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Italian Gardens: A Cultural History

Italian Gardens: A Cultural History
Helena Attlee
Frances Lincoln
Publication Date: 

paper, 240 pp., $40.00

A recognized authority on the historic gardens of Italy, British author Helena Attlee has written an absorbing history of gardening, beginning with the works of the humanists in the early Renaissance. Often inspired by Roman classics, prominent men such as Petrarch and Leon Battista Alberti were influential leaders during the early years. Eventually the medieval garden with its small beds for vegetables, flowers, and fruit was replaced by a landscape that incorporated the villa, garden, and countryside into a single view. The author continues the story of design development through the centuries, noting the introduction of new styles; this trend continued as late as the twentieth century. Regularly copying the popular architecture and fashions of the period, gardens reflected botanical collections, horticultural advances, popular amusements, as well as formal and foreign styles in the landscape. Eventually, the geometric or formal style began to be replaced by an interest in exotic plants and informality in the landscape. By the turn of the twentieth century, expatriates from Britain and America began to make an impact on Italian gardening; they sought to reproduce romantic versions of Renaissance and Baroque landscapes. The author is a remarkable storyteller: she describes in depth the people and gardens of each period. The book is lavishly illustrated with reproductions of frescos, paintings, prints, archival photographs, and the photography of Alex Ramsay, making for a visual delight.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden