Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance

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Atlanta Garden Design

Water from the Rock: Visiting the Alhambra

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 1, 2017 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)


Image: Salvador Fornell



Crouched atop a foothill of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Alhambra is many things at once: a castle, a palace, a fortified city, a museum, and a complex of gardens. Gazing upon the Alhambra's red-orange brick walls and stone ledges from an adjacent hilltop, the masonry emanates power, robustness, and beauty.




Image: Joaquín López Cruce



When a visitor breaches the Alhambra's tall, opaque perimeter walls, however, a different world is revealed. The sprawling gardens vibrate with life, movement, and verdancy. This world is powered and nourished by water.



Image: Working to Travel



From hundreds of spouts, the Alhambra's water jets bring action and excitement to the landscape. Arrayed in even staccato along linear pools, introverted around circular basins, and sometimes sited singly, jets of water arc through the Alhambra air, glimmering in the sun's rays and splashing pleasant sounds through the landscape.



Images: Adam Gimpert and Sam Valentine



At a visitor's feet, water flows within and across the dozen garden rooms in a deceptively simple network of runnels and rills.



Images: Sam Valentine


At moments, water is allowed to collect in large, still reflecting pools. The half-dozen of these mirror-smooth basins borrow sky into the Alhambra's courtyards and lay a calming atmosphere over the people (and animals) who occupy the spaces.



Images: Apostolis Giontzis and Sam Valentine



Perhaps most importantly, water supports life at the Alhambra. The jets, channels, and pools certainly add a layer of beauty to the majestic architectural complex, but the Alhambra's founders secured a generous supply of water for more than just aesthetic reasons. The hydraulic system is vast, and the landscape water features are just the visible components of a network implemented to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees and supply buildings with fresh water.



Images: Sam Valentine



Here, atop an otherwise parched hilltop, millions of gallons of water bring life, elegance, and artistry to the Alhambra. From the top to the bottom of the complex, the same single drop of water cycles through many different personalities, but the landscape is much more than a scattered assortment of hydraulic moments. By walking alongside the water features, a visitor finds a carefully sequenced narrative of water features.


 


Image: Steve McFarland


Enframement in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 1, 2016 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)

Note: My next two posts will explore how "enframement" and "enclosure" are achieved in the landscape, with a focus on plant massing.



Image: Sam Valentine

 

Plants -- like all matter in the universe -- have mass. While mass means one thing to chemists and physicists, there is another type of mass that landscape architects and garden designers rely upon: "visual mass."


Visual mass, which can be created from wood, stone, metal, or -- often -- living plants, is one of the most important tools in a site designer's toolbox. It is through the perceived mass of trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines that a garden takes shape.



Image: Henry Vincent Hubbard, An Introduction to the Study of Landscape Design and Bob Radlinski

 

To varying degrees of effectiveness, all plants can be used to enframe landscape views. Solid, opaque tree trunks can provide a vertical edge to a picturesque view. Lighter, billowy leaves and branches can form the top of a framed view as shrubs or tall grasses can make up the bottom.


 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

By selectively revealing pieces of a landscape and masking others from sight, a designer controls the composition. Modifying plant massing can provide visual balance to a scene and it also allows the designer to highlight key thematic features. Some of the clearest demonstrations of this idea of the controlled view is seen in the visuals of Humphry Repton.

 

 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

Humphry Repton was a British landscape designer who was masterfully framing landscape views over 200 years ago. He presented his designs to clients in signature packages he called "Red Books," and included within them ingenious overlay paintings. The overlays, a fine-art equivalent of "before and after" shots, documented an existing landscape condition and allowed the client to flip a panel to reveal the proposed composition.



Images: Humphry Repton

 

Enframing with plant material can be as simple as the addition of a new shrub or two, but in some cases, controlling a view can require much bolder design moves, including the removal of mature trees or regrading of the landscape. For the right view though, even extreme measures are worth it.

 


Image: Bob Radlinski




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Holding It Together

Posted by Sam Valentine on July 31, 2016 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 


Images: Ken Dodds, Hoot Nonny, and Frank Vincentz

 

They can be found in a diversity of shapes and sizes. They are a familiar piece of American Southern vernacular, and yet there seems to be no consensus on what exactly to call them: wall washer, star anchor, stress washer, anchor plate, and Charleston bolt are a few of the many names that one might hear.

 


Image: The Post and Courier Archives

 

While most would file these iron bits under "rustic decor," there is a noteworthy functional difference between a "star anchor" and a purely ornamental "barn star". These anchors have been used for centuries as a means to reinforce buildings around the world against settlement and collapse, but they burst into popularity in the American Southeast 130 years ago when Charleston, South Carolina was struck with a devastating earthquake. Reading descriptions of the 1886 earthquake, a geologically rare but particularly damaging event, is truly shocking, but it explains why these "earthquake bolts" are so commonly seen along Charleston's historic streets today.



Images: Paige Henderson, Marie Beschen, Grover Schrayer, and Ken Dodds


Both authentic anchors and replicas are ubiquitous in Southern antique shops and in the online marketplace, and working these into your garden can inject a bit of borrowed character. If your garden calls for something more unique than the generic star pattern, architectural historians have catalogued a range of Charleston bolts from which to draw inspiration.


Image: R. G. Lubischer

 


A Compelling Narrative: Water Features at Villa Lante

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 1, 2015 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Where we left off in our last post, we had climbed to the upper end of the walled garden at Villa Lante, were admiring a grotto fountain, and were about to begin a choreographed descent along the garden's axis..

 

During my visit, I experienced the journey of water from top to bottom, from south to north, and from wild to urban. Villa Lante offers a clear storyline in its water features, and the following are the six "chapters" as I perceived them:

 

 

Chapter 1: Fontana del Diluvio


 

Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Briefly described in the last post, the "Fountain of the Deluge" is a mossy, fern-covered grotto. In its shadows and murky water, it holds an air of mystery, and it is teeming with life: the pool and walls are a verdant green, stone forms of dolphins swim its waters, and it was originally designed to attract songbirds.


 

 

Chapter 2: Fontana dei Delfini


Images: Rosalba Cantone

 

 

A few yards north, water emerges for a second time along the garden axis. At the "Fountain of the Dolphins" one finds perhaps the garden's most conventional water feature (at least to our contemporary eyes). A freestanding, tiered, and octagonal pyramid features a symmetrical array of dolphins. The dolphins here and on the Diluvio fountain are both allusions to a Roman allegory of water and nature overpowering mankind.

 

 


Chapter 3: Catena d'Acqua

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Similar to Villa d'Este's "Alley of the Hundred Fountains," Villa Lante is best known by a single water feature. The Catena d'Acqua, or "Chain of Water," runs like a billowing ribbon down Villa Lante's central axis. The organic form of these manmade rapids, actually an incredibly elongated depiction of a crawfish, is unlike much that has been designed before or after. It is a true work of art, and landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers observes that the Catena d'Acqua's "linked curves both create and echo the movement of swirling water." At its northern end, the water chain feeds the next fountain, with water spilling over the crawfish's abdomen and tail fins.

 

Chapter 4: Fontana dei Giganti

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

As a visitor follows the water along its axial path, the water chain delivers us next to the edge of a terrace. Fed by the tail fin above, the semicircular "Fountain of the Giants" is rife with symbolism. The wild water has been physically and metaphorically tamed as it arrives to this fountain. River gods lounge prosperously, their cornucopias signaling a change in the water, from wildness to fertility and generosity.

 


Chapter 5: Fontana dei Lumini


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Another significant change in elevation is smartly addressed at the "Fountain of the Lights." Two tiered semicircles, one concave and one convex, reference an ancient building form but also seem to invent something new altogether. In these tiered semicircles I found Villa Lante's most interesting geometries, but none of this even touches on the water itself; one hundred and sixty jets shoot from sculpted stone "lamps" arrayed on the edge of the fountain tiers. When these airborne streams of water catch the right light, the whole space looks truly illuminated.

