Much like last month’s reminiscence of my visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte, this month I thought I would bring you more travel pictures turned garden inspiration…this time via a journey to Italy. Hopefully it will help us all make it through this last full month of winter weather, until we can get outdoors and into our gardens and outdoor living spaces this spring. And, hey, what better way to start the week of Valentine’s Day than with a romantic garden tour of Florence and the surrounding hillside towns of Tuscany?
Accompanied by a group of friends, some new and some old, I began my trip in Florence, or Firenze. The capital of Tuscany, Florence is also the birthplace of the Renaissance, the hometown of Gucci and the famed Medici family and the final resting place of Michelangelo. From personal experience, I can tell you Florence is also home to some damn good pizza, and luckily for us, gardens!
My first stop was this beautiful courtyard at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, meticulously arranged with citrus-filled terracotta planters.
I thought it was particularly interesting (and attractive) how the planters sit on what appear to be the overturned bases of other planters and stabilized with custom iron work.
The courtyard also features gorgeous architecture and statuary.
Leaving the palace I was struck by this massive terracotta jar. I love to use unique pieces like this as powerful focal points within a particular garden space.
Check out the amazingly delicate details of the jar’s lid!
Later that same day, I came across this outdoor living space and art installation at a local restaurant. Its sleek, contemporary vibe were quite a striking contrast to the rest of the city.
I love these stylish outdoor floor lamps. Weather resistant lamps are a great way to bring indoor sophistication to an outdoor setting.
At the end of the day, my friends and I met up at the Hotel Lungarno, a celebrated hotel founded by the Ferragamo family. The street-side entrance to the hotel’s breezeway is elegantly framed with potted boxwoods, a simple classic that never goes out of style.
Situated along the River Arno, with stunning views of the Ponte Vecchio, Hotel Lungarno was the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine after a long day of playing the tourist!
For the next few days, we set out to tour several of the ancient, hillside towns of Tuscany. One of the highlights was seeing the town of Cortona and the former house of Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.
Perched on a steep slope, the property is a beautiful example of how successful and intriguing a terraced garden can be.
It was also exciting to see this carved stone niche, where, in the movie, an old man from the village devotedly places flowers in remembrance of his lost love.
Another special experience was our visit to Le Celle, an hermitage founded in the year 1211 and inhabited by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Judging by the look of this flourishing parterre, the 7 or so friars who currently live here are obviously dedicated gardeners!
For the last day of our journey, we headed back into Florence and to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
Created by the Medici Family, Boboli Gardens is one of the earliest examples of the Italian Style of gardening, marked by long vistas, an organized layout and ornate ornamentation.
The Egyptian obelisk and Roman basin were moved here from the Medici Villa in Rome.
This geometric hedge garden was a previously unseen surprise that revealed itself only as we approached to appreciate the elaborate, rooftop fountain in the background.
These stunning gates lead to a massive water garden and island, filled with potted plants, carved balustrades and classical statuary.
Speaking of statuary, there is no shortage of it in the vast park lands that make up the rest of the gardens!
Leaving the gardens, we passed by what I thought was the most beautiful building on the property: The Orangerie. Used for housing cold-sensitive plants during the winter, it is a testament to the value that European Royals placed on gardening during the time this palace was built.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Exterior designer Daniel Keeley is an Arkansas native and founder/principal of DK Design. His work has won numerous awards and accolades and is featured regularly in various publications. For more information visit dkdesignoutdoor.com.