- Author: Sharon L. Rico
The gardens at Fontarronco, near Arezzo, are typically Italian. Among the 1200 acres, there are peach orchards, olive groves and vineyards. The property and villa have been there since the 18th century and owned by the Illuminati family. Princess Ruffo designed the gardens around the villa. Being English with English tastes and knowledge of English gardens, her garden in Tuscany remains delightfully Italian.
The Mediterranean weather in Italy is similar to weather in Northern California. The summers are hot and the need for adequate garden irrigation is critical. The Princess’s aim was to grow vegetables for the table, flowers to decorate the villa, and to devise shaded sitting areas and walkways where her guests could rest and escape the heat.
Princess Ruffo was a well-known agriculturist, who had been awarded the ‘Medaglio d’ Oro’ by the Italian government for her successful farming methods. On the farm she raised a rare kind of cattle, called Razza chianina, a breed which was known to the Romans 2,000 years ago. Their white hides are like satin upholstery and their black eyes have long sweeping eyelashes. They help with the villa gardens by producing the richest fertilizer which in turn supports the thin, poor soil found in Tuscany.
In summer, the gardens at Fontarronco are full of brilliant color. Dahlias, chrysanthemums, lavenders, rosemary and zinnias show every dimension of color along with roses that fill the air with heavy fragrance. Arbors provide shade for the sitting areas and walkways. It was felt that any garden designer would be a success if they created a simple, effective garden site with colorful flowers, raised beds of vegetables, containers of citrus and a cool place to rest and enjoy the views. Not much different than how we plan and design our gardens in Solano County.