 


Chapter 6: Fontana del Quadrato o dei Mori


Images: Rosalba Cantone

 

Best viewed from the terrace above, the final water feature, "The Fountain of the Four Moors," is also Villa Lante's largest. Reminiscent of the "Maritime Theater" at Hadrian's Villa, the Fountain of the Four Moors either directly or indirectly evokes an ancient naumachia. Eight symmetrical boxwood fields flank the fountain on all sides, and this large formal water feature expresses and amply celebrates the end of water's journey at Villa Lante.

 

As you may recall, I found that the grandeur of Villa d'Este wore off as I began to realize that there was no overarching narrative or master plan to unite its amazing moments. Villa Lante does not have that problem.

 

As Rogers observes, water at Villa Lante is used "with the inventiveness of a choreographer directing the movements of the dance or the sculptor." The garden and its narrative is organized clearly along a central axis, but the "axis is aquatic and can only be traveled visually for the most part; one walks alongside it, perceiving it perhaps more powerfully for this very reason."

 

Villa d'Este and Villa Lante have a lot in common - they are only eight miles apart and were built in the same decades - but there is much that sets them apart. Compared to Villa d'Este, Villa Lante is half the size and seemingly less than half the budget, but I found it to leave a stronger imprint. Perhaps there is a lesson here for your own landscapes: there is immeasurable value in designing with a strong master plan.



Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 29, 2015 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

Villa Lante is entered from the tight, archaic streets of Bagnaia near Viterbo, Italy. The grounds of the villa are split into a large, informal public park and a smaller, walled formal garden, but visitors to either destination cross through the same formal wrought iron gate.

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Arriving guests are presented with a conspicuous fountain (Fontana del Pegaso) and a choice - the fountain serves as a fork in the path to the public park or the walled garden. The fountain, elliptical and backed with a twenty-foot stone retaining wall, is centered around a pegasus and a small collection of other winged statues. Choosing the stairs to the left carries the visitor up alongside the foliated walls of the formal garden and, soon enough, to its entry.

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

Passing through the walls of the garden between another pair of iron gates, visitors find themselves on a paved walk that quickly reveals itself as just one terrace of many; the garden at Villa Lante is an axial, stepped scheme laid over sloping topography. As it happens, this presents a visitor with a choice. To the left, downhill from the arrival terrace, the garden opens up into a flat, expansive landscape with forthright geometrical plantings overlooking the town. To the right, uphill, rises a series of stone stairs, crisscrossing hedge-lined paths, and more mysterious terraces shrouded in a dark forest canopy. I went right.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

There is an indescribable draw to climb the hill, and at the high end of the garden, I found what I was looking for. In a small courtyard surrounded by rusticated loggia walls, water crashes from elevated, mossy caves into murky waters. This, the Fountain of the Deluge (Fontana del Diluvio), is the upper terminus of the villa garden, but it is perhaps better understood as the "wellspring" of the entire landscape below.


Image: Sam Valentine

 

My next blog will trace the dynamic, downhill journey of water from this upper end of the Villa Lante to its conclusion at the garden's bottom. Looking back on my visit last year, I think of the path I chose through the garden -- first to the top, then to the bottom -- and am reminded of how one uses a waterslide. There is a scramble to the top of the ladder, a peaceful pause, and then a descent that carries one down alongside the flowing water.


Image: Sam Valentine

 




 


Critique and Lessons Learned at Villa d'Este

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 3, 2015 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

To be fair, criticism was not the first thing to come to my mind when I visited Villa d'Este. As covered in my previous posts, this epic estate garden in Tivoli, Italy is a landscape of drama, force, and grandeur.

 

All that said, the more time one spends on the grounds, the more likely it is that he or she starts to notice cracks in the garden's veneer. The flaws only emerge after the sense of amazement settles down, but from the best I can determine, these defects are not the result of five centuries of wear and tear; rather, they are evidence of flawed design execution. As I describe the imperfections I found at Villa d'Este, the reader will hopefully consider each one as a learning opportunity to be applied to the landscapes experienced closer to home.

 


Images: Archi/Maps and Sam Valentine

 

Dishonesty - The landscape's largest imperfection is its spatial layout. The designer based the garden plan on a strong, hierarchical grid of axes, but in doing so he made too many compromises. Comparing the "drawn" and "actual" plans above, it is quickly apparent that the rectilinear concept was imperfectly forced onto the native topography.

