Design & Décor, Travel Notes

Garden Inspiration from the Italian Lake District, Part 2

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The Northern Italian Lake District is storied for its Mediterranean climate that makes possible such legendary gardens and memorable landscapes, many of them with the sparkling lakes as a backdrop. Join me as I share the design and horticultural talent of this enchanted area via the images in this Part 2 post. One feature of the trip that bacame clear after reviewing all my pics once home was the vast diversity of images, from formal to simple, from beyond elaborate to pleasingly applicable anywhere. And secondly, that the idea behind a design can so often be adapted to a different climate, smaller site, or less demanding location (don’t miss the oversized metal basket, planted with pansies, and decorating the center of a lawn).

On my first day of my trip, I saw a sight that made my face light up and say, “yes”!! An ordinary magnolia tree made extraordinary by not just its pruned shape, but it’s siting on the slope of a steep hill. “I would never…”, thought I, and hence my gratitude for this magnificent (and simple at the same time) statement.

Now this is a view to wake up to, from my hotel room on Lake Como in the wee hours of the morning. It’s almost as though the home owners had the hotel guests in mind when they designed this simple, but noteworthy terraced landscape that used the slopes for this alternating pie wedge design; so simple, so effective! Note the clipped box shapes marching up either side of the steps at the far right.

No tree is more practical, elegant, maintenance-free, or design-worthy than a Japanese Maple! This example is probably 100 years old, but even in old age it is captivating with its graceful arms. A must-have sculptural accent for any garden.

What a captivating idea…a very large “basket” of flowers, wrought in metal, and containing a collection of pansies. Easy Peasy, but have you ever thought of creating this on your lawn? I haven’t…

Italy certainly inspires one to re-consider the use of stones in hardscapes, like this stairway, curved at the bottom and the steps pebbled, while the risers are in granite.

Which do you love more… the wonderful shape of the pond (one seldom sees an 8-sided pool) or the double wide stripes of mowed grass? Very European, but not used so much in the states.

Note to self…with a window this beautiful, make certain it has a well-considered and inviting view…like a cozy seating area to lure you to the outdoors.

Reminder…Use a dramatic plant to repeat an architectural feature…here at Villa di Balbianelli on Lake Como a variegated agave repeats the spires of the Campanile.

Opposite colors on the color wheel make an enchanting knockout image…carried out by the purplish blue border of pansies with yellow and ornage poppies in the center. ZOWEE!!

Talk about a view! An image with a dramatic vanishing point is always compelling…a bit more than unusual when viewed from an intimate garden space.

The use of globe evergreens (usually boxwood or holly) have become a useful horticultural statement. At Villa d’Este, their montage is a bit more informal than most with larger and wider shrubs at the back center…which proves that this is a concept that is adaptable.

I’m quite keen about what I call “floating” garden beds, planted in the lawn or hugging up against the edge of a terrace. This option is a bit more informal; as well, lawns provide many siting options.

So often statuary in a niche or here, in a more formal feature, is placed against a background of bland shades of stone. Look how it pops when backed with greenery!

The wealth of inspiration on this particular trip was outstanding…I hope my images and design notes have given you the same impression. Grazie, B

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

19 thoughts on “Garden Inspiration from the Italian Lake District, Part 2

  1. Dear Bettie,
    Thanks for sharing!
    As always, you delivered an interesting and inspiring Newsletter!
    This time, it was over the top!
    I visited Villa d’Estelle 20 years ago.
    Wonderful to see that it looks as magnificent today as it did then!
    Warm Regards,

    1. I agree, Gigi, and a big concern of mine when I made this return trip after 40 years…but Villa d’Este is looking better than ever!! xB

  2. Just as stunning as it was 25 years ago. Thanks for taking me back to one of the most memorable trips we’ve taken.

    1. Yes, just as stunning, and more so, I think. Social media has been a big part of this, I’m sure. Have you seen all the weddings featured on social/ xB

  3. These photos…actually made me…catch my breath…PERFECTION!!! Can this…really be?? franki

    1. Yes, Franki, it truly is this perfect…even I was bowled over. Just thinking back brings a warm glow! xB

  4. The magnificent wisteria just takes my breath away once again! The beautifully sculpted Japanese maple is beyond words! Thank you for sharing such beauty!

    1. Yes, wisteria is extra special (despite its damage to pergolas, etc.) But on the maple, it’s perfect!! xB

  5. We stayed in Lake Como last year at the Hotel Grand Tremezzo. It was a trip of a lifetime! Stunning elegance everywhere! Just be ready to walk and climb stairs!!

    1. My sentiments exactly…I was taken aback at its perfection…and those lakes just sparkle!! xB

  6. As I looked at each photograph with great sentiment, I remembered a wonderful Italian maitre de in a hotel in Belaggio answering a question as to how palm trees survived the winters. He told us that “the water holds the sun.” The trees and shrubs and the way they have been pruned by such talented gardeners are wonders to behold. Bettie, you have certainly captured the magnificence of it all.

    1. I, too, feel great sentiment for my memories, played out in images!! And don’t get me started on the gardeners…I’m green with envy. xxB


    1. Well said, Tom, heaven on earth…which I used to think was a bit over the top…but not when you’re talking about Italy’s Lake District!! xB

  8. Simply transfixed by these magnificent views, Bettie. I recall when exclaiming my appreciation of those surroundings some years ago to a Belgian friend, that he
    concluded this Yankee was a European at heart. Who could
    resist being captivated so, although we have our share of
    classic garden design, right?

    1. Yes, we do have many, many examples of good garden design in America…but, somehow, these lakes and views and garden sbrought about something in me that I haven’t felt before, corny as that may sound. xB

  9. All that manicured Garden greenery is perfection to me!! Such classic!

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