Gardening Italian Style: Replicating Italy's Gardens

Old statues enveloped by hedges in the Villa Sciara,Rome, Italy

Gardeners who want to add a touch of Italy to their own landscape--formal or informal--have a wide range of Italian features to choose from. There is no single style Italian garden. Italy has many diverse regions that influence the form and function of its gardens. Today's Italian gardens are not only shaped by climate and geography, but also history. Roman and Renaissance styles, for example, branded their own stamp on garden design.

Italy has inspired much in garden design. From the frescoes of Pompeii's courtyard gardens to the classical marble tiles that bedecked Roman patios, there are many ways to bring Italy to your own backyard.

Whether planning a small courtyard style garden or a large villa-style landscape, there are many Italian features to suit every budget. By considering design plans, plantings, garden props, and other special features, today's gardeners may also incorporate famous geographic influences like Rome, Tuscany or the Mediterranean coast to provide a more specific garden influence.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "If you like the feel of a formal Italian garden, but don't have the time to maintain the hedges that create the formal beds, consider using raised beds to achieve the same feeling. The raised beds can be shaped to triangles, squares, circles, rectangles or a combination of two shapes, and mirrored on each side of the garden. Doing this will give a symmetrical formal feeling without the maintenance of hedges. Between the beds create pathways with stone or grass. At the center of the garden, consider a circular sitting area with a fountain, or statue."

Form and Function

Like many European gardens, most Italian gardens throughout history have been highly stylized, but markedly functional. For instance, a villa garden would have distinct sections--the orchard, the patio, the flowerbeds, a pond or water element, and most likely a kitchen garden. There might be a maze or labyrinth on the grounds or pleached features, but essentially the landscape was a sprawl of careful design to showcase man's control of nature. Usually precise designs adorned large landscapes, but depending on your own garden style, you could certainly adapt more relaxed Italian features to your setting.

Water Features

Your own landscape may only require a touch of Italy--a water feature for instance. Your formal pond encased by marble paving may boast a backdrop of cypress. A simple wall fountain sporting a classical statue or a Florentine motif may be all that is needed to suggest an Italian influence. Water is an important feature of any Italian garden. Romans introduced the aqueduct to the world and even a small-scale feature can be highly suggestive when done in the Roman or Venetian design. For a gothic touch, consider a small chalice basin as the focal point of your Italian herb garden.


Ancient Romans had very stylized gardens, and many of their features were preserved in the volcanic ash of Pompeii. Frescoes of farm life or grapevine adorned many of the walls of small courtyard gardens. By incorporating a fresco on your own garden or patio wall, you can bring an authentic Italian scene to your own setting. Consider Roman ruins, a winemaking scene, cypress trees mirrored in a small lake or anything that reminds you of Italy. In fact, many Renaissance plans for garden designs exist and might be easily copied to adorn your own walls for a true piece of garden history.

Columns, Ruins and Statues

Other artistic features for your Italian garden might be as grand as ruins--a fallen column trailing with ivy--or something traditional like Romanesque statues--a woman holding a jug or a gladiator welcoming visitors for a stroll down the garden path. Of course, the garden design itself could be a highly artistic endeavor. Mapping out the entire garden in a geometric pattern was a main feature of Italian Renaissance gardens. Such designs are complex and difficult to maintain, but for a formal landscape, they add great distinction.

Other ornaments that could easily suggest an Italian influence might be a pavilion modeled after a Venetian or Florentine design, a hidden grotto somewhere on the premises, or even simple terra cotta containers housing typical plants native to Italy. Fountains, gazebos and even fencing can be adapted to Italian designs.

TIP: Karen suggests, "Topiaries are commonly found in Italian gardens and make an interesting focal point. Incorporating one can be as simple as purchasing an evergreen that is already shaped and displaying it on your patio. Forming your own topiary can be rewarding. The first steps to shaping the topiary are difficult and require conviction. Always keep in mind the final shape and be bold when removing the first shoots."

For less formal gardens, consider growing a special pizza garden with tomatoes, olives, basil, peppers and onions. Visiting the local flea market may provide a wealth of Italian objects to further ornament the garden. Even a cracked Murano vase may be used as a container somewhere in the garden. Any marble object could also be placed somewhere in the landscape. If your landscape contains a slope, consider revamping it into an outdoor classical theater where you might entertain in the garden. Browse various art books on Italy for more design ideas.