 

There is certainly no blanket rule requiring a designer to flatten land and carve hills straight, and a short glance at contemporary landscape architecture projects proves that the orthogonal grid is anything but in vogue. However, when a landscape designer imposes a formal grid on landscape topography, he or she is setting unyielding expectations for straight lines and right angles. The misalignment of the upper terraces revealed itself to me not in plan but in perspective: looking up Villa d'Este's most significant axis to the palace proved that something was amiss.

 


Images: and Sam Valentine

 

Disneyfication - If you are not yet familiar with it, this term describes the tendency of some designers to create architecture or landscape that is tawdry, flashy, or otherwise best fit for tourists. To be sure, Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este predated Walt Disney's theme parks, but from his miniaturized "La Rometta" to the discrepancy between interior and exterior treatment of the garden walls, the garden often seems to have all the authenticity of a movie set.

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

Lack of a Master Plan - With only a few exceptions, Villa d'Este favors local symmetry over broad consistency. Walking the garden feels a bit like reading masterful literature had the pages been shuffled in the wind. While the landscape is technically arranged on an organizing grid, it lacks a cohesive master plan. In literary terms, there is no sustained narrative that ties the chapters together.

 

This blog hopefully will not lead the reader to believe that Villa d'Este should be looked down upon as a failure; the fact that this is my fourth consecutive post on the same landscape should serve as evidence of both the garden's importance and its greatness. A keen student of landscape, however, should analyze this garden and -- with the distinct benefit of 500 years of hindsight -- take lessons from Villa d'Este back to the landscapes of their own lives.

 



Image: Sam Valentine

 


Turbulence and Reflection: A Gallery of Water Features at Villa d'Este

Posted by Sam Valentine on August 31, 2015 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

 

In my last two posts, I touched on some of the signature water features that Villa d'Este has to offer. Sure, the Cento Fontane (Alley of the Hundred Fountains) may be the garden's show-stealer, but in a full walk of the grounds a visitor takes in a much more fattening buffet of pools, runnels, manmade waterfalls, and waterjets.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

A short disclaimer is probably appropriate before diving in here: the gardens at Villa d'Este have survived five centuries of changing ownership, alterations, and even wars, not to mention the natural elements. While the gardens are in an admirable state of preservation, with Villa d'Este's long history it is a precarious position to lean too heavily upon the garden's current state in trying to interpret the landscape's original design intent.




Image: Sam Valentine


 

In a blog post a year ago, I explored the concept of arboretums, using the analogy of a "zoo" to describe such a collection of trees. In a similar vein, I look back on my visit to Villa d'Este and cannot help but think of it as a collection of exotic "species" of fountains. The plan diagram above is my attempt to take inventory of the various water features I found within the walls of Villa d'Este.


 

Grottos and Nymphaea

Some are tucked away to reward more dutiful garden explorers, others are placed in prominent, high-visibility locations, but in Villa d'Este's dozen acres, there are many plays upon the archetype of the garden grotto. Capitalizing on the site's sloping topography, calming, cooling, and mossy fountains trickle and babble in shadowy vaults.

 


Images: Sam Valentine


 

Runnels. Rills, and Watercourses

Emerging from concealed reservoirs, uphill fountains, and cave-like nymphaea, water is delivered to any one of the garden's three-dozen water features via a network of small waterways. The typologies I found varied widely - water flows through still linear pools, wide surging runnels, down ornate, scalloped rills, and even in seemingly wild streams.

 


Images: Sam Valentine



Waterfalls

Concentrated in a few areas for maximum visual and auditory impact, Villa d'Este's manmade waterfalls send large volumes of water spilling and crashing over the edges of basins and down roaring slopes. The most memorable of these waterfalls is flanked with towering geysers in the centrally located Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune).



