68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and uplifting work, very well researched and written.
When I lived in Northern Italy, I treated myself to many a tour of "I Grandi Giardini Italiani", accompanied by Vivian Russell's book, "Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens" and Geoffrey Jellicoe's "Italian Gardens of the Renaissance". As many visitors to Italy will know, gardening is not a pass time favoured by Italians. We tend not to have sweeping herbaceous borders,...
Published on 26 Feb 2011 by Silvana de Soissons
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice book let down by poor photography
After watching the TV series I immediately ordered both DVD & this book and whilst it is a very nice book, it could have been much better if the photography wasn't so decidedly average.
A lot of the pictures seem to have been taken at the wrong time of day so have harsh shadows & burnt out highlights, indeed some of the 'Lakes' shots are 'muddy' and...
Published on 16 May 2011 by Les
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and uplifting work, very well researched and written.,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)When I lived in Northern Italy, I treated myself to many a tour of "I Grandi Giardini Italiani", accompanied by Vivian Russell's book, "Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens" and Geoffrey Jellicoe's "Italian Gardens of the Renaissance". As many visitors to Italy will know, gardening is not a pass time favoured by Italians. We tend not to have sweeping herbaceous borders, ordered kitchen gardens and gardening programmes on every channel. This is because, historically, Italians have asssociated tending the soil with poverty and rurality, neither of which sit comfortably and squarely with the modernity, glamour and bella figura that we strive for alongside wealth and progress. Coupled with the fact that summers can be brutally hot and water prohibitively scarce and highly taxed, verdant lawns and structured gardens tend to be the exception rather than the norm, outside of aristocratic estates. Most Italians only grow what they are going to eat, along with one white pelargonium plant and one red pelargonium plant on the balcony. And so it is very important to remember that "Great Gardens of Italy" written by Monty Don, photographed by Derry Moore and published by Quadrille, is an illustrated odyssey through only very grand estate and aristocratic gardens. If you wonder why every photograph shows very strong, architectural lines, with imposing central axes in parterres that culminate in long and sumptuous vistas of rolling hills in the background with sculptural urns and fountains in the foreground, it is because these thirty gardens are the playground preserves of the very wealthy nobility, cardinals, industrialists and glitterati of their time.
This book is very much a personal journey, undertaken by a writer and broadcaster who is evidently, very much in love with the Italian landscape, and with the stories of families that have shaped and nurtured that landscape over centuries, to create not only very beautiful private spaces but also an important and influential design narrative. The gardens that Monty Don has chosen have influenced generations of designers and plantsmen and women from all over the world. For example, the great gardens of Ninfa, on the road between Rome and Naples, were built on the remains of a town ransacked, ridden by plague and abandoned in 1381, and now the plants have taken over the ruins. It is a very natural and evocative space, one that has inspired the "light touch" approach to gardening. The Giusti Garden in Verona, is considered to be one of the leading examples of High Renaissance garden designs and La Foce, in Tuscany, designed by Cecil Pinsent, has inspired many British gardeners with its gentle billowing borders and undulating tiered terraces, lined with pruned citrus trees in terracotta pots.
Throughout the history of the gardens, from Villa Farnese, in Viterbo, Villa la Pietra in Tuscany, Villa Pisani in the Veneto and Villa Melzi in Bellagio, Monty examines the fortunes and falls of the families that created the gardens, explains the geography, politics, events and circumstances that shaped their creation and interviews the small number of hired help that tends them in this day and age, producing the food grown therein. The lemons, tomatoes, rucola, herbs and olive trees make for very interesting reading for those who are looking for the kitchen garden area, while those interested in great architectural detail will not be left wanting. Derry Moore's splendid photography sumptuously depicts each and every marble statue, wooden pergola, iron pavillion, stone balustrade, ionic column, mossy arabesque, retaining wall and dramatic, ornate step, descending into sunken pools. Above all, clipped box topiary, manicured yew hedges and tall, Lombardy poplars shape and punctuate the structural formality that dominates I Grandi Giardini.
You will enjoy Monty's writing, he is a natural writer, quite introspective and scholarly. You will laugh out loud when you arrive at Villa I Tatti, where the financing for the garden came from art dealing. To begin this subject, he writes: "I once sat at a dinner next to the wife of an enormously wealthy Californian music mogul. Over the salmon mousse we politely scratched around for mutual interests. "Do you like Art?" she barked. When I said that in general I did, very much indeed, she said "Whaddya buying?"
