From the ornamental horticulture of ancient Rome, to the monastic gardens of the Middle Ages and pleasure gardens cultivated during the Renaissance, Italians have a long and lush history of grooming their already alluring surrounds into verdant, floral landscapes. Today, elements from the country’s more pivotal moments can be seen within formal giardino all’Italiana, and many of its most stunning carpet the grounds of wine estates. Some are living artifacts, others are new. All represent a selection of the most beautiful and fragrant places in Italy.
Abbazia di Novacella, Alto Adige
Ensconced in Alpine scenery, Abbazia di Novacella dates to 1142. Founded as an Augustinian monastery and still maintained by monks, the abbey has established an international reputation for its wine. The property echoes the crossroads of culture that define its Südtirol location, and its crisp, mineral-soaked whites like Grüner Veltliner and Kerner taste more Austrian than Italian.
Its sloped, sun-soaked vineyards are anchored by two acres of gardens, which are divided into three distinct sections. There’s an ornate, symmetrical Baroque-styled area that’s home to geometric flower beds, ginkgo trees and a giant sequoia. Herbs and fruits, meanwhile, fill an edible section. This is where monks source yarrow, lovage and cucumber weed to create healing tinctures and kitchen staff draw peppermint, mallow and chamomile for herbal teas. The third segment features an apple orchard that offers a taste of terroir without alcohol. Its slightly sweet Reinette de Champagne, juicy Ananas Reinette and tart Gravenstein apples are juiced and bottled at the abbey.
Villa Poggio Torselli, Tuscany
Once owned by the Machiavelli family, the 15th-century Villa Poggio Torselli is known as much for its grounds as its Chianti Classico. Just outside of Florence, its extensive verdure dates to sometime between the late 1600s and early 1700s, when noted architect Lorenzo Merlini was commissioned to design the adjacent villa. Meticulously restored in the early 2000s, a walled Italianate garden that spans multiple terraces is flanked by wings of the building, while a formal English-style arrangement lies to the north.
Unlike many of the country’s estate gardens, this was designed to bloom year-round. Tulips and narcissuses emerge in the spring, while dahlias, medicinal herbs, thyme and rosemary linger longer, and a dazzling collection of citrus trees, some a century old, bursts steadily from terracotta pots. The garden also boasts a few horticultural oddities, like its rare mandrake, a root with a shadowy reputation as an herb of the occult.
Azienda Agricola Rivetto, Serralunga d’Alba, Piedmont
Run by a fourth-generation winemaking family, Rivetto’s original 1938 farmhouse remains the site of wine production for regional grapes like Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Moscato d’Asti. Last year, the winery became the first in Barolo and Barbaresco to be certified biodynamic by Demeter. Organic practices perfected in the vineyard now extend to the grounds and gardens, created and overseen by Enrico Rivetto. “I realized…that vineyards didn’t have to be the only crop on these hills,” he says.
Focused on biodiversity, Rivetto dedicates almost three acres to 500 historic and native trees like leafy oaks, yews and horse chestnuts. Seven types of lavender are also grown here, as well as rosemary and sage, grains and an abundance of fruits and vegetables. What doesn’t end up in the winery’s kitchen is sold to local restaurants.
Frescobaldi Tenuta Perano, Chianti Classico, Tuscany
Tucked into the steep hills of Gaiole in central Italy, Frescobaldi’s Tenuta Perano is well-known as a Sangiovese specialist. But, in recent years, it’s also established a reputation for its captivating, pollinator-friendly habitat. Beginning in 2017, notable landscape architect and consultant Richard Shelbourne designed and constructed a 25,000-square-foot garden atop one of the estate’s wine cellars.
Rife with native shrubs and plants that nourish local butterflies and bees, a world of flowers, including yarrows, irises, jades, peonies, jasmine, wisteria and 20 types of roses, now perfumes the roofscape. Iron pergolas wrapped in more greenery and terracotta containers provided by Tuscan artisans guide those who wander its pathways to the osteria, wine shop and winery.
Last Updated: May 8, 2023