Maria, Maria, Quite Contraria

a Garden-1

How does your garden grow?

June is the month that kicks off summer vacations, and our enjoyment of all things outdoors. Gardening is one of those enjoyments. Some people take vacations to escape, check out, and relax. I like to vacation to places that inspire me, that feed my creativity, and that allow my world to expand. With this in mind, I thought I’d share one of the ways my Italian vacations have influenced my life back home—gardening.

Now to be completely upfront, I am not responsible for the gardens in the yard. My partner Richard is the green thumb. But when we vacation in Italy, we are both inspired by Italian gardens. Some are free to the public, like the Villa Borghese in Rome, others are open to guided tours, while some are only open via appointment, but apart from their varying degrees of accessibility, all are worth a visit.

Italian gardens, regardless of size, tend to have some commonalities: water features (whether fountains, pools, lakes, or streams), statuary (dogs are a favorite animal, mythological deities and creatures, or biblical characters), nympharum or grottos (a rocky subterranean-or underwater-looking structure where water nymphs and muses inhabit the ferns and water plants), and mathematical principals reflected in symmetry and proportion (often pathways are centered on a distant focal point of interest, such as a bell tower or monument; and they may be lined with trees or shrubs, again, luring you to explore further).

In our home “garden,” we have incorporated some of these Italian garden ideas. Simple single-spout fountains, small boxwood-lined planting beds, and decorative metal or terracotta planters are easy ways to take grand ideas from an Italian villa and express them in your gardening.

I hope you notice how we have done that, and that you find inspiration from photos of our garden, and of some of our favorite Italian gardens we have visited. Remember, you don’t have to rule a kingdom to be the master of your own gardening domain. A well-placed pot of petunias can be as beautiful and visually therapeutic as a 500-foot-long reflecting pool lined with marble water nymphs. Don’t be threatened by grandeur; be inspired by it!

When you eat something delicious you say that it is “buonissimo,” but this is a feast for the eyes, so I’ll wish you all well with this salutation~

“Bellissimo giardino!”—a gorgeous garden!


*Search the internet for more information about the Italian gardens featured below.

Our Garden

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Il Parco dei Mostri (The Monster Park), Bomarzo:


Palazzo Reale, Caserta:

Caserta 1Caserta-2Caserta-3Caserta-4Caserta-5 

Cento Botanico Moutan, east of Bagnaia:


Villa Chigi Cetinale, west of Siena:


Giardini Giusti, Verona:

Giardini-Giusti 1Giardini-Giusti-2Giardini-Giusti-3Giardini-Giusti-4 

Orto Botanico, Rome:


Vatican Gardens, Vatican City, Rome:


Villa Bardini, Florence:

Villa-Bardini 1Villa-Bardini-2Villa-Bardini-3Villa-Bardini-4Villa-Bardini-5 

Villa Borghese, Rome:


Villa Farnese, Caprarola:

Villa-Caprarola 1Villa-Caprarola-2Villa-Caprarola-3 

Villa Chigi a Vicobello, overlooking Siena:

Villa-Chigi-a-Vicobello 1Villa-Chigi-a-Vicobello-2Villa-Chigi-a-Vicobello-3Villa-Chigi-a-Vicobello-4 

Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome:


Villa Giulia, Rome:


Villa Lante, Bagnaia:


Villa Medici, Rome:


Villa Pisani, Strà:

Villa-Pisani 1Villa-Pisani-2Villa-Pisani-3 

Villa San Michele, Capri:


Villa Torrigiani, east of Lucca:

Villa-Torrigiani 1Villa-Torrigiani-2Villa-Torrigiani-3

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.