Sunday, May 11, 2014

Borgo Santo Pietro - Gardens to die for

This post is inspired by the breath-taking gardens of Borgo Santo Pietro near Siena. Designed and created by owners Claus and Jeanette Thottrup who have successfully designed an estate that truly combines beauty with productivity.  With acres of kitchen, herb and flower gardens this stunning hamlet in central Tuscany takes self sufficiency to a whole new level. …

Taking Root in Tuscany

Borgo Santo Pietro's gardens take perfection and productivity to another level

Located in the very heart of Tuscany, Borgo Santo Pietro has some of the most beautifully designed hotel gardens in Europe. The meticulously kept gardens are not only aesthetically breathtaking but also serve a very important purpose. Supplying the hotel's three restaurants with year-round organic fruit and vegetables.

Designed by owners Claus and Jeanette Thottrup the gardens have evolved over time and now extend to over 13 acres of formal flower gardens, traditional kitchen gardens, classic water gardens, rolling meadows, spring water lakes, courtyard gardens and panoramic terraces.

The extensive building and sensitive landscaping work at Borgo Santo Pietro started in 2001 with the hotel first opening its doors to guests in 2008. “We always had a vision of how the gardens would look and have gradually extended out from the villa creating unique spaces linked to together with entwined walkways, covered paths and intriguing passageways,” explains Jeanette.

We wanted the gardens to feel like they had always been there, a natural extension of the house itself. In fact, we have used lots of local stone and sculpture within the garden which also reflects the architectural style of the villa. We spent months researching what plants would work here which was pretty complex as the climate is extremely changeable. In the winter, temperatures can plummet to minus 15° whilst in the peak of summer the heat can rise to 40° or more. Therefore, everything we have planted is relatively hardy and low maintenance. Whilst we wanted the gardens to retain a classic appearance we did not want to over formalise the landscape and have tried to keep things relaxed yet elegant.”

After several years of very hard work the gardens are looking as if they have actually been in place for decades. The Thottrups have spared no expense when purchasing trees and larger plants and have personally selected mature trees such as Holm Oaks, Acacias, ancient Olives and mature Cypresses all sit alongside hardy shrubs and formal hedge plants. On arriving at Borgo Santo Pietro you are greeted with sweeping avenues of Cypress Trees. Meticulously placed hedges of Bay, Elaeagnus and Box break up the undulating lawns into smaller areas and give privacy and interest. Swathes of Lavender Spica fill the air with a nostalgic heady perfume, border plants such as Oleanders give colour and you can detect the perfume of rosemary, sage and thyme amongst the roses.

Jeanette's eye for detail and ability to foresee how a garden will develop has given Borgo Santo Pietro an established and classic feel in a relatively short time. “At one time we had thousands of plants wilting in the sun just waiting to go in, we knew we were stretching ourselves to the limit but it felt right.”

Sourcing plants from specialists in Pistoia and from nurseries around Tuscany, the gardens have an international flavour. There are references to many diverse styles of gardens at Borgo Santo Pietro with influences drawn from many sources such as Italian formal gardens, Proven├žal Country Gardens, Moroccan and English Courtyard Gardens, you can even sense a touch of contemporary design in parts. Key elements remain consistent within all areas with a sense of relaxed elegance being universally achieved.

One of the first projects was to create a large terrace and several courtyard gardens around the main villa. The terrace overlooks a panoramic vista of the Tuscan hilltops, forests and distant mountains. In the spring and summer months the terrace plays host to numerous antique terra-cotta pots housing heritage varieties of lemons.

Just beyond the terrace you are greeted by a series of charming courtyard gardens each leading on to another. Low box hedges have been used to contain beds of antique and classic Tuscan roses. These ornamental beds literally overflow with colour and scent and the pure number of roses is impressive to say the least. As a backdrop to the rose gardens and ornate water gardens are the climbing roses that envelop numerous arches, wrought iron pergolas, timber loggias and natural stone walls and pillars. Jeanette explains, “Roses are one of my passions and at Borgo we have created more and more beds every year. I love the look of cascading blooms drifting from the pergolas and rose arches. Also, we have an in-house florist who uses these gorgeous flowers for displays in the villa, restaurant and bedrooms which once again naturally links the house with the garden. We have a combination of classic English Roses from David Austin such as Rosa Crocus, Winchester Cathedral and Darcy Bussel alongside many old Tuscan roses. We do have to be careful in our plant selection of course, as some of the more sensitive antique roses simply would not cope with our changeable climate.”

