Modern Landscaping Lessons From A Historic Italian Garden
On a trip to Villa d’Este—a fountain-strewn, Renaissance-era estate outside Rome—our writer learns the secrets to crafting a truly immersive garden.
On a trip to Villa d’Este—a fountain-strewn, Renaissance-era estate outside Rome—our writer learns the secrets to crafting a truly immersive garden.
It seems as if I have always known of the Villa d‘Este, the celebrated Renaissance villa and adjoining gardens northeast of Rome, but until this spring I really didn’t know much about it. I was dimly aware of the complex’s influence on landscape design, especially the fountain-rich, terraced gardens behind the frescoed house, but I couldn’t really work up a picture in my mind. Then, during a trip to Rome this spring, I decided to find out what the five-hundred-year-old fuss was about and hailed a taxi on the Via Veneto in the early morning traffic.
Located in Tivoli, a playground for ancient and Renaissance Romans about 20 miles from the Colosseum, the Villa d’Este was the brainchild of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509–1572), son of Renaissance art patron and Duke of Ferrara Alfonso d’Este and his controversial wife, Spanish-Italian power player and putative poisoner, Lucrezia Borgia. These days, it is reached only after a rather dispiriting trip through the anonymous eastern suburbs and exurbs of contemporary Rome, which might as well be outside Rome, N.Y. Even the entrance to the complex is kind of sad, off a small-town square with a curious work of menacing public art. But then the jaw-dropping splendor begins.
The stately villa, whose wholly frescoed interiors are spectacular enough, is perched above the gardens, which swoop down over countless levels, crisscrossed by a skyscraper’s worth of staircases and punctuated by some 50 sculptural fountains that run the gamut from large to huge to building-size.
A technical marvel in its time—and a Unesco World Heritage site and museum today—the 11-acre site’s sunken gardens use gravity to turn the local Aniene River into a constant motor for fountains, pools and dozens of artificial waterfalls. The Villa d’Este relies on the basic building blocks of Renaissance garden design—evergreen trees and Italian stone—to frame and fashion the gurgling, rushing and sheer wetness of all that water, which is not only meant to be seen but heard, felt and even endured, splashing you in the face when you least expect it.
The gardens start with…a pause.
Between the house and the garden slope is a quiet vialone, or avenue, bordered by a low wall and punctuated by elevated ceramic pots. This allows the mind to catch its breath between the fabulous frescoes and the watery wonderland beneath.
I heard falling water before I saw it, then my eye traveled to the right, to the so-called Hundred Fountains, a lane along which grotesque masks shoot water into a trough. Then I descended to the Cypress Rotunda, a giant display of twisting trees, some dating back to the 17th century.
Down I went, to the long array of fish ponds, or decorative reflecting pools, which lead the eye up to the Fountain of Neptune and, beyond, to the Fountain of the Organ, which uses river water to power an actual organ.
Then up I went to the piazza-fronted Oval Fountain, whose mammoth cascade of water suggests a glistening glass curtain, and back down again to the Fountain of Diana, a surreal multi-breasted symbol of fertility. I was getting tired, and hot, and after breathing the heady aromas of the rose garden, I paused in the cool darkness of the Grottoes of the Sibyls.
As it turns out, I was supposed to get tired, said Michael Lee, a professor in the history of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, and a fellow this spring at the American Academy in Rome. The gardens are dense in mythological imagery, and the need to hike up and down was meant to “re-enact the labors of Hercules,” he said. I was expected to get tired and wet and hot and to notice the sounds of the fountains increase from nearly musical to almost deafening.
“The Villa d’Este is meant to be immersive,” said Prof. Lee, engaging all our senses, while later western garden design, from the French formal variety to the English landscape version, became ever more visual.
I later asked landscape designer Adam Woodruff, in Marblehead, Mass., how a gardener of more modest means and acreage could make a plot immersive. In his own meadow-style garden he converted a circular zinc planter, about 3 feet in diameter, into a reflecting pool. By adding a bit of black dye formulated for the purpose, he made the surface mirrorlike, so that sky and flower stalks prettily echo off the water. Thirsty birds steadily supply bird song (and avian-safe mosquito larvicide keeps bugs from breeding there). The simple vessel serves as a strategic focal point in the loosely structured garden, which includes a number of grass species.
Feeding all the senses was but one of the lessons Villa d’Este offers the home gardener. Others include creating a buffer between your house and your garden. Don’t be afraid to add humor, or even a bit of the grotesque. Save a place among the plants for stones, water, a statue or two or even a whole fountain.
The spring morning at the complex had turned into an almost summery afternoon, but now the weather grew overcast and faintly fall-like. It was time to go back to Rome, wetter and wiser, with the reminder that great design—in a garden, as in a house—should be lived rather than just looked at.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
The city-fringe locale continues to boom with its prized mansions and natural amenities
From stately historic mansions to expensive new builds with underground garage space for 20 cars, Medindie, the exclusive inner northern suburb of Adelaide, has always been a well-heeled location with buyers lining up to own property bearing the blue-ribbon address.
