In a Tuscan Garden

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My job takes me to all sorts of interesting places, some nice, some not so nice, but always interesting. This week I have been in Tuscany learning about winemaking and tasting some remarkable wines. This definitely counts as ‘nice’, or ‘bello’ as the Italians would say. Italy is my favourite place to travel, exceeding even my passion for India and the Far East. I love everything about the country, apart from the dodgy roads and even dodgier politicians. The people are charming and hospitable, the food is fresh and delicious and the countryside drop-dead gorgeous. What’s not to like?


The simplicty of this pink geranium complements rustic Tuscan stonework



As far as Tuscany goes I have visited Florence and Siena, but never ventured far beyond their city walls. The gardens I have visited have either been botanical ones or formal ones, such as the Giardino Di Boboli in Florence and Orto Botanico in Pisa. What a treat therefore to spend a couple of days based at Castello Di Albola in the sparsely populated, steeply-wooded Chianti region, getting to know fine wines amidst stunning scenery and luxuriant gardens.


The view from Villa Marangole towards Castello Di Albola



Castello Di Albola is one of many prestigious estates owned by the Zonin family. It is one of their favourite homes and every detail of the castle, park and vineyard is overseen by them with impeccable, understated taste. It’s not difficult to appreciate why the Zonins hold the castle in such high regard. Perched on the crest of a hill, reached via a series of switchback bends, the castle has uninterrupted views of wooded hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see. The main grape variety in this region is Sangiovese, the juice from which is the defining ingredient in Chianti wines. From the high windows of the castle the Zonins are masters of all they survey. On the horizon one can spot a handful of other dignified villas and a rambling farms, but otherwise there is little evidence of human habitation. Only birdsong and the occasional breath of wind ruffling the vines breaks a deep, earthy silence. And in early May, after plenty of rain, the landscape is greener than England.


Row upon row of Sangiovese vines are what pay the bills at Castello Di Albola



We stayed for two nights in a farmhouse on the estate called Villa Marangole. Once upon a time this would have been a working farm, but now it provides accommodation for visitors to the castle. The villa’s gardens are simply planted with roses, geraniums and rosemary, these quickly giving way to olive groves and wildflower meadows. Against the mellow stone walls grow campsis, wisteria and climbing roses. A precipitous driveway is lined with oaks, the new foliage brighter than a highlighter pen when the sun shines through them. On the terrace there are lemon trees laden with fruit. The villa’s swimming pool looked inviting but the water was far too cold for anyone to brave a dip. Oh, to return again in high summer and plunge in!


Despite being at the foot of the hill, Villa Marangole has a commanding aspect



At the castle itself the gardens are somewhat grander, yet still simply planted. The earliest parts of the building date back to the 12th century, with successive Tuscan nobility making their marks over the intervening years. The castle’s walls are adorned with climbing roses (all in the rudest of health, although some not enjoying the wet weather), and lashings of star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides. In this one respect I am able to achieve similar results in England, with my star jasmine bidding for world domination and requiring regular pruning to keep it in check. On the lowest terraces, geometric borders are meticulously prepared for summer vegetables, a few already planted up with sweet peppers and salad leaves. There are dahlias, lilies and asters for cutting. Castello Di Albola enjoys a continental climate, with winter temperatures averaging 4°-5°C (39°-41°F) and 30°C (86°F) in summer. At 350-650 meters (1.150-2.150ft.) above sea level some of the vineyards are the highest in the Chianti region. The soil is composed of clay and limestone, with good drainage.


Lettuce, chard and sweet peppers get a head start in the warm Tuscan climate
Evident repairs lend this terracotta pot distinctive charm



A multitude of traditional terracotta pots and troughs, many stitched deftly together with metal staples, are home to candy pink geraniums of the trailing variety. Others sport lemon trees, bearing enough fruit to make vats of limoncello or a thousand lemon tarts. What a luxury to have such a ready supply. The spectacle of these well grown trees only serves to highlight how disappointing citrus fruit are when they are grown in the UK. I had ideas about growing lemons in my garden room, but appreciate now that I don’t have the space to do them justice or the sun to ripen the fruit.


Potted lemon trees near the garden gates



Below the family’s private accommodation one terrace is planted exclusively with a prostrate form of rosemary. I saw the same trick used in other gardens to superb effect, the silver-backed foliage cascading over shallow walls or clipped neatly into a low hedge. A combination of natural habit, strong sunlight and a dry situation ensures that the rosemary grows slowly and neatly, necessitating minimal trimming. This might be something to try at home, if you are able to exercise sufficient restraint to restrict yourself to such monastic simplicity. I love the look of it, but the temptation to plonk something gratuitously exotic in the middle, just because I could, would be too much.


The Castello’s parterre is planted entirely with a slow-growing, prostrate form of rosemary



Tuscan gardeners borrow heavily from the landscape beyond their garden gates. And with countryside this beautiful why wouldn’t they? Back at Villa Marangole, a brick and stone gateway, crowned with a newly shooting trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) frames a view of another estate building, surrounded by cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens) and Italian stone pines (Pinus pinea).


In a landscape as beautiful as this, who would not want to frame the view?