Climbing plants are a key element at Borgo Santo Pietro and have been successfully used to create outdoor 'rooms' and enchanting private areas. 'Piante Rampicanti' can be seen in every corner of Borgo's extensive gardens. Climbing roses, jasmines and perfumed honeysuckles have been introduced to create a natural canopy over a romantic private dining 'grotto'. Virginia creepers and weeping willows entwine to give a magical feel to the area around the fresh water ponds. Both the villa and garden cottages are also swathed in perfumed climbers including varieties of wisteria, jasmines and climbing hydrangeas.

Borgo Santo Pietro has developed extensive kitchen gardens that require a team of designated and knowledgeable gardeners. The kitchen and herb gardens have been designed to provide a large percentage of the produce needed by the hotel's three restaurants. “We are investing time, energy and money in the kitchen gardens as we feel they pay a crucial role at Borgo. Organic vegetables feature highly on our seasonal menus and we are also re-introducing some older heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, salad leaves, squashes, courgettes and potatoes. Growing varieties that have always been harvested in the region makes perfect sense to us, we are so proud of Borgo's history and the hamlet used to be self sufficient in years gone by”.

Along the gravelled path leading to the vegetable gardens or 'orti' as they are known in Tuscany, you pass beneath wrought iron arches festooned with roses and soft fruits such as raspberries, black-currants and gooseberries. The soft fruits are underplanted with forest and Alpine strawberries and the path winds alongside the vegetable gardens that also feature formal rows of espalier fruit trees including pears, apples, plums and apricots. “We produce enough fruit and vegetables to supply the kitchens and still have enough left over to make Borgo 'marmalate' jams, jellies, preserves and sauces”. The herb garden too provides numerous flavours and perfumes for use in the kitchen. Even the lavender flowers are also harvested once the season has passed and used within accessories for the Borgo interiors range. Plans are also in place for the creation of a range of Borgo remedies and beauty products and essences for use in the hotel spa.

The soil at Borgo Santo Pietro is actually heavy clay and the team of gardeners is dedicated to improving its quality. Head Gardener Peter Mountford comments “We are bringing in regular truckloads of sheep manure which is then dug into the soil, over time, the structure is changing and gaining a higher nutrient level, but it is an ongoing job. The local sheep farmers' famous for their 'Pecorino' cheeses are proving most obliging and this year we are hoping to introduce our own livestock in the meadows and paddocks adjacent to the kitchen gardens. We have a menagerie lined up including; alpacas, pigs, deer and chickens which will mean that we will have our own source of Borgo 'muck' which will also help enormously.”

Borgo's gardens incorporate many natural or traditional gardening techniques such as composting, mulching, seed collection, growing from cuttings and regeneration. The garden team is also working towards biodynamic methods of propagation, planting and harvesting. Encouraging natural wellbeing in the garden whenever possible, Borgo has also introduced its own bees which assist in the pollination of the plants and of course they supply delicious Tuscan honey for the kitchen too.

Dotted around the estate are discreetly constructed garden buildings such as timber summerhouses and pavilions which provide shelter from the summer sun and also allow guests to partake in artisan activities such as flower arranging, photography and painting. Peter explains more about the lifestyle at Borgo, “We encourage guests to enjoy time in the garden and we are delighted to accompany them on garden walks where we explain what is growing where and how things work here. Also, some guests want to help us harvest fruit for the kitchens or cut flowers for the florist which is wonderful as they really get a feel for the Borgo experience. Everyday, something new is happening in the garden and we want guests to feel part of that.”

