The silence is what you notice first. You turn, sharp, off the Costa San Giorgio and pass through the unassuming front doors of the pastel pink Villa Bardini, you circumnavigate a tiny gift shop and then you emerge blinking onto terrace after terrace of greens, purples and blues. You are no longer in the heat and thrum of 21st Century Florence. Only the Arno many metres below, threading its way like a life-giving artery through the stumps of towers and medieval palaces, confirms you haven’t been transported to the country villa of a long-dead Doge or Pope.
The Bardini is the near neighbour of the famed Boboli gardens but unlike the Boboli, you can often have it pretty much to yourself if you go there before lunch. It is a 4-hectare haven. UNESCO recently made it a World Heritage Site.
Garden design is one of many arts perfected by the Italians, according to Tabi Jackson Gee, garden designer and founder of TJG Gardens. “I think because of the necessity for shade, Italian gardens deal with light and shadow better. There’s something so glorious about sitting under a wisteria covered pergola when you’re on holiday and I don’t think you really get that feeling anywhere else,” she says.
There are certain characteristics which mark out the gardens of Tuscany and Italy more generally, Jackson explains. “Historically Italian gardens were large and imposing. Colour is used in big broad brushstrokes for drama but largely they focus on evergreen trees and shrubs that are often clipped and formal. Large avenues lead to fanciful water features, pergolas and grottos. They were set out on axes and had a geometric architecture. And of course the Roman gods feature a lot!”
This mixture of the fanciful and ordered has proved inspiration for writers and artists down the centuries. Edith Wharton, the great American novelist of the gilded age may have seen all the grandeur of New York in the early 20th century, but she was so beguiled by the beauty of Italian gardens she wrote a book about them. More recently they have been the rich, atmospheric background to scores of films. Think Siena’s Villa di Geggiano in Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty or how Luca Guadagnino made a star of Elio’s garden in Call Me By Your Name (in real life it is called the Villa Albergoni).
It isn’t just artists and directors who have been inspired. It inspired us too. Our Summer 2021 collection is a hymn to the beauty and joy of a Tuscan garden. The rich hues of Italian gardens inspired the colour palette of the collection and the hazy heat informed our choice of fabrics: think cotton silk shirts, organic cotton t-shirts and sweats and lots of airy linen. It has everything you might want for a day under the Tuscan sun.
In Tuscany there is a sense that gardens are an extension of the dolce vita lifestyle of the place – they are a place to retreat to, to entertain, to have vast dinners around long tables with the ever enlarging famiglia. They are the place of contemplation, of romance, of arguments and engagements. They are sets in which the great ups and downs of life are played out in Italy. We couldn’t love them anymore if we tried.
Certainly if you spend an hour in the groves and baroque staircases of the Bardini, amid the azaleas, irises and wisteria planted by the Mozzi families so very many years ago, you can’t help but conclude that when it comes to gardens, Italians simply do it better.