme. Hyssop is an old herb making a comeback, a good flavouring herb fresh or dried, it tastes a lot like mint but more grown up. Fresh it can be used in salads, summer soups and stews and has the versatility of infusing in puddings, cooking with fruit or sauces. Simon was on BBC Radio Oxford talking about hyssop live at The Big Feastival as it created much interest. We left some space for more summer herbs and to allow the herbery to flourish.

Mad about Muscari?

Grape hyacinths…do you love them, dislike them or really know them?

Many gardeners view grape hyacinths as ruffians, seeding freely and producing masses of tiny bulbils. But these delightful scented spring bulbs can be used in a wide variety of situations; you just need to know which plant to choose.

Naturalising – The cultivars of Muscari armeniacum seed freely and spread quickly, so they are perfect for naturalising in lawns and meadows. ‘Early Giant’ and Album’ (a white cultivar) have large flowerheads that will stand out above a lawn. Consider planting the bulbs in wide rows or other shapes to create a more formal design.

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Borders – Grape hyacinths look effective at the front of mixed borders or when combined with other spring flowers such as daffodils, squills and wood anemones. M. latifolium is a slow-spreading species with tall flower spikes that can stand above other foliage. The flowerheads have a pretty two-tone effect with dark blue fertile flowers at the base and pale blue sterile flowers at the top. Another plant that looks good in borders is M. botryoides ‘Album’ which has tall, graceful spikes with white flowers.

Containers – Grape hyacinths can be grown in pots and containers, either on their own or with other spring bulbs such as narcissi. Pale lavender-blue M. ‘Valerie Finnis’ and yellow M. macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’ are eye-catching cultivars that will hold their own amongst other plants or create a stand out display by themselves.

Alpine Beds – Smaller species with a tidy habit are best displayed in raised beds with other low-growing plants. M. pseudomuscari and M. commutatum form small clumps and grow best in a sunny spot.

Forcing Bulbs – Some grape hyacinths force more easily than others. M. armeniacum ‘Christmas Pearl’ does not require a cold period and is easy to force: pot up bulbs in autumn, leave them for 12 to 16 weeks in a cool, dark, frost-free location, then move the plants into indirect sunlight to trigger growth. When they are 10-15cm tall move them to a sunny windowsill to encourage flowering.

 

 

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