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 bellaterra@arthouse-pr.com

 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.  http://www.gilesrayner.com/sculpture-portfolio.php

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 bellaterra@arthouse-pr.com For research check out David Austin Roses at www.davidaustinroses.com


Constance Spry

Jude the Obscure

New Dawn

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuscan Gardens, In love with aliums x

This spring has simply whizzed by even though the weather has been somewhat confused.  For gardeners here in Tuscany the season is horribly late and we have only had one week of real heat since the winter months.  However, things are now really taking off.  Olives are still being cut, grass lawns are being mowed under control and the weeds are seriously taking hold of the flower beds.  We are spending much time up trees and on our knees which gives us time to think about new ideas for gardens and planting schemes.

Today I ate a delicious alpine strawberry fresh with dew at 6am whilst looking around the garden - fantastic, then I and picked a large bowl of sugar snap peas which we are growing up an ugly dividing fence, a great way of making use of it.  So in all corners the gardens are busy.

The courtyard garden is being developed to give a mix and match effect of English Cottage Garden and Tuscan Farmhouse, we are growing on borage and comfrey, hollyhocks, peonies, jasmines, wysterias, roses and herbs, a jumble of colours, textures and scents.  The vegetable garden is messy but productive and we have in many rare and interesting types of aubergines, just for fun and for our clients.  Also round courgettes, long courgettes verigated and yellow zuchinni, we hope to use the kitchen garden a an example of permaculture gardening once established.

On the drawing boards are plans for a Monastic Garden based around classic elements such as kitchen, herb and medicinal beds.  Also a hot red border featuring lots of texture and mexican grasses.  On love of ours is the trusty alium, whether ornamental, edible or simply architectural, these plants work in flower beds, veg gardens, borders, wild flower meadows and in pots for balconies and terraces.  Here are a few of our favourites, enjoy...


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Ripple Effect - swimming pools in Tuscany

A reviving dip in the pool after a long day under the Tuscan sun, a few refreshing laps before heading off to the office or simply time spent splashing around with the kids whilst on holiday in Italy.  Whatever your lifestyle or personal requirements a private pool will undoubtedly bring you a great deal of pleasure and also increase the desirability of your home or holiday property.
Pool design in Tuscany has become so advanced that almost any type of property can accommodate an indoor or outdoor pool of some description.  Many unassuming traditional looking properties contain state of the art fitness suites and contemporary underground pools skilfully designed to make the very best use of the space available.  The options are impressive, whether you have the space to enjoy a large landscaped pool in your grounds or a simple indoor plunge pool, the benefits are endless.

Modern swimming pools are becoming ever more sophisticated and the systems that support them increasingly intelligent.  Italian designed pools have evolved greatly in recent years and can add an artistic dimension to a landscape or garden.  The infinity pool for example is perfect for those homeowners whose Tuscan property enjoys an elevated position and gives the user the ability to enjoy undisturbed views whilst relaxing or socialising in the pool.  This style of pool works particularly well in Tuscany or on hilltop settings and is a perfect choice for holiday home environments and can also be found onboard luxury yachts.

Tuscan based pool designers such as Big Blu 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.”   

For those preferring a simple setting or a classical period style design there are also many ways in which an outdoor pool can be created to complement existing architecture or features such as exterior walls.  Pools of course bring many health benefits to the homeowner and allow the opportunity for occupants and guests to switch off and take time out whenever they feel the need.  A pool is also an excellent focal point for socialising with friends and family and has the added value of offering the opportunity to indulge in some instant fitness and wellbeing.

Indoor Pools are very popular within city developments and larger apartments and townhouses will increase in value substantially if the home includes a pool.  Technology now allows for pools to be constructed with a moveable floor above thus allowing for the room to be used in a more creative way, either as a pool room or an additional space in which to entertain.  Movable swimming pool floors have made it possible to maximise the use of your swimming pool with variable depth and also use the space taken up by the swimming pool for other purposes.   With the touch of a button, an entire pool floor is fully adjusted to any water depth or becomes level to pool surround thus serving as a dry deck or dance floor. It's no longer an imagination but a reality.  Movable swimming pool floors can have multiple programming capabilities and can offer flexible uses of the same space.

