Bella Umbria

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Eleagnus hedge with view of Umbrian landscape

I have spent the last two weeks in Umbria, sometimes called 'the green heart' of Italy. We stayed high on a hill 20 or so km north of Perugia, in a beautifully renovated old farmhouse complex, which looks across the valleys to Mount Subasio, with the town of Assisi glinting on its lower slopes.

As well as restoring the old stone buildings, the owners have created a wonderful private garden on the sloping site, using plants eminently suited to the Mediterranean climate and able to grow in the challenging terrain. Many of these plants are ones that we in Sydney have such trouble growing, due to our summer humidity, so it was a joy to be able to see them thriving in the right place, illustrating to me once again the importance of choosing plants to suit where we live.

Lavender hedge

Mature oak and olive trees provided a solid framework to the garden, which was terraced with stone walls to provide garden beds on the slope; stone was also used to create pathways and sitting-out areas to enjoy the superb views from every angle of the property, looking out onto vineyards, olive groves, wooded areas, fields and green hills. Soft informal hedging was used most effectively to provide privacy between the three guest quarters and to provide structure along pathways, giving a pleasing cohesive picture. I particularly loved the long hedge of lavender (possible Lavandula angustifolia) leading up to the villas, smothered in a haze of slim spires of violet flowers, which attracted huge bumblebees all day long. Rosemary was also used successfully as an informal hedge, as was a silvery Eleagnus (possibly E. x ebbingei) - luckily for us, both these plants do also grow well in Sydney.

Silvery-leaved Buddleja with olive tree in the background

These silvery leaves looked so appropriate in this climate, and were a theme throughout the garden, from the olive trees to Buddleja, Artemisia and low-growing cotton lavender (Santolina) with its cute yellow button blooms. Elsewhere, evergreen shrubs gave contrasting colour and form - such as Viburnum tinus, Cistus and juniper cultivars. A yellow-flowered broom (Genista species) was also grown in the garden: it also seemed to grow wild in the surrounding hills, giving a golden glow amongst the dark trees in the landscape.

Herb garden

Climbers were used to cloak the old stone walls of all the buildings - roses and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) provided a gentle perfume in the warm summer air, and wisteria draped over the little pergola over our sitting-out area, giving welcome shade from the sun. A herb garden, which guests can use for their cooking, held robust plants of thyme, oregano and rosemary, along with the healthiest looking sage bushes I have ever seen!

Convolvulus, possibly C. althaeoides

Everywhere in Italy, we saw wildflowers growing along the sides of the roads and these also grew in the grass of the less formal areas of the garden where we were staying: red poppies, low Geranium, Echium vulgare and a pretty pink Convolvulus (possibly C. althaeoides), which I have tried and failed with at home on several occasions. Perennial Nepeta and Centranthus ruber softened the garden walls as they spilled over the stone edges, in full bloom.

Gaura grown in pots

Potted plants are a great favourite in Italy and in this garden they were used to give colour on the stone terrace areas. Pelargonium of all types grow brilliantly in this climate (far better than in Sydney!) and are seen everywhere in pots, as are citrus plants. I admired the use of Gaura lindheimeri in large pots on one of the terraces in the garden - something I had never thought of doing.

For information about staying in this idyllic place, visit

Reader Comments

  • By maree 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Hi Dierdre, I am up late trying to learn my conifers and junipers for taffe and am going green with envy as it is 12degrees and rainy. It looks wonderful, thankyou for opening our eyes to another world!. Maree

  • By Peta 6253 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    It sounds as though the trip to Italy was interesting and inspirational. With the mediterranean climate that we have in the South West of WA, the plants and the garden features that you describe are very relevant for our gardens. Thank you very much for these ideas - they are a great help.

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    You sure know how to make a grown girl cry. Can hardly move for the layers of thermals and out the window a tracery of bare branches covered in lichen. Ah but I have a ticket to Tuscany and Provence tucked away for 2012. Your words and images are feeding my anticipation. Bring it on!

  • By Jill 3941 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Welcome back Deirdre! Thank you for the Umbrian photos and the great Mediterranean plant suggestions - good where I live! Jill

  • By Georgina 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Welcome back home.I can smell the sage,rosemary and lavenders,I can feel the sun and I just want to be there! You must have had a wonderful time. Georgina

  • By Carole 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Delightful reminders of past garden favourites, thank you Diedre. Spouse and I are staying with friends in a villa in Cortona, Tuscany, next Oct, so I expect I will see the autumn treasures.

  • By lucy 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Love the pictures mama it looks really lovely. Hope you are having fun, will you do a post on the next stop too? x

  • By Sue 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Hmmmm,can almost smell the perfumes of those wonderful summer plants despite the rain and cold here. Hope theres more to come. Thanks for a lovely post. sue

  • By Sue 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 12 June 2011

    Hmm,can almost smell the lovely perfumes of these plants despite the cold and wet here. Thanks for a lovely post, hope theres more to come. Sue

  • By Frances 3941 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    What a lovely look at another part of the world. The plants you mention all grow well down here in Victoria. Some can grow a little too well, olive trees are becoming a bit of a nuisance in some parts. Thanks for sharing your holiday...jealous?...yep!

  • By Robin 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    Thanks for taking precious time to share your holiday experiences with us all. You really are the Compulsive Gardener.Love your blog and the photos. You wont need to worry about your girls watering your garden at home.Plants may drown however. Enjoy your travels! Robin

  • By Malle 2570 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    Umbria is a must visit place. Your descriptions reminded me of how ornamental herbs in the garden can be. i have thyme as a border and my marjoram in a mass display with ecstatic bees in summer. Sage is one of my favourite flowers in the garden and I am further inspired to use herbs as ornamentals.

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    loved the account of your Italian gardens - it was as if we were there with you! Enjoy the rest of your stay. Cheers, Margaret

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