Garden orientation A two-acre terraced garden surrounding an Italian villa in the Tuscan hills.
Soil type Loam, free-draining and fertile as it has been worked for many decades.
Special features The estate has its own olive groves, vineyards and infinity pool.
Garden design Martin Hulbert Design, 020 7352 5081, martinhulbertdesign.com.
Even the most hard-line contemporary design guru could not fail to have their pulse quickened by the romantic rose garden at this summer residence. The villa is set among the olive groves, orchards and vineyards on the hills outside the walled Tuscan city of Lucca, famous for its medieval ramparts.
Even if you have never visited this part of the world, the landscape is such an integral part of Renaissance art and literature that its gentle hills will immediately feel familiar. The owner and her family rented the old estate for a year before buying it in 2009, having been won over by its spectacular views and fertile land. To help with the house and the garden, they commissioned designer Martin Hulbert – responsible for The Dorchester Spa and Barnsley House hotel in the Cotswolds – who had worked on other properties owned by the family.
‘We could have virtually given Martin the keys, he is so familiar with our taste,’ says the owner, who wanted the informal style of the villa’s interior to flow into the garden. For Martin, it was a chance to move from interiors to garden design – and get to grips with a mechanical digger. The unifying theme for the garden is scent. As the family use the two-acre grounds all the time during the summer, she wanted fragrant flowering plants such as citrus trees, Jasmine and, above all, roses.
Martin researched roses that have strong perfume and repeat flowering, such as ‘St. Swithun’, ‘Teasing Georgia’ and ‘Eden’, visiting Italian and English nurseries to get the stock they wanted. Consequently, roses are used lavishly throughout the garden, cascading over terraced walls at the back of the villa, trained up pillars and over arbours, and even picked to decorate the dining table that sits beneath a vine-covered pergola. The plants thrive in the rich, heavy soil and warm climate, offering the informality of an English garden within the brio of an Italian one.
Not all the design work has been so romantic. The estate has around 2,000 olive trees, some of which Martin wanted to bring closer to the house. He watched local farmers to see if transplanting such mature trees was possible and when he discovered it was, he copied them by simply uprooting the trees he wanted with a mechanical digger and resting them.
The replanting will not be Martin’s final job, though. There are plans to extend the wildflower meadows, which are full of purple orchids and fragrant pink evening primrose, that lie further up the hillside. ‘Although the garden is a work in progress,’says the owner, ‘Martin has transformed it from a place that was enclosed and overgrown to somewhere that is fun and beautiful.’
Photography/ Mark Bolton