Thank you so much for sharing your creativity. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

High Water & Biodynamics

Well, Tuscany has taken on a whole new appearance in the last few days, rivers bursting their banks, impressive landslips, collapsing medieval walls, sink holes and roads disintegrating have become everyday events.

All is not lost though, the sun is making a brave attempt at peering over the top of the mountains and the hedgerows are already coming alive with spring bulbs and wild flowers. I am watching our tulip bulbs growing in a Herculean style and have measured an inch growth overnight this weekend, impressive to say the least.

I am throwing myself head-first into Biodynamic gardening methods this year and am carefully monitoring the lunar cycles.  Taking age-old advice from gardening journals and of-course from other gardeners and farmers in this region.  On the work front we are working on a very exciting garden design for a client near Castellina in Chianti where we need to devise a low maintenance highly resilient garden needing little water.  The garden is located in a micro climate and is more Sub-Alpine than Mediterranean and can reach -15° in the winter and +40 so plant choices are limited.

Initial Thoughts are:

  • Climbers: Wisteria, Jasmine, Roses, Passion flower
  • Herbs & Aromatics: Sage, Rosemary, Lavenders, Thyme, Winter Savory, Feverfew, Camomile, Nepeta,
  • Perennials: Florentine Iris, Winter Iris, Day Lily, Russian Sage, Acanthus
  • Trees: Cypress Horizontalis, Plane, Almond, Cherry
  • Borders and Hedges: Teucrium chamaedrys, Viburnum, Elaeagnus, Bush Roses, Laurel, Buddleia,
  • Roses: Iceburg, Constance Spry, New Dawn, Banksiae
  • Architectural: Box Balls, Low Hedges or Columns 
 Jobs on the to-do list include:

Plant vegetable seeds in raised beds with fleece-blankets
Lay natural paving stones to the courtward garden
Install Wrought Iron Rose Arch at the start of our driveway
Agree summerhouse design
Build log store
Finish Butterfly Garden design

For garden design inspiration why not take a look at our pinterest board: 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Raised beds

Over the years we have created all manner of raised beds, formal, informal, rustic chestnut timber and sleek contemporary zinc, curved and streamlined.  Raised beds are without a doubt one of the most rewarding elements of a classic or contemporary garden.  In Tuscany raised beds can be used to create pockets of rich fertile soil where flowering plants or veg can benefit from bountiful nutrients and water.  Trying to alter the structure of the soil in large areas is labour intensive and expensive and takes time.  Raised beds however are easy to manage and can quickly provide a heavenly growing area.  This year we created two vegetable beds in our small courtyard garden to grow some winter vegetables in.  Built from timber cut-offs and designed to be large enough to offer space but of a size that we can easily reach within.  These were then filled with a mixture of grass cuttings, brown mulch, organic scraps and some left over compost, over several months the contents has broken down and is now a rich hummus full of worms and our first batch of veg have truly thrived.

On a grander scale raised beds can provide formal features in ornamental herb and kitchen gardens and can be masterfully designed to compliment architectural features of a period property.  Whilst in smaller cottage or villa gardens raised beds offer a time and space saving alternative.

Below are some images for inspiration and should you wish to talk through your ideas for a garden using a raised bed system why not email me at

 Photos sourced from Pinterest...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wellbeing and Water

Whenever I hear the sound of water in a garden I stop and breathe, the effect this has on me is instant.  Whether it be a fountain, stream, waterfall, rippling pond or tiny table top water feature, the sense of restfulness is the same.  In Tuscany water is an issue it most likely will remain so, therefore the use of water in the garden has to be carefully considered.  However with a little bit of wizardry water can be channeled and reused in the garden and need not become a drain on precious resources.  I always try and incorporate an element of water within a garden, classic Tuscan gardens often include a grand statuesque fountain whereas simple more contemporary gardens take a modern twist with simple metal or stone water features. Water connects spaces in the garden and can also act as a focal point or resting space.  Sitting alongside a flowing stream or cascade of water will naturally calm and refresh bringing a sense of well-being to the space.

