Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gardens of Florence

Earlier this summer I shared my visits to two gardens in Salerno, Italy.  I've been promising Florence, and at last I am delivering.  As we head into September and the first leaves have already begun to fall, I find myself longing for springtime in Italy.  For now, these photos will have to suffice.  

Have I told you yet that I fell head over heels in love with Florence?  I know this is nothing new.  Everyone loves Florence.  As Mr. Magpie and I window-shopped the jewel-box boutiques that line the crowded Ponte Vecchio, we had to pinch ourselves.  We were finally in Florence, the city I've wanted to visit since I was an 8-year-old girl poring through the pages of my parents' coffee table books of great museums of the world.  The Uffizi and Florence itself were at the top of my list in those days, and  they stayed at the top through all the years since then.  

I am happy to say that neither the museum nor the city disappointed.  We stayed just south of the Arno, one block from the Palazzo Pitti and the famed gardens of the Medici, the Giardini di Boboli.

The Boboli Gardens are the epitome of formal 16th-century Italian landscape design, yet they also incorporate several elements that were unique at the time, including sweeping views of the city and the countryside beyond in the neighboring hills. 

These views are largely the result of the steep topography of the site.  A broad gravel boulevard (Viottolone) lined by cypress trees climbs the hill.  

Smaller lanes along the Viottolone lead off to more private spots in the gardens, often decorated by remarkable sculptures, like this colossus bust of Zeus.  

With grottoes, sculptures, and fountains spanning the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as some from antiquity, the gardens are truly an open-air museum.

As you can see, it was a grey day when we were there, but warm, and the peonies were in full bloom.

In the view below, we are facing the Pitti Palace from the gardens.  

While they are open to the public today, when the Giardini di Boboli were originally laid out in the mid-16th century for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de Medici, they were intended as private family gardens.     

If you have time when visiting Florence, I recommend climbing a little higher up above the Boboli Gardens past the Forte Belvedere to the Giardino Bardini, with its beautiful rose gardens and yet even more sweeping vistas of Florence.

The roses at the Bardini are exquisite.  

It's difficult to limit this post to just one more garden, but I must or it will never be finished! Below I want to share with you a few shots I took on a different day when Mr. Magpie and I wandered over to the university district just north of the tourist center of Florence (it is a small city, so walking is very easy).

We went in search of the Orto Botanico, or as it is commonly called, the Giardino di Semplici (Garden of Simples), meaning medicines obtained from single plants.  Pharmacists traditionally make compounds, but a simple is one plant used to treat an ailment.

Founded in the mid-16th century, also by Cosimo I de'Medici, this is the third oldest botanical garden in Europe. 

Rosa 'Edgar Degas'

There are more than 9,000 specimens in the Orto Botanico, but what I love most are the many, many roses.

Curry plant

I also loved touring the old glass houses, filled as they are with surprising specimens.  It's not a large botanical garden, and it won't take more than a couple of hours to view, but I found it to be a peaceful respite from the madness of the tourist crush near the Duomo.  Plus, some of the plantings are truly inspiring displays of contrasting textures and colors.

Rosa 'Sally Holmes'

Rosa 'Clair Matin'

At the edge of the gardens, near the public restrooms, we found the storage area for the hundreds of pots used to display specimens.  Wish I could have brought a few of these beauties home with me.  Each one is between two and three feet tall.  

Rosa 'Pink Grootendorst'

This sweet little rose with petal edges that look like someone cut them with a pair of pinking shears was tucked away in a corner.  Happily, I researched it when we returned home and discovered that it's hardy to zone 4, so I think I need one for my Maine garden! 

One little side note, while I haven't included photos of them, when you're at the Orto Botanico, you will likely meet the resident cats who are taken care of and well housed there--one more thing that makes this place near and dear to my heart. 

I hope you've enjoyed this very mini and very whirlwind tour of three Florentine gardens.  I have two more very special Italian gardens to share from Verona and Rome--be looking for them soon.  In the meantime, my own roses and dahlias are blooming up a storm, so I'll have pictures of my little plot to share, too.  If you want a sneak preview, you can always check out my Instagram feed here (or click on the little icon on my sidebar). 

I have lots of surprises in the works in the coming months.  In the meantime, thank you so much to old and new readers alike!  Your comments, emails, and Facebook notes are a joy to read.  I haven't been blogging as regularly this year because I've been working so much on deadline with clients as well as with my own writing and photography projects, so I thank you all for hanging in there with me while the cupboard was a bit bare.  You are the best


  1. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. Especially the roses. I need to find a garden to photograph today.

    1. Thank you so much, Susie! I wish I could photograph such inspiring gardens every single day. :)

  2. Another beautiful post.... Thank you so much!

    Lovely, lovely all...

    My husband is and has been a pharmacist for 58 years. So he actually remembers many of the "old ways" of his profession. He would love to visit the Giardino di Semplici (Garden of Simples)!!!

    Plus, he loves to grow "Old Roses"... Which you are showing here, in all their beauty.

    Again, thank you.

    Gentle hugs,

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Tessa! Oh, I'm sure your husband would, indeed, love it! I am fascinated by the medicinal gardens in Italy. There's a certain beauty in going into the garden to pick one's remedies. Even in my own herb garden, I grow certain things for home remedies. My favor, though, is the weed plantain that grows in our lawn. It works beautifully to sooth mosquito bites! :)

      And old roses . . . don't get me started! I adore them.

      Have a lovely weekend! x Gigi


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