ISSUE 42  |  Italian Masters

Garden Visit: An Italian Terrace

October 23, 2015 1:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

This summer, I quietly decamped to Italy for three weeks. It was every bit the Mediterranean idyll I’d wanted, but I still insisted on keeping a work-worthy camera in tow. I’m glad I did, for occasions like this–when I found myself sipping Aperol and eating cured olives in a friend’s terrace garden while dinner was on the grill. It was a vacationer-cum-garden-writer’s delight.

Photography by Meredith Swinehart.

Above: A plant-filled adobe courtyard at a friend’s vacation home in Bonassola, Italy, on the Mediterranean coast. The house was built in 1964 and has been in the family since, so the same eyes have watched the gardens change and grow. 

Above: These potted lemon trees are fairly new additions to the garden, but still have thrived for their five years there. The yellow fruit has all been plucked–the ones shown here are still green–but the trees produce fruit year-round.

Above: There is officially a front door to the house, but I never used it–because the back door leads straight to the sea.

Above: A glimpse into a neighboring courtyard. 

Above: This modern yellow plant stand was designed by the owner of the house, who is a kitchen designer; it was a mock-up for an unrelated project.

Above: An aged but resilient slate slab on a clean-lined stainless steel base was also designed by the homeowner.

Above: Why hide extra terra cotta pots in the hallway closet? They’re prettier and easier to access tucked under an outdoor table. 

Above: Antique pink hydrangeas play the perfect foil to boisterously orange clay flower pots. 

Above: This rosemary plant has a good gig, perched over the Mediterranean.

Above: This patch of Parthenocissus quinquefolia, identifiable by its five-fingered leaves and known in the US as Virginia creeper, has grown on the trellis for as long as anyone can remember. Its leaves turn color and drop in the fall and winter, and are at their peak of fullness in summertime.

Above: Another instance of terra cotta styling I want to recreate: these aging pots are nearly as pretty as the plants.

Above: When the roots of a giant maritime pine began to dislodge the outdoor floor tiles and work their way into the foundation of the house, the family had it cut down. On the plus side: a giant pile of firewood now sits at the ready.

Above: A creeping fig found its own way onto the back wall of the garden. 

Above: Gamberoni rossi, or Mediterranean jumbo prawns, on a slate-topped outdoor stove.

Above: My host, Michael, at the stove. 

Above: A turkey leg with lemon. (Because the lemons on the terrace were still green, these were plucked from a neighbor’s tree.)

Above: Within easy reach: a red enameled baking pan to hold utensils and a glass of Schneider-Weisse (non-Italian) beer.

Above: Dinner was served in low metal baking pans I’m still trying to source in the US. (There–a reason to go back.) 

Above: Garden aside, the terrace wasn’t wanting for Mediterranean allure. Here, the view of the sea as the summer sun fades.

N.B.: This post was originally published on September 7, 2014. 

Visit more of Italy in Outbuilding of the Week: A Tuscan Cliffside Aerie, Steal This Look: Romantic Outdoor Kitchen in Puglia, and From Italy With Love: The World’s Best View from a Terrace