The Perfect Companion to
the Gardens of the Italian Lakes
When I’m not in Italy, I love to immerse myself in books with information and inspiration on places to visit. One of the most enjoyable and authoritative books on horticulture in the foothills of the Alps I’ve come across lately, is a newly published, thoroughly illustrated book called The Gardens of the Italian Lakes.
Like The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto by the same publisher, The Gardens of the Italian Lakes is the kind of book that looks good as part of the living room decor. An oversized hardback with a soothing green and blue coloured cover containing 222 luxuriously thick and richly illustrated pages with aesthetic pictures by one of the world’s finest garden photographers, Marianna Majerus. Qualities that turn the armchair experience of The Gardens of the Italian Lakes into a deep sensual pleasure.
In addition, The Gardens of the Italian Lakes is written by gardener, writer and lecturer Steven Desmond, who is both knowledgeable and passionate. Desmond has a special interest in the historic gardens of continental Europe, and he presents detailed information and historical context seasoned with entertaining anecdotes and practical advice on when to visit, how to plan the itinerary, and what clothes to bring.
The Fun of Garden Visiting
The book is divided into two geographic parts focusing on the gardens of Lake Maggiore and the gardens of Lake Como. All gardens are generally open to the public, so if it hadn’t been for the coffee table format, you could easily use the book as a travel guide.
The fun of garden visiting on the lakes resides in the sheer variety. The design of the gardens range from the integrated geometry of 16th century Italy to the British influences of the twentieth century, showing the dreams and aspirations of the people, who have cultivated these pieces of land through the centuries.
From Renaissance to Baroque
There are Renaissance gardens like Villa D’Este at Cernobbio on Lake Como, where order and beauty is emphasized through a rhythmic sequence of features that concentrates the sightline to screen walls, statues, streams and grottoes that seamlessly connect the lakeside promenade with the mountains in the background.
The book describes the overwhelming baroque splendour of Isola Bella, where the house dominates a terraced garden that makes the island look like a floating ship. The garden itself displays a clear geometry alive with sculptures, potted plants and hedges cut in intricate patterns that highlight the contrast and interaction between man-made gardening and the natural landscape in the distance.
The Romance and Eccentricity of Cultivating Nature
There is poetic romanticism represented in so-called ‘natural’ gardens, where the power of nature is venerated by foregrounding the noble scenery of the lake and the mountains. An elegant example of this style is the Villa Melzi in Bellagio, where magnificent views appear through a network of green lawns, swirling paths, bright flower beds, groves of trees and strategically positioned statues and garden pavilions.
And then there’s the sheer eccentricity of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. A place with palm trees rising up through mounts of Rhododendron, woodland terraces and strangely shaped cacti and flowers in clashing colour mixes inhabiting a naturalistic rock garden.
The Gardens of the Italian Lakes guides us to epic views and high class visual entertainment through a total of 17 very different gardens. And I’m sure I’ll return to the book again and again for reference on places to see, famous visitors, historic garden trends and soothing images of cultivated manners in a beautifully untamed part of Italy.
Images from Gardens of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond, photography by Marianne Majerus. Published by Frances Lincoln (£35).
Disclosure: Some posts on Italian Notes are sponsored, but the opinions expressed are always my own.