Il Giardino ('The Garden') is a beautifully restored 19th century farmhouse in the hills between Tuscany and Umbria, high above the Niccone valley. It is set in almost 30 acres of land, amongst wonderful mature gardens and woodlands. The house is quite a distance from the nearest neighbours, and so is very quiet. It has beautiful views of the surrounding unspoilt hillsides and woods.

The house is furnished in a charming country style, and has beautiful grounds with many secluded spots to relax in with benches and hammocks. There are several terraces, including one in front of the main house with a large sun umbrella, which is perfect for al fresco dining. There is a large black swimming pool surrounded by olive trees with open views of the unspoilt valley.

The main building has two floors. On the ground floor there are two bedrooms and two terraces with garden furniture. On the first floor there is a living room with a large working fireplace, a very well-equipped kitchen with seating for ten people, one double bedroom with a desk area and en-suite bathroom, and a dressing room. The second building, the Wisteria house, has two single bedrooms on two floors and a bathroom. Each room has a separate entrance, and there is a terrace with garden furniture.

The house is available for rent year round. For further information check the renting the house page.

house views

AN UMBRIAN GARDEN: how it all started

We bought our house in 1975 and I started gardening at once. As most city-dwellers, I had no idea where to start and had the typical experience of trial and error. I lived in Germany at the time and I remember planting hundreds of lovely, totally inappropriate 'northern' perennials and shrubs.

In the course of time, I built up quite a large library of gardening books, my preference going to good literary writers of the past, and I subscribed to about every gardening magazine, so my knowledge was mostly theoretical. I still enjoy my library: it is kept in a small green room crammed to the ceiling, where I spend many a happy hour reading and dreaming (which is half the fun of gardening).

Later on I started visiting gardens abroad: the discovery of English gardens 'in the flesh' was a turning point, as well as the visit to the 1984 "Gartenschau" in Munich: there, for the first time, I found out about 'Ecological Gardening', the use of grasses and wild flowers and the necessity of creating a sustainable garden.

Owning a garden in Central Italy proved to be quite an ordeal: very stony soil (one builds walls with the stones excavated from planting holes), little water (we have bored two deep wells and still have problems with water in summer), very cold winters (-10°C for a couple of weeks every winter) and hot, dry summers, also a very active wildlife: bears that crush ruthlessly my borders, huge porcupines that devour hundreds of precious bulbs (daffodils are the only survivors: I have quite a collection) and my neighbour's horses that enjoy drinking in the swimming pool and nibble roses and peonies.

Twenty years ago good nurseries were hard to find in Italy. Garden centres would only stock pelargoniums, red salvias and begonias. Gardening has become quite fashionable now (though I cannot really imagine an Italian 'lady' doing the 'real' work: a friend of mine expressed her dismay when she saw that I touched the 'dirty' soil with bare hands), so the market offers much more. An old-fashioned garden centre near Cortona has been taken over by an enthusiastic younger son: he will order and breed plants for me and also delivers them at the crack of dawn, so that I wake up to a nice surprise.

Most of my plants though - several thousands - come from England, Germany, Belgium, France and from my trips abroad. I recently came back from South Africa with 43 plants and bulbs and from California with several specimens of local flora.

I obviously favour Mediterranean and New Zealand plants. I have a small collection of Rosemaries, Euphorbias, Hellebores, Salvias, Santolinas, Phlomis and the more unusual grey-leaved things. I choose plants that don't need watering after the first couple of years and that fit unobtrusively into the wild landscape.