This book is a feast for the senses, it is a gift, a treat, a journey of escapism and romance. It is is a bold and courageous project to have undertaken, requiring great feats of human collaboration, co-operation and assistance, between two English-speaking men and a whole list of experts, researchers, guides and hospitable friends over a long period of time, through rain, wind and heat. Anyone not quite as conscientious and hard-working may well have given up well before the 200th page For the same reason that in Great Britain we love to tour the stately estates of The National Trust, so many would love to read and look through the wedding cake theatricality of Italy's greatest gardens. Unlike Great Britain there is no National Gardens Scheme available to the Italians, so to see horticultural extravagance and gardening skill in all its magnificence, short of touring the twenty provinces of the Italian peninsula with a tour guide, this book is your best chance of seeing the whole picture.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Gardens of Italy - Video Preview,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)
Those nice chaps and publishers Quadrille have sent me a copy of the book that accompanies Monty Don's new BBC series The Great Gardens of Italy. So as promised, I've filmed it and made this little video so you can have a butchers.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice book let down by poor photography,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)After watching the TV series I immediately ordered both DVD & this book and whilst it is a very nice book, it could have been much better if the photography wasn't so decidedly average.
A lot of the pictures seem to have been taken at the wrong time of day so have harsh shadows & burnt out highlights, indeed some of the 'Lakes' shots are 'muddy' and underexposed but have completely burnt out (white) patches in the sky; a graduated filter would have helped here ;). There are even the odd one or two that are just plain out of focus!!
OK, if you're an amateur photographer, you might have to take the pictures in whatever light there is when you're there but one would expect a pro taking pictures for a book to at least visit when the weather and lighting conditions are right & if not return when they are.
So, a nice book that should have been stunning...
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Badly let down by poor photography,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)I was extremely disappointed by the entirely average photographs throughout this book. Most of the gardens are extremely badly served by the images - either they are of very uninspiring parts of the gardens, the same parts seen from a slightly different viewpoint or angle or just simply bad photographs - the picture of one of Bomarzo's most famous sculpture groups is (there is no other word for it) abysmal.
Many of the text descriptions of the pictures are simply lifted direct from the main body of text, making the reader constantly think "I've read this sentence somewhere before" - and then realising that they have indeed read it in one of the main paragraphs. This is sloppy and incredibly lazy, as well as profoundly irritating.
Nowhere in the book do we come across a plan of any of the gardens. This makes it impossible to get a feel for the size or overall layout of each garden, how they fit into the wider landscape or where each part of the garden is in relation to the whole. Granted that this is not a book you would cart round with you as a guidebook, but any serious garden researcher, architect, historian etc is going to want to know these things.
Many of Don's books are "personal journeys" and are written in a particular style full of anecdotes and stories not entirely related to the garden under discussion; how he got there, what he had for lunch and so on. I have absolutely no beef with this - if you write a book, you can put what you want into it. However, with this particular book, what the author wants to write is not necessarily what the reader or researcher wants to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful book,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)This is Monty Don at his very best as he brings his passion for the subject out in his excellent descriptive prose. As you read you are transported to the driving seat of this enchanting journey, smelling the scents and luxuriating in the sublime photographs of the even more sublime panoramas. I bought the DVD as well and thoroughly gorged on the subject matter. . . ENJOY!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly beautiful Gardens,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)Monty Don as always brings home the beauty of these stunning gardens , beautifully photographed throughout.
I would recommend this book to anyone with either a love of gardening or of the 'Peninsula' Monty shows his passion for both and is generous in sharing both with the reader. Truly wonderful !
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly a great book,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)I love watching Monty Don on the television (especially his 'Around the World in 80 Gardens' series a few years ago) so I was delighted to see this hefty, coffee-table tome on display in my local bookshop.
Sadly the text and some of the photos left me a little disappointed. I'm not sure why he included Villa Melzi (in Bellagio) - from the photos and my own experience of going there, it's hard to argue it's a truly great garden. And even the truly great island of Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore is let down a little here. The photos aren't high resolution enough to do it justice, and Monty's text begins with a description of his frustrating train journey to get to the lake. He also describes the garden as 'like a Disney cartoon'! It is not. Since he's been there three times, this seemed to be a rather negative introduction to one of the world's most magical locations.
Overall, I liked this book. I'm just left feeling a little deflated that it didn't go far enough in showcasing Italy's greatest gardens.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A personal tour of 30 Italian gardens,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)This is the book to accompany the soon to be broadcast (as I write in February 2011) TV series of the same name. Monty Don takes a personal journey to 30 of Italy's major gardens. Most of these are clustered around major cities such as Rome, Florence and Naples. Top photographer Derry Moore had the enviable task of capturing each garden in photographs.