Many keen buyers and investors are prepared to wait years for a grand Victorian mansion or a more contemporary sprawling home to come on the market in the area. Such properties tend to move fast. Stunning mansions with impressive facades, sweeping lawns, manicured gardens, tennis courts and swimming pools are located on expansive 1-acre landholdings that cannot be developed or subdivided, making them even more attractive to buyers.
The suburb is home to many historic dwellings including Willyama, built in 1883 by prospecter Charles Rasp, who discovered the rich ore deposits at Broken Hill in New South Wales, and The Briars, built in 1856 for George Hawker, which became a hospital.
Robe Terrace is the suburb’s star attraction, lined with attractive mansions including The Elysian, a modern residence which smashed the state’s residential sales record after selling in excess of $10 million last year. Pretty Victorian villas, contemporary terraces, townhouses and cottages are also sought after, but it’s those grand mansions that are the drawing card.
Medindie offers quality inventory at all levels and attracts families looking for a long-term hold and professionals after a “lock and leave” lifestyle seeking a comfortable base while in Adelaide.
It appeals to medical professionals wanting to be close to major hospitals as well as farmers based in the north of the state wanting a weekender close to the CBD, North Adelaide and Adelaide Oval, a sports and entertainment venue
Nature lovers and fitness fans enjoy the Adelaide Park Lands, known as Australia’s biggest backyard, while the River Torrens Linear Park Trail is a spectacular 30-kilometer nature walk.
It is also on the doorstep of vibrant cosmopolitan precincts including Prospect Road, Walkerville Terrace and O’Connell Street, which showcase charm and convenience.
There is direct access into the city centre, Adelaide Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, plus it’s an easy walk into Rundle Street precinct for shopping.
Adelaide real estate agent Stephanie Williams of Williams Luxury Real Estate said Medindie exudes glamour and prestige with some jaw-dropping homes.
“As well as stunning properties, there are some new properties with show off features such as underground accommodation for 15 to 20 cars and mind-blowing cellars,” she said.
The suburb is a 10-minute drive north from the city center and a 20-minute drive to Adelaide International Airport.
Medindie is adjacent to the Adelaide Park Lands, north of North Adelaide, and is bounded by Robe Terrace to the south, Northcote Terrace to the east, Nottage Terrace to the north and Main North Road to the northwest. It is close to Adelaide’s central business district and surrounded by parklands.
According to Kaytlin Ezzy, CoreLogic research analyst, Medindie houses recorded a median value as of April of A$2 million with top-tier values ranging from $2.38 million to $3.47 million. Compared to the nearby Prospect-Walkerville, Medindie’s median value is 62.6% higher, equivalent to a value gap of approximately $771,863, and nearly double (91%) the median value of the greater Adelaide region ($1.05 million).
Ms. Ezzy said the trend in Medindie’s house values has been positive over the past few years, rising 30.1% over the year to April and 57.2% over the past five years. This has resulted in the median value rising from $1.27 million in April 2017 to $1.54 million in 2021 before rising $463,644 over the past year resulting in a current median value of just over $2 million.
Medindie continues to be one of South Australia’s most prestigious suburbs and is home to generations of families who have resided there for centuries as well as newly wealthy buyers, according to Ms. Williams.
“Once they buy there, they remain, as it is an extremely tightly held location, offering unsurpassable exclusivity and prestige—significant mansions and luxurious estates and properties with prominent land holdings have encouraged affluent families to invest in this area for generations,” she said.
There is a very pronounced short supply of luxury properties on the market in Medindie, where there is a variety of architecture from historic Victorian styles to modern contemporary housing.
There are attractive villas, terraces, townhouses and cottages that are also sought after.
Ms. Williams said lifestyle estates and family homes always sell within their scheduled sales campaigns whether via expressions of interest, auction, or private treaty.
“Covid has changed the buying patterns of the luxury market in particular with wealthy clients changing their priorities to more home-based activities, with health and wellness being a major priority,” Ms. Williams said. “The desire for swimming pools, tennis courts, beautiful established gardens, wellness retreats and home offices being more popular than ever before. Luxury homes have never been in greater demand.”
Statistics show Medindie has 394 residential homes for sale compared to the nearby suburbs of Norwood, which has 1,901 residential homes on the market, and St. Peters, which has 870 residential homes for sale.
Buyers are attracted to Medindie for the magnificent adjacent parklands, its proximity to central Adelaide and larger-than-average block sizes.
It is also the only suburb within a short stroll of the exclusive girls-only Wilderness School.
Medindie is surrounded by shopping locales, including the Rundle Mall and Rundle Street in the city, which offer a wide range of luxury boutiques, including the David Jones department store. It is also very close to fashion-forward Melbourne Street and cosmopolitan O’Connell Street, the North Adelaide Shopping Village, and the shops along super-trendy Prospect Road.
Grocery stores in North Adelaide include Cibo Espresso, The Flying Fig, Coffee Gods Café, Romeo’s Foodland and The North Adelaide Village.