The maintenance of a private pool is now very simple and easily controlled with automatic systems and advanced filtration techniques all of which can be overseen by a designated team of engineers if required. 
Lighting is another key element to successful pool design as most residential pools are used both in the day and in the evening.  There is nothing better than enjoying a swim before dinner or watching the sun go down whilst sitting alongside a glimmering pool.  Mood lighting is key and automatic sensors mean that the lighting can self adjust according the time of day, coloured lights also change the atmosphere depending on your mood or occasion.  Pool lighting can be divided into three main types. General lighting that illuminates the pool deck and paths so you can wander safely after dark. Then there is underwater lighting that is useful for swimming after dark as well as creating cool night time lighting effects. Finally, there is accent lighting that is generally used to add atmosphere to the poolside setting.
At Bella Terra most of our clients own or wish to install a swimming pool of some kind and we can ensure that the overall garden design and landscaping works in harmony with the pool construction.

Contact Sharon Kilby of Bella Terra Garden Design for more information on natural swimming pool design cel: 334 599 5702

For inspiration on natural pools check out… www.piscinenatura.it all images courtesy of piscine natura, Grazie


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ideas for summer 2013

Taking inspiration from others and learning something new everyday is so important when gardening.  Letting your skills and knowledge evolve each season will arm you with a mental reference library of facts, techniques and practical ideas.  I love studying other people's gardens and draw inspiration from other gardener's and their wisdom and vision.  At Bella Terra we have a wonderful collection of images and ideas for our clients to ponder over and our portfolio is expanding each year but nothing beats keeping your own mood board or scrapbook of garden ideas or dreams, one unique to you.  Here are some of my favorite garden images that fill me with inspiration.


Gardener's I would like to credit include Jean Horton who is my mentor and ongoing inspiration and Hugo Bugg who's work brings a fresh innovotive approach to garden design.

2013 Gardens on the go

Here in Tuscany the seasons have had a strange uneven flow of late and many plants have gone into a state of confusion, to blossom or not to blossom this is the dilemma.  

The last few weeks have been taken up by planting thousands of spring bulbs, Narcissus, aliums, crocus, iris, tulips you name them we've dug the holes for them.  The nursery garden is full of trays and pots and we are awaiting the arrival of our new poly tunnel.

In December our latest garden design project in Tuscany kicked off with a flurry of activity.  We are now in mid flow of creating a relaxed family garden designed to deter wasps, bees and other stingers as the family are extremely allergic.  We are introducing meandering gravel paths, hidden corners in which to sit and relax, flower borders beneath the trees and a covered eating area.  A large semi circle of neutral toned gravel has given the old Tuscan Farmhouse a welcoming entrance and we are introducing raised beds for veggis and herbs which have been handcrafted from chestnut timber poles.

The garden is taking on a whole new identity one that draws you in to different spaces and entices you to explore.

Our wonderful tree surgeon Oscar and his assistant Stefano have just completed a chestnut pergola for a woodland cottage in Pescia and also created a bespoke handcrafted wrought iron balustrade.  We love including artisan or one-off designs in our garden projects as they give the outside space a unique quality.  Next up on the list is a 'Alice in Wonderland' style tree-house constructed from natural timber, no straight lines here!  We are building this tree house with the idea that it will last for generations and still appeal to teenagers and adults alike.

When not working in a client's garden I'm pouring over seed catalogues for a little indulgence as I have just started an orto in our own garden here near Siena.  I also hope to create a small formal kitchen/herb garden or 'witches' garden as they are known here.

A few images from Bella Terra's gardens this winter...