After a brief introduction where Don explains his journey and how Italian gardens have shaped and informed his own gardening activities, there then follows 6 chapters dividing the gardens by region: Naples, Rome, Viterbo, Tuscany, Veneto and The Lakes. Don's journey was made south to north and the chapters reflect the direction of travel.
Each chapter is prefaced by an introductory essay describing the regional setting in which the gardens reside. There then follows a 'word-scape' for each garden where Don describes his visit to the garden and his own impressions of it, the historical context, who looks after the garden today etc etc. After each essay there follows a number Moore's photographs to give the visual details. Each photo has a detailed caption linking back to the previous text.
I'm sure the intention is to let the words and pictures speak for themselves with an equal voice. Personally I found the result a little disjointed and would have preferred them to lie side by side as they do in the general introduction. The larger text used for the regional introduction added to the disjointed feeling for me. Much as I admire Monty Don's writing, I found it quite tempting to skip straight to the pictures. I curtailed this by limiting myself to reading one garden at a time, rather than trying to read straight through. I would have liked a plan to accompany each garden too, as it's hard to guage from the text and photographs their size, shape, layout etc.
I can't really say whether the chosen gardens are the 30 'best' ones or if they're the most well known. I'm sure every expert will have their own list which may coincide or wildly differ to this selection: I'll leave the arguments on that score to them. A quick look at other books on the market on the same subject reveal quite a few differences in some and similarities in others.
One feature I liked very much is the Chronology tucked at the back of the book showing where each garden fits in terms of style, date and major events of the time. Thus the Villa Adriana in Rome is rooted in the 2nd century AD in Classical times and Torrechia is the youngest: a Modern garden from 1995-2010.
I was rather surprised the end section didn't contain a bibliography for further reading: Don refers to the odd text used during his research, so I would have liked to see these (and others?) gathered together in one place. Nor were there details of how to go about visiting any of the gardens which take our fancy. However, I believe these are notoriously prone to change, so perhaps it's understandable these details have been left out.
We owe a great debt to many of these gardens as they have formed and shaped many of our own in the UK. For instance, I now can clearly see how the gardens at Blenheim were influenced by places such as Villa Lante, Giardino di Boboli and Villa Torrigiani. However, after a while I found myself wanting to get away from the masses of topiary, enclosed box hedges, statues and walls these gardens contain.
It's the more unusual gardens which have stayed in my mind and now form my fantasy shortlist to visit: Ninfa for its romantic emergence from the ruins, Villa d'Este at Tivoli for its terrace of Hundred Fountains, Sacro Bosco for its giant mossy statues and Isola Bella for the giant wedding cake effect which reminds me a little of Portmeirion.
It'll be interesting to compare the TV series with the book to see if my list changes.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful trip round Italy's great gardens,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)This is a delightful book, as it combines the legendary garden writing skills of Monty Don with the brilliant photography of Derry Moore. The publishers seem to have put a lot of care into its production, quality paper is used and appropriately it is printed in Italy.
It has an easy to follow structure and there is a particularly helpful chronological index of the 30 gardens, which helps to set the different styles in context. Monty's selection of gardens is a personal one, it does not extend further south than Naples and tends to cluster around cities, probably because as he states in the book that in researching it he used public transport, particularly trains. The individual garden descriptions are excellent; setting them in just the right amount of historical and cultural context, with occasional asides which recognise that he is interpreting the garden from an Englishman's perspective.
Derry's photography is stunning, with the different gardens photographed under different lighting conditions. In the acknowledgements Monty suggests that they travelled together. There is good mix of detail shots, plenty of lichen covered statuary, and panoramic shots which a give sense of the degree of formality and geometry. At time he captures beautifully the sense of decay often to be found in Italian gardens.
This is not a guide book, there are no details about how to gain access to these gardens, which if you have been garden visiting in Italy you will know can be a major challenge, particularly with limited Italian. It is though much more than a 'coffee table book', it is a rare type of historical archive, delivered with insight and passion. Once you have a copy you will want to buy another, to give to a close gardening friend.
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to treasure,
This review is from: Great Gardens of Italy (Hardcover)I bought this for a colleague who was travelling to Italy this summer. He loved the book, and managed to visit many of the gardens visited by Monty, and intends to visit more next year
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Great Gardens of Italy by Monty Don & Derry Moore (Hardcover - 18 Feb 2011)