Monday, November 28, 2011


This year we have been really focusing on learning from others, absorbing colour, pattern, texture, shape and form.  Drawing inspiration from gardens and garden designers, architects and artists gives us fresh ideas and helps us to form our own visions for garden design and keeps the creative juices flowing.
Last month I visited Alnwick Gardens in Northumbria, UK and was overwhelmed by the glorious rose garden, still bursting with colour even in the autumn.  The contemporary metal water features were seriously impressive and would I feel work well on a smaller scale, children were enthralled by how the water kept flowing and the Vortex was a favourite for me.  The formal rose garden was just wonderful and I was able to select a few different species that would work in our Tuscan Garden Designs.
The willow maze made an impact and I would love to grow living willow sculptures or dens for kids but just need to create a damp garden for the plants to thrive in - not so easy here in the countryside near Siena.  I was also reminded of the wonderful quote engraved on a standing stone within the garden 'only dead fish swim with the stream' so true and should be interpreted into all that we do.

I brought back a whole heap of notes, photos, sketches and ideas combining traditional and contemporary ideas for modern gardens here in Italy.  Can't wait to start working on a few projects, but first I need to finish off the hardwood cuttings ready for the spring and pot up plants for gardens in Pescia, Monte Amiata, Siena and Montespertoli, phew!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Spring bulbs in the Tuscan garden

We are currently working on a wonderful project in Pescia which looks set to become a gorgeous family garden with areas for eating, relaxing, woodland walks, terraces, a pergola and treehouse.  So whilst we have all been very busy we are enjoying the challenge of working on such an exciting project. This week has involved planting over 1000 spring bulbs and I can’t wait to see the shoots nose through the soil over the next few months.  We have also been moving lots of autumn bulbs to new locations ready for next year.  This month’s Tuscan Magazine also includes our feature on spring bulbs and how to create a wonderful Tuscan garden bursting with colour and of course we have included info on the renowned Florentine Iris.  

At last we have some rain and the gardens are so happy and are already looking healthier and greener.  Here near Siena the gardens had literally dried out and I am amazed by the plants resilience,  with scant watering and lots of encouragement they have come through, I am sure the thick mulch has saved them.  Next week we are back to Pescia and are also working on a project in the forest at Monte Amiata which is stunning, and we get to collect chestnuts whilst we are working – wonderful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adventure Gardens

Marnie Moyles hand carved swing - lovely
To us the sheer joy of creating a beautiful garden is magnified by sharing it with others.  Gardens over the years have changed in their use, ornamental and formal gardens were designed to impress and demonstrate power and wealth.  Kitchen, Fruit and Medicinal Gardens were essential elements of larger country estates whereas now we find more and more gardens are created to be family friendly spaces. Environments where families come together to relax and share time outdoors.  Here in our garden we have gone one step further and whilst we do have an outside dining area, places in which to enjoy the views over San Gimignano and Poggibonsi but we have also created a zone for adventure and fun.
Pod seat image courtesy of Mulcheney Forge - I love this idea

Designed for children of all ages we have utilised the natural planting and strung rope walks, tight ropes, trapezes and high flying swings from our massive umbrella pines.  In our smaller garden one large and very understanding pine tree plays host to four activities, knotted ropes for climbing, a hand-made rope ladder, a wooden swing and of course the essential siesta accessory a spacious hammock.
Metal swing seat

I love this woven pod

Cool Australian Design

Perfect for a shady spot

Siesta space

check out
Why not create a wild space for your children in the garden, a place for imaginations and spirits to soar.  Children also love to be involved in the building and knotting of ropework so it is a great idea to create a plan together.  At Bella Terra we are currently working on ideas for a woodland rope walk, a secret garden and treehouse, natural living willow huts and dens, hanging garden seats and very cool woven pods which are wonderfully comfortable and look pretty gorgeous too. - play den, handwoven willow sculpture

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Natural Swimming Pools

Experienced garden and swimming pool designers are now able to pretty much deal with most kinds of terrain and if you have your heart set on an outdoor pool then taking an organic approach is often the most successful way of introducing a pool into a natural setting.  Interestingly, some of the most striking outdoor pools blend seamlessly with the surroundings, and the natural swimming pool is an idea that is being adopted by luxury hotels and adventurous homeowners worldwide.   

