Italian gardens are famed for the wonderful choice of plants that can be found within them, from the vibrant hot colors of Mediterranean plants to the softer pastels of classical roses and lavender. Reams of books have covered the various plants that can be used, however, very little attention is given to the array of colors and just how interesting inviting wildlife into your Italian garden can be. Creating a natural Italian garden, capable of sustaining indigenous ecosystems, can encourage local wildlife and invite some of nature’s jewels to show themselves in their finest colors, which will bring us far closer to nature in the process.
By now, everyone has at last understood that natural is better and that harmony and natural beauty can only be created by going in the same direction as nature and not to the contrary. Choosing the correct plants from the outset is essential in taking the garden in the right direction and there are many, many plants to choose from for the Italian garden.
However the classics remain the same and there are some great plants that are by now renowned for their wildlife attracting qualities. Plants like Lavender, Buddleija and Valerian have long been known for attracting and displaying the jewels of our garden like butterflies. However some, lesser known plants like catmint are fantastic for displaying early evening visitors like nocturnal moths.
Crab spider on Dahlia, changes colors! Shield bug on bean
Although these plants can display the insect in its adult stages, they do not necessarily sustain and provide for the insect in all its stages of development. By far the best way of sustaining butterflies and useful insects in the Italian garden is to create a wild flower meadow that sustains every kind of indigenous butterfly available to the modern gardener.
Wild flower meadows are not only ablaze with flower color, but they also attract hundreds of butterflies and colorful insects that will then appear on the nectar-bearing plants nearer to the house, during the summer months.
Chrysolina Americana Chrysolinas having fun
Among the more ‘unwelcome’ visitors to an Italian garden are the larger mammals, such as wild boars (Cinghaiali) and porcupines (Istrici) and they can create some serious damage in the Italian garden.
Wild boar (Cinghiali) Italian Porcupine
Wild boar can weigh up to 180kg (although this is rare) and spend their time barging through all but the strongest of fences and rooting up any lawn in the search of root vegetables, truffles or insects. They can easily destroy a lawn or vegetable garden during the night and can only be kept out with very strong fencing or electric wire. Porcupines also operate at night and their diet comprises of mainly roots and insects, they can eat swathes of Iris rhizomes, bulbous plants or potatoes, for which they have a particular preference. Any fencing wire must be laid at least 50cm underground, as they are great diggers and can bury under most fences with no effort at all.
In recent years deer have also become a large problem in Italy and their numbers have increased despite regular hunting and annual culling. The summer’s drought can force them to eat the only green to be found in the countryside, which is generally the new shoots of grape vines, rendering them a serious pest in the wine-making regions. They will also eat any new shoot of almost any plant, so should clearly be excluded from the Italian garden. Their ability to jump almost 3 meters means that they can easily clear all but the highest of fences. A single, taught piece of wire running high on the fence will often discourage them from leaping over the fence.
Clearly not all of Italy’s animals are to be encouraged into the Italian garden, however, their presence can most definitely enhance our lives and the presence of the odd natural jewel can surely only be…positive…!
By Jonathan Radford
Macro shots by Hannah Summers