Gardens of Italy by Ann Laras: Book Review on Central, Northern, Southern Peninsular Green Treasures

by DerdriuMarriner

The book Gardens of Italy by Ann Laras gives a review of 500-year-old sustainable green treasures in the central, northern, and southern Italian peninsula.

Italy’s gardens draw upon ancient designs, modern upkeep

Gardens of Italy by Ann Laras acquaints garden- and peninsular-lovers with green treasure sustainability in the historic regions of:
• Campania in the south;
• Lazio in the center; and
• Liguria, Piedmont, and Tuscany in the northwest;
• Lombardy in the north; and
• Veneto in the northeast.

It begins with:
• 2 pages of introduction to the ancient Roman concepts of negotium et otium cum dignitate (business and leisure with dignity) in the city’s palazzo (townhouse) and the country’s villa (building, garden, landscape); and
• 2 pages of maps.

It contains an 8-page foreword on the inspirational sources of Italian Renaissance gardens in the ancient Roman imperial country and courtyard gardens and the Hellenistic, Near East, and Persian traditions of hunting parks.




detail of fresco of illusionistic garden, with all plants and trees simultaneously flowering/fruiting, Villa di Livia ad Gallinas Albas (Villa of White Hens), Prima Porta, north Roman suburb; Livia's gardens, famed for laurel trees, are under excavation:

Largest of 3 vaulted subterranean rooms in Livia's Villa depicting luscious garden with ornamental plants and pomegranate trees is installed in Rome's National Museum (Museo Nazionale Romano), housed in Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum), Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome, west central Italy
Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum), Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome, west central Italy

Italy’s gardens embellish insular, peninsular, rural, urban Italy


The image-filled, information-rich guidebook describes ancient Rome’s extant gardens. Archaeological reconstruction through Pliny the Younger’s (63 – 113) Letters and pumice-aided preservation expose as Pompeii’s predominant woody plants:

  • almond, apple;
  • cherry, chestnut;
  • fig;
  • laurel, lemon;
  • oleander, olive;
  • pear, pomegranate; and
  • quince.

It likewise favors the villa of Livia Drusilla (January 30, 58 B.C. – September 28, A.D. 29), as:

  • bride of Emperor Augustus (September 23, 63 B.C. – August 19, A.D. 14);
  • mother of Emperor Tiberius (November 16, 42 B.C. – March 16, A.D. 37);
  • maternal great-great grandmother of Emperor Nero (December 15, 37 – June 9, 68);
  • paternal grandmother of Emperor Claudius (August 1, 10 B.C. – October 13, A.D. 54);
  • paternal great-grandmother of Emperor Caligula (August 31, 12 – January 24, 41).


A celebration of water in the gardens of Villa d'Este: Neptune Fountain (foreground) and Water Organ (background)

Commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito (II) d'Este (1509 – 1572), grandson of Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) and inscribed as UNESCO world heritage site in 2001, Villa d'Este exemplifies Renaissance architecture and the Italian Renaissance garden.
Tivoli, Lazio region, central peninsular Italy
Tivoli, Lazio region, central peninsular Italy

Italy’s gardens furnish regional variations on sustainable beauty


Roman architecture and horticulture never go missing. Evergreens, stones, and water honor post-imperial gardening. They indicate Italian-ness in:

  • Campania’s gardens of Minerva, Mortella, Negombo, Palazzo Reale, and Santa Chiara, and of Villas Cimbrone, Il Tritone, Rufolo, San Michele;
  • Lazio’s gardens of Castello Ruspoli, Landriana, Ninfa, Orto Botanico, Palazzo Patrizi, Sacro Bosco, and San Liberato, and of Villas Aldobrandini, Borghese, d’Este, Farnese, Lante;
  • Liguria’s gardens of Cervara, Villa Durazzo, Villa Hanbury;
  • Lombardy’s/Piedmont’s gardens of Isola Bella and Isola Madre and of Villas Balbianello, Carlotta, Cicogno Mozzoni, Melzi, San Remigio, Taranto;
  • Tuscany’s gardens of Boboli, Fineschi, Foce, Garavicchio, irises, Parco di Demidoff, Porcinai, and Venzano, and of Villas Castello, Cetinale, Gamberaia, Garzoni, I Tatti, Mansi, Petraia, Reale, Vicobello, Vignamaggio. 


view of Venice's Palazzo Querini Stampalia's courtyard garden:

16th century palace underwent renovations of ground floor and landscape 1961-1963 by renowned Venetian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa (June 2, 1906 – November 28, 1978), who restored courtyard garden.
sestiere Castillo, between St. Mark's Basilica and Rialto Bridge, left bank Grand Canal, Venice, northeastern Italy
sestiere Castillo, between St. Mark's Basilica and Rialto Bridge, left bank Grand Canal, Venice, northeastern Italy

Italy’s gardens give lessons in art, culture, history


Visitors judge Veneto super-relevant through Donna Leon’s mystery-filled venues. Giardino Giusti, Orto Botanico, Palazzo Querini Stampalia, Parco Sigurtà, Villa Barbaro, and Villa Rizzardi kindle enthusiasm for:

  • Verona;
  • Padua;
  • Venezia;
  • Valeggio sul Mincio;
  • Pojega di Negrar;
  • Maser.

So Gardens of Italy leads garden- and peninsula-lovers on culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, geo-historically enthralling journeys with:

  • Anna Andersson, Italian Government Tourist Board, Stockholm, Sweden;
  • Thorbjörn Andersson, Elsa Cappelletti, Giorgio Galletti, Lena Landgren, Kjell Lundquist, Bengt Rönnhedh, landscape architects;
  • Astrid Capoferro, Barbro Frizell, Allan Klynne, Margareta Lepscky, Pia Letalick, Börje Magnusson, Stefania Renzetti, Anne-Marie Touati, Swedish Institute, Rome, Italy;
  • Jo Christian, Fiona Robertson, editors;
  • Becky Clarke, Anne Fraser, Frances Lincoln Ltd.;
  • Ann Laras, author; and
  • Erich Lessing, Åke E:son Lindman, photographers.


Gardens of Italy by Ann Larås. Introduction by Thorbjörn Andersson. Special photography by Åke E:son Lindman. ~ Now available via Amazon

Survey of more than 60 major gardens in Italy -- all open to the public.
Italy's gardens



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet; 
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources. 


Gardens at Villa Vignamaggio, 16th century villa featured in William Shakespeare's effervescent comedy, "Much Ado About Nothing," directed by Kenneth Branagh in 1992.

Greve in Chianti, Florence province, Tuscany, central peninsular Italy
Greve in Chianti, Florence province, Tuscany, central peninsular Italy

Sources Consulted


Larås, Ann. 2005. Gardens of Italy. Introduction by Thorbjörn Andersson. Special photography by Åke E:son Lindman. London, England, U.K.: Frances Lincoln Limited. 


17th century Palazzo Boromeo: Giardino Quadro (Square Garden) in background; terraced pyramid (la piramide a terrazze) Giardino Barocco (Baroque Garden) in foreground

view from lakeside town of Stresa, province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola
Isola Bella (Beautiful Island), Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands), western Lago Maggiore, northern Italy
Isola Bella (Beautiful Island), Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands), western Lago Maggiore, northern Italy
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, central Italy: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Val d'Orcia
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 05/29/2015, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/04/2015

MBC, Thank you for enjoying the writing and liking the pictures! Italy is such an inspirational place for doing what I love to do: getting to know a country through its cultivated and wild plants and domesticated and wild animals.

MBC on 05/30/2015

Very interesting - great pix.

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