Michael Littlewood of EcoDesign Scape explains “The initial concept was conceived in Austria more than 20 years ago, the natural pool is an inspiring and healthier alternative to a conventional swimming pool and a beautiful addition to a garden – even in winter. It stays clean without any chemical treatment, its natural cleaning system mimicking the regeneration process of a healthy lake. The result is a serene swimming environment which is also a working aquatic garden. This seamless blending of environments makes a natural pool unique; being surrounded by plants as you swim creates a very special kind of mood.  A typical private pool is a minimum of 50 square metres and features one body of water separated into two zones, one for swimming and one for cleaning. The regeneration zone, in which all the biological cleaning takes place, contains marsh and water plants in a bed of gravel, minerals and loamy sand. The plants create a habitat for the micro-organisms which keep the water clean and break down potential pollutants, while the gravel bed acts as a natural filter.

During the summer months the water temperature is usually a few degrees warmer than in a conventional pool. This benefits wildlife as well as people, and amphibians arrive to enjoy the warm water in the shallow regeneration zone. Dragonflies and other pond creatures add to the diversity, and the whole area becomes a very valuable habitat, especially for endangered species.”   

I love natural pools and try and encourage people to consider this option when planning a Tuscan garden, for more inspiration check out.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer storms

My last post seems particularly premature as we have now had 8 days of rain, the new herb spiral survived, thankfully, and every other area of the gardens we work with are growing like crazy.  We are currently creating a garden for reflection including lots of medicinal and healing herbs, aromatics and traditional plants usually found in ancient Monastic gardens.  This week I am really in love with Greek Basil which can be grown in pots and trimmed into lovely curves and flowing shapes, the perfect pot to have on the garden table, it smells lovely when you brush the leaves.

Just lately I have seen some real garden disasters, all of which could have been avoided if better planning had been implemented early on.  Following the heavy rain so many pools have been filled with Mud as fast flowing streams of rain wash away soil badly placed around the pool.

Creating rolling banks may seem an answer to utlising the huge amount of excavated earth created when digging out a pool, but it is not, also this is not generally good to grow plants in.  Yesterday I saw a very very sad 'New' garden with mounds of stony earthy piled high and levelled off around the pool and bathing area of a Tuscan house near Poggibonsi.  The hedging plants were dying as there was not top soil or mulch and the swimming pool had been the recipent of streams of muddy water from the banks...tragedy.  Expensive and avoidable. 

However learning from our mistakes arms us with knowledge for the future.  when it has not been raining I have been taking a look around a few Tuscan gardens.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All go in the Tuscan Garden

Here the temperature has picked up as has the humidity, we are watering our gardens regularly and mulching furiously, the climbing roses are at their most beautiful and our vines are taking off at speed.  Here are a few pics from our garden near Siena, Italy.

Little forest strawberries -a gardener's treat

New Dawn - so delicate

Cherries in the making

English Rose

Basil in pots

Scruffy but very healthy strip of veg

Mosiac Reflections

Pots of colour

Passion Flower zooming up


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Water, water not a drop to spare

He we go again, the gardens we are working on are getting pretty thirsty but we have taken a few measures to stop plants drying out, and are also making sure they get extra nutrients in the hotter days ahead.  Tucked in amongst the leafy plants we have submerged some medium sized plant pots in the ground and are putting chopped up organic matter in the pots and topping the pots up with water whenever possible.  The veg peelings etc are feeding the plants and when we fill the pots with water they then slowly distribute the water.  Make sure you cover the top of the submerged pots with a terracotta bowl or plate to stop the flies though.

