To truly understand the design of luxury Italian landscape architecture, which has altered little over the millennia, many visionaries still refer to the books of the engineer and architect Vitruvius, never mind that they date from 1st century Rome.
Vitruvius intended his advice primarily for Emperor Augustus during the Pax Romana, when many battles and campaigns had laid waste to cities and countryside, and was concerned that new buildings should be done in the best of taste as well as practicality. Now known as the three ‘Vitruvian virtues’, he argued that any structure must be solid, useful, and beautiful, just as found in nature. Taking his inspiration from the nests of birds and bees, he argued that humans too must construct their habitats from natural materials found in the landscape in order to find ideal shelter from the elements, including rain and strong sun.
Keep It Natural and Clean
Roman gardens were not just for the wealthy but as part of the general cultural concern for hygiene by means of air, running water and light. Every house, not just splendid the villas of the wealthy, was expected to have a garden close to the house, full of flowers and ornamental trees, but without crowding which could encourage mosquitoes. Vitruvius is also known for encouraging the use of sundials and water features in the classic Italian garden, making use of the sun’s sensibility, cooling the air through a light spray from fountains and even making music via water organs.
Today we think of classic Italian villas and gardens on hillsides, cleanly designed and maximized to blend with the environment rather than blocking it out. With dark, towering cypresses and huge terracotta urns, the Mediterranean garden is never fussy, overgrown or helter skelter. Even the patio furnishings let air circulate freely, usually in wrought iron, light pine or wicker.
Easy access to water is not a feature of Mediterranean life, so vast, thirsty lawns have never been popular. Instead, easy care herbs like rosemary, lavender and bay and trees such as mulberry, olive and pine are planted along wide paths for scent and shade.
The important thing is that even the most contemporary Mediterranean garden uses clean, spare lines and the sun-bleached warmth of sand or terracotta colours for pathways, patios and tiled areas which can be easily cleaned and allow air to circulate freely. This also allows tall potted plants to be moved and tidied beneath, discouraging muck from gathering below them. If your surroundings are not blessed natural stones, you can make use of brick and tile salvage from local construction sites, or find easy-care gravel or beach stones for succulents in a ‘dry’ gardening bed or ethically sourced paving stones such as Indian Fossil Mint from companies like Easy pave paving.
It is small wonder that, along with disturbed weather patterns bringing dryer summers, modern garden trends follow the line of the Italian, French, Greek or Spanish for being low- maintenance as well ecologically sound, requiring little watering or chemical soil treatment. What matters more, however, is that we can spend our precious free time on long, warm lunches drinking wine with friends, rather than out in the rain cutting back undergrowth and picking off slugs and aphids.