Italian Landscape Design for Saving Time Money and the Environment

When one thinks of Italian landscape design… elaborate Italian formal gardens or the ever popular Tuscan gardens often spring to mind, comprising of neatly clipped, evergreen hedges and high maintenance roses bushes. However, Italian gardens are as rich and diverse as cuisine in the Mediterranean region.

A new generation of ecologically aware garden designers, are now looking to the past for inspiration, in the same way that Italians have for centuries. Italian landscape design during the Renaissance period in Italy was dominated by complex, high maintenance garden design that relied upon symmetry to stun the visitor.

Italian landscape design

The more elaborate and more labor-intensive the garden design and more water the garden consumed – the more wealth and social status one was able to display. However, changes in social attitudes, a scarcity of both manual labor, water and a heightened ecological awareness has rendered the elaborate Italian garden nothing more than a mere egotistical showpiece.

Where the Ancient Meets the Modern

Italian landscape design

Modern horticultural techniques such as Mediterranean gravel gardens are now being deployed in Italian landscape design to create chic, stylish yet low-water Italian gardens in the immediate vicinity of the house. These allow for a warm, rustic yet authentically Mediterranean garden that can even be used immediately after a heavy rainstorm, without dirtying one’s feet.


Whereas, an extension on ecological yet ancient principles, has led to an emphasis being placed upon the creation of wild flower meadows, rich in poppies, other beautiful wild flowers and medicinal plants. The stimulating effects of the moon are used to encourage native wild flower seeds, already present in the soil, to germinate after years of lying dormant. Italian farmers once used the moon and its influence in all of their pursuits, from wine and cheese production to growing vegetables and this practice has once again been adopted by modern garden designers in Italy.

Italian landscape design

These wild flower meadows were once established and encouraged by the local Italian farmers to provide hay for livestock during the harsh winter months.

In the modern ecological Italian garden this same hay harvest can provide all of the organic matter necessary for mulching and soil conditioning, again reducing water consumption dramatically!

Sweeping mown pathways cut through the meadows allow access to all parts of the wild flower meadow, without walking on the precious wild flowers. One can be led on an ecological voyage of discovery, while at the same time reducing initial investment, water consumption and general maintenance by a huge 80%!

An Edible Alternative to the Formal Italian Garden

The decorative symmetry found in Italian landscape design of the formal Renaissance Italian garden is now being replaced with a far more practical and even edible alternative, in the form of ‘the formal Italian vegetable garden’.

Italian landscape design

The formal Italian vegetable garden recalls Renaissance symmetry by using raised beds, designed to create interesting parterres intersected by practical pathways.

The parterres can then be planted with lines of Italian vegetables, such as tomatoes, artichokes and all of the salad/leaf vegetables. The pathways allow access to every angle of the vegetable garden and form the backbone of the design.


Interest all Year round

Vegetable plants cost just a fraction of roses, lavender and other ornamental shrubs and, although they need re-planting every year they still provide a low-cost, low-maintenance alternative to the standard Italian formal garden. The Italian vegetable garden also offers a vast array of leaf color, flower shape and seasonal interest- right through the winter months. The use of brassicas, leeks and salad vegetables like radicchio ensure that the Italian vegetable garden doesn’t lack color, even in the depths of winter!

Tomatoes replace roses, leeks resemble irises and climbing peas become wisteria against a dreamy, silver-grey backdrop of edible aromatic herbs in the formal Italian vegetable garden. Ornamental squashes sprawl over elegant, wrought-iron pergolas and, together with climbing cucumbers, display nature’s bounty wonderfully!

These features provide an ornamental yet suggestive theme that epitomizes the essence of the Mediterranean garden and its intrinsic link with the kitchen table. Modern garden designers in Italy have seized the opportunity to address this Mediterranean symbolism with a group of plants that are easier to grow, less expensive and fundamentally more interesting than standard ornamental shrubs.

Italian landscape design

This original Italian landscape design with it’s ecological and practical Italian vegetable garden is the star of the modern Italian garden and the production of both beauty and food provides the underlying philosophy of this type of garden. The wild flower meadows are carefully mowed down on specific lunar phases and the hay is then collected and composted.

This mass of composted organic matter can then be applied as a healthy, organic mulch; retaining moisture, suppressing weeds and conditioning the soil in the process. Modern, ecological Italian landscape design stands as clear proof that there really is nothing more modern than the past.

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