Currently in bloom, Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)  which also acts as a great fertiliser, if you chop up the leaves and leave to stew in the spring air for a  few days in a covered tub, let the Tuscan sun do the rest, then feed your veg plants - wonderful, pongy but great stuff.  Or simply cut a few big leaves from the plant and lay these around your young veg plants, as the leaves break down they feed the soil.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Grand Designs

Well at one of our busiest times of the year in terms of gardening work we have also been invited to write for the Tuscan Magazine which is really lovely and we are delighted to be putting together a feature on Tuscan Gardens for the next issue of the magazine.  Tuscany is a wide and varied region with differing climates and plants that grow perfectly well in the rolling hills of Siena may suffer in the more alpine areas such as the Garfagnana and Radda, therefore it is crucial to take note of your surroundings and draw inspiration from other gardens around you.  A classic rustic Mediterranean garden may not be possible and checking out the essentials such as water supply, protection from the wind, frost and heat will save you energy and money in the longer term.  Take some time to explore gardens and the landscape near your property and take notes and pictures of plants and architectural features you like, then put together a large scale board with images and plant names on.  Move items around and mix and match colours, textures and shapes, try to understand how you want your own garden to work, live with you plans for a while and research costs involved and labour.  The more research you do the better the approach you will have to creating a garden that will thrive and grow ever more beautiful with time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Magical Mulch

As per my previous post, I am totally overwhelmed by the effects mulching can have.  The gardens we work on have been transformed by careful and ongoing mulching.  Baron patches of dry earth are now fertile and accommodating beds, weed strewn gardens have evolved into rich healthy and pleasant environments.  So please, please take note, if you want your garden to thrive then consider a permaculture inspired route, simple, practical with outsanding results.

And lastly, our weeping cherry has given birth overnight to huddled masses of white blossom, beautiful, we have been watching the tree daily and she has literally burst into flower overnight, maybe the rather impressive full moon has had some effect?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Get down and dirty in Tuscany

Wow - yes I truly believe spring is here. The Cherry Tree is positively a burst with rosy glowing buds, spring bulbs are pushing their way into the fresh air with gladiator like vigour and every hour of the day our passionflower is twirling its way onwards and upwards over its new arbour.

As spring arrives here in Tuscany life gets busy in the garden both in the veg patch and in amongst the flower beds. This season our garden has a wholly more healthy appearance every single plant has a sheen, a strength and an urgency to thrive. Romantic as I may be even I know that the reason the fruit, vegetable and flowers are so bursting with life is not simply because they are alive in Tuscany, the reason goes deeper, much deeper, literally.
Pots brimming with homemade compost / mulch

Mulch, the magic word. One often reserved for allotment holders in the UK but in all seriousness mulch is without a doubt the answer to many Tuscan gardeners dreams. Tuscany is so varied, from rolling hills to glass sided mountains, from the arid beaches to alpine pastures, Tuscany has no 'standard' climate. To grow things we love and enjoy in every sense here in Italy requires patience and hard work. In high summer we need to give water and provide shade, in winter we have to protect from the freezing mountain winds and sudden dramatic ice storms. However, there are some very simple steps that can be taken to give our gardens here in Tuscany a helping hand and which will bring joy to those who simply love to grow things.

Homemade compost or for use as mulch
 Muching is easy, it is simple and it is utterly miraculous. Most areas of land in this part of Italy require attention in terms of creating an environment where plants can thrive. Although a firm believer in planting plants that are native or suitable to there natural surroundings, the effect that feeding the soil can have is literally and physically ground breaking. Although the dictionary term mulching means “to provide a protective covering of organic material laid over the soil around plants to prevent erosion, retain moisture, and sometimes enrich the soil” it is a whole lot simpler than that. Mulching is a slow but utterly efficient way of enriching and enlivening the ground.