Top restaurants include The Lion Hotel, a South Australian icon that is directly across the Parklands, and North Adelaide has the Gin Long Canteen, Ruby Red Flamingo and Marrakech. The nearby Adelaide CBD has a vast range of excellent restaurants including Soi 38 known for its Thai cuisine, Italio-American inspired Fugazzi Bar and Dining Room, Osteria Oggi, Japanese-inspired Erato Teppanyaki, Arkhe on The Parade where chef Jake Kellie from Michelin star Burnt Ends in Singapore stars, and Orso on Kensington Road that has a following for its seafood and pasta.
Private schools include the Wilderness School, St. Peters College, Prince Alfred College and St. Andrews School. Nearby public schools include the new Adelaide Botanic High School, North Adelaide Primary School, Walkerville Primary School and Prospect Primary School.
Property tycoons, farmers, bankers, medical specialists, successful IT professionals and socialites all call Medindie home.
Ms. Williams said the market in Medindie continues to be incredibly strong, with buyer demand for this esteemed suburb at an all-time high and showing no signs of slowing down.
“We are continuing to experience a very high level of buyer inquiry for homes for sale in the area and some homes are selling off-market without reaching the paper or any online platforms,” she said.
“The suburb has always performed extremely well from a capital growth perspective and consistently features in the top 10 performing suburbs in South Australia. The average house price in Medindie over the past 12 months is A$2.68 million, which is an incredible growth of 82.4% during this time.”
Ms. Essy said while still reporting strong quarterly growth compared to the national trend (5.6%), capital appreciation across the Adelaide house market has started to ease.
“With the cash rate starting to rise and consumer confidence continuing to trending downwards, it’s likely the housing market is inching toward a downswing, with the higher end of the market typically showing more volatility both in the upwards and downwards phase of the cycle,” she said.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 18, 2022.
In the year to May, an additional 497 markets joined the million-dollar club.
A record number of Australians spent $1 million or more to purchase a home in the past 12 months according to CoreLogic’s annual Million Dollar Markets report.
Over the year to March 2022, CoreLogic collected 596,733 sales nationally up 19.8% from the 497,923 recorded over the previous year. Of those sold this year, 23.8% sold for $1 million or more.
In the year to May, an additional 497 markets 450 houses and 37 unit markets) joined the million-dollar club bringing the total markets to 1367 or 30.4% of house and unit markets analysed in May to a median value of $1 million or more.
“High consumer sentiment, tight advertised supply, and low-interest rates fuelled strong home value growth throughout 2021, resulting in a new record high annual growth rate of 22.4% over the 12 months to January,” said CoreLogic Research Analyst Kaytlin Ezzy.
“Despite values having risen across all capital cities and rest of state areas annually, we have seen a divergence in growth conditions across markets over the year to date.
“Since January, dwelling values across Sydney and Melbourne have started to decline, while values have continued to rise across South Australia and Queensland. More recently, Canberra, which had previously recorded many months of consecutive growth, recorded its first falls in dwelling values in some years in May.”
Sydney suburbs made up 26.3% of the new million-dollar markets with more than half of all Sydney sales over the 123 months to May transacting at or above $1 million.
In Sydney, 448 house and 104 unit markets have a current median value of $1 million dollars or higher, an increase of 26.6% from the previous year. The new million-dollar markets are largely concentrated in the city’s South West (30) and Outer South West (15) as well as the Central Coast region (20).
In the year to May, 51.9% of transactions in Sydney sold for $1 million or more. Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs is the most expensive house market, both across Sydney and nationally, with a current median value of $8,024,682.
Elsewhere, in Melbourne 212 house and 11 unit markets had a median value at or above $1 million in May majority of which are located in Melbourne’s Inner (39), Inner South (42), Inner East (30) and Outer East (30).
30 metres of water frontage across a 1733sqm block.
With views up the coastline to the NSW central coast comes this magnificent double oceanfront block — a rare setting for the ultimate family holiday retreat.
Boasting level lawns that spill down to 30-metre of ocean frontage, the 1733sqm plot plays host to a three-level 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom, 2-car garage home in one of Whale Beach’s most tightly held cul-de-sacs.
A contemporary masterclass in style, the home showcases free-flowing spaces with glass-wrapped interiors in a layout that accommodates family and friends.
Within the main living spaces comes a state-of-the-art kitchen with Calacatta marble and stainless-steel benchtops accompanied by a full suite of Gaggenau appliances and a separate walk-in cool room.
Other living zones found on the ground level include a games room and sun-drenched terrace with its own Miele appointed kitchen.
Outside sees a 15-metre resort style pool to soak up the sun and watery views, while the poolside studio is fully self-contained and perfect for extra weekend guests.
Accommodation is comprised of three luxurious ensuite bedrooms — of which several open directly to the terraces. The master bedroom has access to the home office, large walk-in-robe and cellar or store room.
Further luxurious additions to the home include a gym, jacuzzi, pizza oven, BBQ and Ecosmart fireplace.
The listing is with LJ Hooker Palm Beach’s David Edwards 0415 440 044 with the POA. palmbeach.ljhooker.com.au