I recently stumbled upon this amazing artist and am in love with his work.  I will be asking for his input on any larger garden designs as his sculptures are truly breathtaking.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Glorious Gravel Gardens

Well I never thought I would get quite this excited about gravel but actually it really does inspire me.  Gravel is one of the most underused material in the Tuscan garden especially by overseas home owners.  Strangely no matter how much property owners from the UK, USA, Germany and France love classic Tuscan gardens they still want Lawns!  This is often a topic that causes some difficult discussions and heated conversations with our clients.  Lawns are expensive and need a huge amount of yes you guessed it Water.  So at the risk of getting hot under my collar about lawns in Tuscany I'll stick to my original topic 'glorious gravel'.

Gravel can be practical and hard wearing, it can be cost effective and a quick solution for some areas but most of all gravel is an attractive solution. Gravel paths can weave through gardens from space to space, gravelled driveways give a sense of grandeur to a property, gravelled beds keep the soil cool and hydrated whilst also acting as a protective mulch.

Now there are many types of gravel, I favour river bed gravel for ornamental or formal spaces, whereas more angular rough gravels are better suited to sloped driveways where water flow would cause round or bevelled gravel to roll away.  Essentially, if you do the groundwork well a gravel garden will give a relatively low maintenance result.  You will need to excavate, base line with a permeable membrane and then lay a specialist honeycombed product which will hold your gravel in place.

On an aesthetic note, gravel gardens are classic elements of formal Tuscan Gardens and can transform an otherwise unattractive area.  For centuries gravel paths have been used to divide formal beds and borders and they often protect plants from invasion from rampant weeds.  The moisture retained within the gravel allow plants to enjoy a little moisture when the Tuscan Sun is at its most forceful.  So if you have a large but tired expanse of expensive lawn why not consider breaking it up with a few graveled areas.

Please do call me to discuss your ideas on 3345995702

Friday, August 2, 2013

Autumn Garden Planning

So in the midst of the searing heat what better way to relax than plan a little Autumn gardening.  Whilst our days are currently spent mowing and watering and keeping gardens in good shape, evenings are overflowing with lists of flowering bulbs, winter veg, maintenance jobs and reorganisation of beds and borders.  This year I am planning a formal vegetable garden using raised beds and classic decorative formations.  I am studying Gertrude Jeckyll's gardens and will be taking a trip to Castle Drogo in September for more inspiration.  So I encourage all of those planning a garden in Tuscany to well ahead towards Spring 2014 and start ordering spring bulbs and seeds.  There are some great mail order companies such as Franchi or check out the RHS website or the Mediterranean Garden Society for research material. 

Why not create an online scrapbook of ideas on Pinterest too which is great fun and start compiling a monthly check list of garden jobs to do this autumn.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rose Gardens Tuscan Style

I never grow tired of taking time to smell the scent of the roses, it comes naturally to pause at climbing roses, rose bushes, wild hedgerows and formal rose beds to take in the form of the blooms, the sheen of the leaves and the scent of the rose petals.  In Tuscany roses are grown in vineyards in vegetable gardens, on wild verges and on balconies, a timeless statement of natural beauty.  The climbing rose in particular works wonderfully in both informal and classic Tuscan Gardens.  I have some personal favorites such as Banksiae with its clusters of petit white or yellow blooms, this climber is robust and fast growing and will spread across walls and pergolas swiftly achieving a mature look in the first year of planting.  New Dawn is a delicate looking rose with pale pinky blooms often merging with a peach hue, this too is robust and hardy and will tolerate changeable weather conditions.  Constance Spry is personal friend and a firm favorite of mine and if you are looking for a stunning bush plant then you can't beat Jude The Obscure.  Another very good all-rounder is the Iceberg which needs little maintenance and will establish well in most situations.

In my nursery garden I have over 30 types of rose cuttings which I am watching over with baited breath I have had great success with Iceburg, Banksiae and many others so watch this space.  For details on roses that will thrive in Tuscany contact Sharon on 334 599 5702 or email For research check out David Austin Roses at


Constance Spry

Jude the Obscure

New Dawn