"Bella Umbria"

My stay amidst an Italian garden!
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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 www.casasangabriel.com

 Reader Comments

1/12  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

2/12  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.

3/12  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!

4/12  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

5/12  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

6/12  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.

7/12  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

8/12  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

9/12  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!

10/12  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

11/12  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.

12/12  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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