On this short trip I discovered why the Brits fall in love so easily with Tuscany and it’s stunning landscape. The countryside is similar enough to find empathy with, yet sufficiently different for it to stimulate the senses. For nature lovers there are familiar plants and birds, alongside those not commonly found in the UK. And for adventurous gardeners like me, there is inspiration aplenty, with sufficient commonality of climate to make recreating the same ideas at home possible. If I took away one thing, it’s that simplicity is key. All one needs is  some strong evergreens – bays, rosemary and olives if one can grow them – and a palette of roses, geraniums, star jasmine and wisteria to create one’s own Tuscan idyll. TFG.


This ivory and pink climbing rose was planted abundantly against the Castello’s ancient walls





Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, fragrance, Fruit and Veg, hotels, Large Gardens, Musings, Other People's Gardens, Photography, Plants, Travel, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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19 comments On "In a Tuscan Garden"

  1. Such beauty! Do you know the name of the climbing rose? Might it be ‘Eden 88’? The buds look right, but the open flowers are pinker than usual for that rose.

    1. Hi Sarah. I’ve had a look at ‘Eden’ and discovered it is originally French and also known as ‘Pierre de Ronsard’. As far as I could tell there were 2 different varieties I photographed for the post, the one at the top, which is very pale, and the pinker one at the bottom. I think the latter might well be ‘Eden’ given it appeared to be quite a compact rose which might have been grown as a shrub. Even if not, it was such a pretty variety and we were all very taken with it. Clearly a modern rose but with old-world charm. I think I need to grow more roses!

    1. Oh I know, it’s terrible. I had such a hard time convincing my team that wine tasting constituted work. But we sell wine, and we desperately need new sources, so it was worth the ‘effort’. Zonin also have a vineyard in Virginia called Barboursville. Have you heard of it? I believe it is quite well known. Have a lovely weekend Judy.

  2. Well.. apart from gorgeous..that prostrate rosemary does my head in! Looks super weird when so precise..I can handle citrus to minus 5 but not easy…lots of fleece in winter. So lovely to see gardens in different places with such diverse climates…thx…love love ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    1. You don’t like the rosemary? I thought you would. You may have preferred it at the other vineyard we went to, where it was planted under olive trees and allowed to get a bit shaggier. Shame one can’t post photos within the comments section otherwise I’d show you. You’d never be without a sprig or two to throw on the barbie either way 🙂

  3. $(UHi folks,

    I’m ready to go back to Tuscany any time–just name the date. Maybe a celebration trip once that Elaine is over all the surgery and can enjoy walking around gardens??


    >>> The Frustrated Gardener 5/12/2017 2:57 AM >>>

    The Frustrated Gardener posted: ” My job takes me to all sorts of interesting places, some nice, some not so nice, but always interesting. This week I have been in Tuscany learning about winemaking and tasting some remarkable wines. This definitely counts as ‘nice’, or ‘bello’ as “

  4. Molto bene blog. Envy, envy. San Gimignano, twice, the first time I drove all the way from North Yorks with Mr TT navigating us through France and across the Alps. Stay in that lovely walled medieval hill-top town, do something elsewhere during the day while the tourists are there, and return in the evening for the most wonderful ambience, food and enjoyment of the locals out and about in the squares. Magical.

    1. Sounds luverly! I was promised San Gimignano next time. The Zonins have a small vineyard there, I think just because they can! I have never been – only seen pictures. What happy memories you have 😇

  5. Ohhh I love prostrate rosemary so have it everywhere dripping fromraised beds plus have 30 I have just propagated. Just looks so weird as a clipped piece after mine runs so wild. I will show you some pics next week. Have a super weekend. Others day here on Sunday. Not many more sleeps until Chelsea! So excited. Xxx

    1. I was told this rosemary was naturally compact so made a tight carpet like that with very little trimming. I should have taken a cutting or three 🌱🌱🌱. Not that they’ve made it through Aussie customs!

  6. wonderful. my soul is italian, so I always appreciate seeing Italian scenes. nearly 10 years ago I started to learn italian, so that I could venture beyond city walls without ever fearing the language barrier. Bello/buono/bene are a complicated mix of beautiful/good/nice. bello/bella I’d say is beautiful. la campagna that you show are definitely bella!

  7. Such beautiful landscape and garden. Those roses are exquisite. I do like the effect of the rosemary but I think you need a huge space for it to be effective (otherwise it could just look dull and unimaginative). What a great work trip!

  8. A lovely post. I especially enjoyed it as I am reading a biography of Iris Origio who was part of the Anglo-Florentine community and created a fairly famous garden, which I believe still exists. Also, how surprising that you mention Barboursville. It is two hours away from me. I had no idea it was owned by Italian vintners. It is indeed well known. Virginia has many good wineries. I think you should come for a tasting trip here and stop and say hello! The Virginia countryside, though not as idylic as Tuscany, is still beautiful in its own way. Plus you could visit Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello, which is not far from Barboursville.

    1. Well, an invitation to Barboursville was extend, although I am not sure I could swing it from a work point of view! I have never been to Virginia so it would be a treat, and I have always wanted to visit Monticello. In fact, it was Jefferson who first tried to grow European grape varieties in the USA. He failed repeatedly due to disease, and never made a Monticello wine, but clearly the climate was ideal. Using modern methods, diseases can be avoided so Virginia now has a thriving wine industry. The Monticello vineyard is now planted with Sangiovese grapes, which are the grape of Chianti. Zonin told me that when they purchased Barboursville in 1976 there were only a handful of vineyards left in Virginia. Now there are hundreds. Definitely think that demands a lengthy trip 🙂

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