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. 

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