Let’s not complicate the issue, most organic waste will feed your garden, it can aerate, feed and add nutrients to your chosen patch. Mulching can strengthen flowering plants helping them fight disease, it will give your vegetables, herbs and fruit the kind of growing power only seen in the likes of books and ultimately give you the encouragement needed to continue growing in what can be challenging terrain.

Whether you have a small terrace and are growing a few herbs in pots or are fortunate enough to have space to grow a variety of plants the benefits of mulching are the same. 
Once you have decided to embark on this wonderful and addictive path you must first get used to collecting large cardboard boxes. Yes that is right, you want to collect as many large sheets of cardboard as possible, Bakers and Supermarkets will all discard these and just before bin day you will find lots of lovely cardboard near recycling bins. Scoop these up as quick as you can and take them home.

Secondly you need to clear the soon to be mulched area of weeds and plants the very best you can, you do not need to break your back doing this but the clearer the area the better.

Now lay the cardboard across the soil covering every area you can, do not leave any space for light to get through. Weight down the cardboard with stones or logs, OK it will look rather untidy, but not for long. Once the garden, pots, allotment or veg patch are covered with cardboard the weeds underneath will be starved of light and start to die. In the meantime you will be getting to grips with collecting all organic waste, better known as composting.

Having a large comport bin close to your kitchen will mean you are able to really give your garden the best support you can. Everything from eggshells to potato peelings, teabags and coffee granules can all be disposed of in the compost bin, combine this will ample grass cuttings and brown stuff such as chopped up twigs and leaves (not pine however) and you will start to have a rather stunning compost. Really get into a routine of saving your organic waste and using your composting bin and, if you are really feeling brave feed it when you can with a bit of pee which helps the breakdown the waste. After a while you will notice how the compost is starting to turn into just that ‘compost’ a rich fertile and life giving mulch. As soon as your beds, or patch are covered in your cannily collected cardboard you can start layering grassing cuttings and dried leaves on top, the layers of mulch start to feed the ground beneath and act as protective layer, storing moisture. Once your compost bin is starting to contain broken down organic matter this too can be placed on top of the cardboard, and so the rhythm continues, the more mulch you apply to the garden the more rich the soil beneath becomes, you also now have beds that you no longer need to dig, a miracle in itself. You then simply plant through the mulch, dig small holes for you plants and then watch them thrive, yes you will find the odd renegade weed appearing but mostly you will not need to dig or weed heavily and your young plants will be given the very best environment in which to thrive.

In brief, mulching will become a way of life one that saves you hours of watering, digging and weeding. Mulching your Tuscan garden will mean that you are able to grow wider varieties of plants, ones you love to eat, enjoy the summer scents of and ones that simply enhance your environment. Working with nature and supporting it is what Tuscans have done for centuries, with a little lateral thinking we can all enjoy the romanticism of Italian gardens with allot less of the toil and struggle.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Fever

Wow - yes I truly believe spring is here.  The Cherry Tree (Prunus) is positively a burst with rosy glowing buds, spring bulbs are pushing their way into the fresh air with gladiator like vigour and every hour of the day our passionflower is twirling its tendrils onwards and upwards over its new arbour.

As spring arrives here in Tuscany life  life gets busy in the garden both in the veg patch and in amongst the flower beds.  This season our garden has a wholly more healthy appearance, every single plant has a sheen, a strength an urgency to thrive - why you ask.  Well the answer is mulch, layers of cardboard, grass cuttings, organic waste and enthusiasm.  We are adopting many principles of permaculture in our gardens and the results are truly heart-warming.  Rows of handsome garlic soldiers can be seen in our upcycled hot-house (stereo cabinet), banks of trailing strawberries are spreading daily along the fences and our new slightly formal flower bed has a very proud and energetic Quince (Cydonia Oblonga) taking central stage.  All of our latest gardening ventures have involved mulching which is truly transforming many flower and vegetable gardens in what can be a challenging climate here in Tuscany.