Let’s take the setting: the hills overlooking the valleys of the Arno and the Mugnone, among the most beautiful in Tuscany, studded as they are with history and cypresses. For almost 30 years the landscape architect Ines Romitti has been organizing guided tours of this ring of territory, among the buildings and gardens around the Via Vecchia Fiesolana and the Via di Vincigliata. She starts from the terraces of Villa Schifanoia, said to be the birthplace of Boccaccio’s Decameron, enters the lemon-house of Villa Medici, still looking bang up-to-date today, and presents the eccentricities of the Parco Nieuwenkamp and Paolo Peyron’s aesthetic dream at the Bosco di Fontelucente.
With their gates closed as a result of Covid, Romitti has set up a website – andarepergiardini.com – that, paradoxically in the year of lockdown, has highlighted the full extent of these pocket landscapes. With the help of the aerial photos of Alessio Guarino, taken with a drone. “Viewed from above, the spaces seem even more modern: for their essentiality, geometrical patterns and a certain intellectualism.” There are plenty of famous names to be found on the website, from the early 20th century onwards, when the great creative ferment of the cultural centres and the Anglo-American community brought many ideas as well as foreigners to the area. Among them, the British garden designer Cecil Pinsent. It’s thanks to him, and to his inseparable friend, the architect Geoffrey Scott, that the Italian-style formal garden was given a new lease of life. Obviously with a British accent. He divided the parterre of Villa Sparta, for example, into ‘garden rooms’: nested boxes that in sequence reveal constantly changing panoramas, amidst box hedges and wisteria vines, with a series of openings, windows and parapets overlooking Florence. “His are masterly interpretations of the Renaissance Revival style,” continues Romitti. “And thanks to the use of evergreen plants they never lose their form.” The model was such a good one that in 1939 all the young Pietro Porcinai needed to do was add the swimming pool to complete their perfection.
The garden of Villa Peyron, better known as the Bosco di Fontelucente, has been carved out of a dense and compact mass of vegetation. It was designed by Angelo and Paolo Peyron in several stages, from 1934 onwards, with downward sloping terraces, parterres of box and formal geometries. (ph. Alessio Guarino)
Born in Fiesole, Porcinai would go on to become a star of landscape design and develop an even more sophisticated vision of the garden, one that was unprecedented in Italy. Safeguarding of the genius loci, laying out of vistas, proportions of volume, attention to detail: his handling of the landscape still exercises great influence. But he wasn’t the only one. Few places have attracted more landscape architects than the hills of Fiesole (among others Geoffrey Jellicoe, Niccolò Berardi and Giovanni Michelucci) and never have so many designs of gardens succeeded in getting so in tune with the scenery, the plants and the villas that they form a unique ensemble: total works of art in which even a hedge – sloping downwards to open up the view – becomes part of a whole.