The Garden Lover’s Guide To Italy, by Penelope Hobhouse
Gardens are funny artifacts of history. Italy is one of the more notable places in the history of gardens, and yet many Italian gardens have sought to mimic, for prestige reasons, later English gardens rather than celebrate their own historical traditions. Additionally, gardens are artifacts that tend to be found in elite circumstances, especially in palaces and mansions and other estates of the upper classes. This spatial representation of gardens as being closely connected with questions of social class makes gardens found more in wealthier places than in poor places. This book demonstrates the spatial truth of this, in that the gardens are overwhelmingly to be found in the northern part of the country as opposed to the southern part of the country. This is not a fact that will necessarily trouble those of us who enjoy gardening and visiting gardens from those who are more skilled in such matters than we may happen to be. But it is a fact that deserves to be mentioned, as the gardens discussed here often find themselves to be attached to various elite residences that are also likely to be of interest to the traveler.
This book is a short one at a bit less than 150 pages, but its pages are focused on generally brief discussions of gardens in Italy with encouragement to the reader to visit them and some maps and pictures to show the way that the gardens are. The book is divided into five sections, and the balance of the sections demonstrates the balance of tourist-ready gardens in Italy. Fully three of the five sections of the book deal with the northern part of the country and the fourth looks at the central part of the country, leaving only section for the entire southern half or so of the country. So it is that we get the first chapter looking at the gardens in the area around Lake Como in Northwest Italy, the second chapter looking at the area from Venice east that includes Northeast Italy, the and the third chapter looking at Tuscany and the Marches in North-Central Italy, and the fourth chapter looking at Rome and its surroundings. The fifth chapter takes up everything South of Rome including the areas around Naples as well as Sicily.
Although I have visited Italy on a couple of occasions I have never seen any of the gardens included on here. And although it is disappointing that so few of the gardens have had an interest in preserving the Italianate garden tradition, much less trying to restore renaissance or even earlier gardens, which would be of particular interest to those who have a fondness for history, these are still gardens which look well worth seeing. The history in this book is something that is well worth appreciating, and if your travels should take you to the places discussed in this book, there are likely some gorgeous garden tours in your future. It may come to pass that I may see some of these places myself, although I will have to temper my expectations from seeing historical reconstructions to merely seeing beautiful buildings with beautiful gardens that seek to mimic the formal gardens of France and England. And if that is not quite what I would prefer from the gardens of Italy, a beautiful garden is a beautiful garden all the same. And that is something that a great many people who read this book will well appreciate, given the way that this book goes out of its way to encourage visiting gardens as well as plenty of mansions and estates and fortresses and the like.