A Medici Garden Tour in Florence

A client recently asked me to organize a full day tour of gardens in Florence and in the immediate countryside. As a botany enthusiast, she wanted to discover the particular style of the “giardino italiano” or Italian garden and the differences between gardens in the city and those of villas in the surrounding countryside. Mixing in a little Florentine history, we designed a tour comprising two gardens that were owned by Cosimo de Medici and designed by Niccolò Tribolo, a Renaissance artist in the service of the powerful duke.

In 1538, Tribolo designed gardens for the Villa Medici al Castello, owned by the Medici family since 1477, just a few miles from Florence. The gardens represent one of the first and best-preserved Italian gardens in history. Situated at the rear of the villa, the original garden showed a simple and geometric design on three stepped terraces enclosed within high perimeter walls and laid out along a main central axis. The first terrace, presents 16 square flower beds with a central stepped pool adorned with Bartolomeo Ammannati’s statue of Hercules and Antaeus.

500 rare plants fill the second terrace where one can also view the Cave of the Animals, famous for its sculptured fountains in the form of animals of many species that spray fountain water. The tour continues on to 2 small secret gardens, one on either side that recall the enclosed structures of medieval gardens.

Some 10 years later, inspired by the beauty of the garden, Tribolo created the more famous Boboli Garden for Cosimo and his wife, Eleonora di Toledo, as part of the Pitti Palace, the main seat of the Medici grand dukes in Florence. Unconventional for its time, and irrigated by a complex system originating in the Arno, the gardens are open and expansive with an emphasis on views of Florence. Graced by an amphitheater, grottos, nympheums and miniature temples, the gardens are a veritable open-air museum with dozens of sculptures hidden amongst the plants and fountains, such as the Fountain of Neptune. The mix of plants, flowers, grottoes, lemon trees and sculptures offer a quiet respite in a bustling city and breathtaking views of the countryside.