Italian style gardens have remained a constant with me. I love there their meticulous geometric design style of straight lines and circles, there gravel courtyards, surrounded by overflowing flowers. Typical Italian gardens are made up of walls, pools, boxwood hedges, olive trees, the classic slender Italian cypresses, lavenders and ficus trees. Then there is the “Art Of Topiary”. Italian garden designers have shaped evergreen plants into ornamental shapes by means of trimming and cutting on a regular basis this style goes back as far as Roman times with plants were being formed into manmade forms in order to highlight and underline the Roman’s supposed control over nature. To recreate this is a big undertaking of time and money. So perhaps looking at elements of the garden in floral terms may be a worth while exercise, the usual suspects aside of lavenders, agapanthus, bays,
Thyme and rosemary’s there are other Italian floral delights that are worth investigating.
A recent opportunity to investigate this very topic came my way in the shape of an invitation from Puglia.ie a new travel specialist in Ireland. This involved a visit the Italian magnificent province of Puglia for a week which is based in the south of the country it is essentially ‘the heel of the boot’ of Italy.
Buried away in the south, it has historical architecture and beaches untouched by tourists, and most importantly endless flowers and fauna which I wanted to visit for many years. So finally this was my opportunity to investigate the more informal elements of Italian style gardening i.e. the plants that makeup the backbone of there gardens by examining the many plants of this region. Thus creating some Italian garden flare without having to resort to the more stringent traditional Italian style of topiary etc.. Ryanair have just recommenced there twice weekly To Bari and I was on there first flight out with notebook and camera at the ready with a Puglia.ie guide to assist me in my endeavours as my Italian is enthusiastic but limited.
Being spring, Wildflowers were in prolific colours everywhere I looked, this has not always been the case I was informed and is thanks to the declining use of herbicides and the increase in organic farming meaning the return of spectacular wild flowers in the olive groves of Puglia. Travelling through the countryside of Puglia there are numerous chamomile plants and tasty wild edibles with the likes of chicory and blackberries beginning to emerge to be at there best later in the year. Besides the endless and vey welcome sight of Olive Trees , the current star of the region, was a mesmerising stunning show of clover-like leave 5-pettalled plant with soft- yellow flowers, the Bermuda Buttercup, (Oxalis pes-caprae), creates an endless sunny carpet under the olive groves and coastal areas of Puglia. It is neither a Buttercup or from Bermuda, as it belongs to the wood sorrel family and is now naturalised in Puglia, and is originally from South Africa. It is superbly pretty and cheerful but invasive in cultivated grounds. Once established I am told almost impossible to eradicate. Not one to dig up and plant in your garden just enjoy it or alternatively in a vase
The CROCUS NEAPOLITANUS on the other hand is a little more shy and has no plans to be overly invasive. There are several species of crocuses in Puglia, this one was also scattered amongst the olive groves. Crocuses are perennial plants, native to Europe, North Africa with flowers that are cup-shaped and are usually white, they have six petals and the flowers remain closed if there is no sun a common trend to be aware of plants from this region .While it may be difficult to track this specific crocus down in Ireland research tells me that the likes of Mr Middleton the seed merchant stocks some very similar varieties.
Lampranthus also known as Livingstone Daisy were flowering in purple and a magnificent orange all over the region and in town gardens. I have grown these plants very successfully in a dry sunny garden in Ireland, they do tend to make me nervous in the winter, meaning a foul frost will terminate them and they probably won’t survive most midland counties. In Puglia it is found in dry, sandy areas usually on the margins of beaches and sand-dunes. They trail down cliffs of the area and grow to an amazing size. Lampranthus is a succulent ,so it is in simple terms is a leafing cacti, with fleshy leaves and showy daisy-like flower .Different members of the family come in a variety of colours from snow white and silver-grey through yellow and every shade of pink and orange to deep reds. As the flowers are sun-loving, indeed the name means ‘midday flowering’ and will close tight at the slightest hint of cloudy weather.
