Desco al Fresco Garden - Orticolario 2013
Topiaried specimen plants, shrubs with edible berries and a living table with a water rill in a Renaissance-inspired garden.
A garden's completion is always very exciting. 'Desco al Fresco', created for Orticolario 2013, was the realization of a dream: that of making a show garden that could really be built. A garden that could live beyond the days of the show, demonstrating that Garden design is the art of making site-specific garden spaces to be lived in. I'd like to mention my suppliers because they have been esssential to the garden's creation
Desco al Fresco, roughly translatable as 'Al-fresco dining room' has been planned for this specific location, like a real garden. It's conceived as an extension of Villa Erba, reaching out from the building to embrace its surrounding environment. This typically italianate 'open-air room' is in line with the Villa's façade from which it draws its proportions, echoing its positive and negative spaces, and the play of straight and arched lines.
The architectural structure is made with trained and topiaried plants, skillfully prepared. These mature specimens and arches have been supplied by Zelari Euroambiente. Hornbeam arches line up to make a portico, closed off at one end by a tall hornbeam hedge on stilts, which frames the staircase of the villa and mimicks the structure of the entrance loggia. Hornbeam, a decidous tree, was chosen to contrast with the background evergreen vegetation of ivy and box.
Despite its strongly formal structure, the garden is born to celebrate seasonality and the pleasure of taste. It sets off shrubs and trees with edible berries, whose colourful fruit enliven the picture from late summer onwards, to be succeeded by the leaves turning all shades of gold and red in autumn. Maurizio Feletig's nursery, specialized in edible berries, supplied three varieties of crabapples, as well as Aronia prunifolia, Crategus x lavallei 'Carrierei’ ed Eleagnus umbellata.
The garden centres on the vast dining table, which measures over two by five metres, with herbaceous perennial plants inset into its surface, and a central water rill. This prototype table was developed in collaboration with the skilled carpenters at Gren faim.
The table hosts drought-tolerant, shallow-rooted plants, the same that one could use for living roofs. It's not a temporary home for plants, but one designed for long-term growth. Let's face it, labour is always the most expensive item in a garden budget, and using cheap materials is just false economy, so in a garden designed to showcase real garden design all the material used is high quality, made to last. The pots are hand thrown by the artisans at Dima, using Impruneta clay as has been the practice since Etruscan times, for a product that can last centuries.
The bowls on the table hold salads and other winter vegetables, a nice idea that can be adopted even on a balcony. The green plumes of the fennel are mainly decorative, but the salads, swiss chard, and parsley can be harvested repeatedly.
Desco al Fresco has gathered together the work of excellent nurseries and artisans, largely from Tuscany. The result has inspired many visitors to rediscover the forms and materials of Italian tradition, and to appreciate the quality and details of a garden made to last beyond the first impact.
Displayed on the table, the salad bowls highlight the beauty of individual vegetables. Similarly, the shrubs and trees with edible berries are showcased by the topiary setting. Why separate beauty from usefulness, keeping vegetable and fruit out of the ornamenental garden, when they complete the full picture?
The garden came to life when children came to visit, using the table to draw upon, tasting the plants and playing with the stones in the rill. I've offered them, and adults, my vision of a garden. It's the meeting place between inside and outside, the outdoor room in which architecture meets nature. It's a place in which to explore, smell, taste life, in which to sit to draw and write it. it's the place to celebrate beauty and the passage of time.
The herbaceous perennials for the table have been provided by Vivaio Giorgio Capecchi. They include four varieties of Sedum, Stipa tenuissima, aromatic thyme, and the daisy-flowered Erigeron karvinskianus. Plants are mulched with gravel to reproduce their ideal growing environment. The water rill, an Islamic irrigation feature which recurs from Renaissance to present day gardens, introduces the natural music of water in the garden.