Roof garden in Casa Guidi
Unobstructed views over Florence and surroundings are framed by tall grasses and Mediterranean plants.
On top of Casa Guidi, the famous Florence residence of Robert and Elizabeth Barret-Browning, is a spectacular roof terrace. The planting of the roof garden was designed to set off the landscape of Florence. The eye sweeps over the city and surrounding hills, reaching as far as the Appennine mountains and the Arno floodplain.
There is an unobstructed view on the Oltrarno, including Palazzo Pitti, the church of Santo Spirito, and Santa Maria del Carmine. The terrace needed major refurbishment, an injection of colour and form to suitably frame the unique environment.
Such an uninterrupted view of the city means an extreme exposure to the elements, especially sun and wind, which restricts plant choice. The limited roof load also made it impossible to use very large pots, as would be desirable in this situation.
The wind tips over plants which are too tall and solid, and contributes to drying them out rapidly, hence the choice of tall grasses, which do not resist the wind, and small-leaved drought-tolerant plants. A few olive trees in pots were among the few survivors from previous planting, and they were offset by more feathery plants.
The large surface of the terrace has been subdivided in more intimate enclosures, which offer priviliged views of the landscape without obstructing the whole view.
Colour is given principally by plant foliage, seedheads and berries.
Evergreen structure is given by Nandina domestica, Rosemary and Lavander. Scent is also important, and the Trachelospermum, or Fake Jasmine, bears sweetly scented flowers twice a year even in these harsh conditions.
Most of the grasses are light green in spring, and will take on golden and red tones over the year, echoing the colours of the surrounding rooftops. They offer a changing panorama, dancing in the wind and producing inflorescences that persist on the plant throughout winter. Grasses include Miscanthus sinensis “Morning light”, Miscanthus sinensis “Yakushima dwarf” and Calamagrostis x acutiflora "Karl Foerster”.
Even on a misty winter day this roof garden has a strong presence. The exposure and the restrictions of the site were considerable, but the plants chosen have stood the test of time. A lot of the credit must be given to the client, who was willing to try out new solutions and gave me her enthusiastic support. As for any art, the best projects are the result of a collaboration between designer and client.