CALENDULA was also prolific and is easy to acquire in Ireland also known as Field Marigold it grows in the fields and meadows of Puglia, ranging in colour from bright yellow to deep orange, sometimes with a yellow centre and sometimes brown. Traditionally, the petals of calendula officinalis have been dried and used in cosmetics…..Field Marigold are cheerful yellow flowers like large daisies grow in profusion all over Puglia in late winter and early spring and brighten up the olive groves before they are ploughed over ready for the olive harvest in the autumn.
I also caught sight of Alyssum Saxatile (Yellow Alyssum) the golden yellow plant so often found in gardens in Ireland and in this case does not struggle either in Ireland or Puglia. One of my companions enquired about the whereabouts of Poppies but within minutes they appeared on mass festooned all long the road sides and now have created what will be a lasting memory of the Puglia region an easy plant to recreate in Ireland… Funnily its one plant I had omitted from my notes of plants I would see while orchids which are plentiful they had not really emerged yet.
In the coastal areas and on the plains are typical evergreens like the mystic Pistacia Lentiscus and Myrtle (Myrtus communis) which easy to acquire in Ireland. The Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) is most grand. Then there was an Irish emigrant in the shape of The Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) growing in a quite a few locations. There are many deciduous trees like the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and the sloe (Prunus spinosa).Of course, all these olive trees are not merely ornamental. Puglia produces around 40% of Italy’s olive oil. At home I keep three large Olive Trees growing in my south face garden they can manage our weather quite well but are in pots for safety if the weather gets extremely cold.
Pines play a big part of the landscape the most common known as the Aleppo pine, is a pine native to the Mediterranean region. Its range extends from Morocco to southern France, Italy, and Croatia with a Greek wine named retsina using the resin from this tree. The resin was also said to be used as part of the mummification process in ancient Egypt. In Ireland the Aleppo Pine like Olive Trees can manage the cold, bar the winter of 2010, it’s the dampness in the soils that sometimes can kill them so perhaps planting in a pot may work.
Being a big fan of Heather I was delighted to discover the Apulian Heather it is a small-sized one reaching 30 to 60 centimetres in height and evergreen its Blooming occurs between September and the end of October. The Italian population of Apulian Heather is threatened and so has been included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature of Italian plants to protect, being assessed as endangered species. It is actually very similar to varieties available in Ireland so need plunder these rare ones but plant similar in Ireland.
Flowering balconies play a big part in Locorotondo a pretty hilltop town in Puglia where they have a “Balconi Fioriti” competition which encourages residents in the white walled town to plant flowers in pots and window boxes around their houses. Locorotondo has been compared to the white towns in Andalusia, but the city’s has wished to create extra floral displays, so they arranged a ‘Balconi Fioriti competition, which encourages residents of the old city to plant flowers in pots and window boxes around their houses to add even further to the magnificent floral display of Puglia the style was simple and effective with geraniums playing a big part.
The plants of Puglia are like pieces of a jigsaw that all together make a magnificent impact, the Irish version means an unfinished jigsaw, but a handsome one. The missing bits can be made up with a few specimen plants like Buxus or Bays. They will all need the Puglia prescription Of “All Day Sun” to flourish meaning a south facing garden. A tribute to Puglia may not be as difficult as I thought and certainly will be a thought provoking project. So as daft as it seems “A Touch Of Mediteanean” in an Irish garden Puglia Style may not be impossible.
Top Tips For a Puglia Style garden….
..1…Evergreen plants which can be used to create a Topiary Style.. Yew, Box, Myrtle, and Holly.
..2… Use harmonious colour combinations, such as white flowers against varying shades of green foliage.
..3…Leaving plenty of space for wild flowers like Poppies. This can be achieved even in the most limited of spaces.
…4…The intended style and the colour scheme of the garden should be given as much thought as the interior colour scheme.