Geysers and Waterjets


Images: Sam Valentine


 

For the most part, the grottos, streams, and waterfalls throughout the garden move water elegantly but in a way that feels physically natural. Villa d'Este's geysers can be thought of as the titanic big brothers to the hundreds of faces that spout small jets from their pursed stone lips. The geysers and waterjets make a much more dramatic show, seemingly flouting the laws of physics, celebrating strong garden axes, and nailing down the very bull's-eyes of large fountain rooms. Originally engineered to operate without motors or pumps, these fountains - amazingly - can rely on gravity alone to shoot towering plumes of water into the sky.


 

Looking closely to my earlier "heat map" of Villa d'Este's water features, the wide distribution of the fountain shapes and sizes should be apparent. The eclectic collection of water features makes the garden a vast and encyclopedic gallery. While the overall form of the garden is ordered in a grid, the placement of fountains within that grid can come off as a bit erratic. All of the water features ultimately drink from one source, but the linkages to this source and from one fountain to the next are largely hidden. To put it gently, rather than a neat box of gems, Villa d'Este is a collection of fine jewels strewn across a luxurious carpet, and the magic that makes it all work is swept under the rug.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

Meaning in Landscape: Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Posted by Sam Valentine on August 5, 2015 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

 


 


Image: Étienne Dupérac

 

In my last post I alluded to what I called "bold iconographic expressions of power" at Villa d'Este in Tivoli. As promised, I have come back to turn this stone over.

 

Perhaps the best way to discuss the symbolism found at Villa d'Este is to take a look at some of the landscape's general qualities and its more significant garden features:

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

Scale and magnificence: As described in my last post, the gardens at Villa d'Este have conquered a small valley, spanning it with extensive terracing, paths, stairs, and rushing fountains. The scale and detail of the garden vanquish more than just the natural topography, however -- they also conquer the senses of each visitor that steps out the back door of the mansion. Forceful bursts of water, lush plantings, and intricate masonry exude a sense of power and seem to be dripping with wealth.

 


Images: Sam Valentine and Pirro Ligorio

 

La Rometta: Stepping out on to the palace's Gran Loggia is breathtaking and looking out over the landscape below lets a visitor quickly grasp its immense scale. The western end of the loggia allows more distant views toward Rome, and if one lingers at this manmade precipice for a bit longer he or she may spy this curious garden feature below, which is described in translation as "The Little Rome." To a native eye, La Rometta's various sculptures, miniaturized river, and boat-shaped island appear almost as a dollhouse version of the Italian capital city.



Images: Museo della Civiltà Romana, Étienne Dupérac, and Sam Valentine

 

Though the parallels have become a bit cloudier with time, the boat-shaped island in this section of the garden are a reference to one of Rome's more recognizable geographic features, Isola Tiburina (Tiber Island). From the vantage of the Gran Loggia and La Rometta, views to Rome are celebrated with a series of picture-window archways and railings.



Images: Sam Valentine

 

Location and context: The same picture windows that face Rome have another layer of significance - in the 1550's, when Villa d'Este was being located and first constructed, the town of Tivoli was best known as the home of a different, thousand-year-old garden: Hadrian's Villa. There is an unmistakable message in locating one's estate farther up the hill from one of the Roman Empire's most celebrated emperors.



Images: Sam Valentine and Robby Virus

 

Vatican influences: In all fairness, it was the distinctly recognizable features of the Dianna Efesina fountain and another ancient statue that triggered my larger recognition of "inspired" sculptures at Villa d'Este. I had the advantage of visiting the garden within a day of the Musei Vaticani, and though the homages, interpolations, and straight-up copies pose no real threat to the well protected original pieces, it sometimes seems that Villa d'Este has actually pillaged the Vatican.

 

The backstory: Being selected as pope in the 16th century was defined by much of the same religious veneration that the position holds today, but the position also carried immense political powers that have since faded. The man who built Villa d'Este (or, more accurately, had it built) was Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of a Cardinal and grandson of a pope. The garden was begun the same year that Ippolito was coming off a failed bid at the papacy, and it takes neither a historian or a psychologist to deduce that there was a bit of compensation at work in the creation of the gardens.

 

Landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers describes Villa d'Este as the product of "passionate obsession on the part of an owner willing to spend extraordinary sums of money and with the taste to hire the best design talent available," and the obsessive focus and ample resources are evident in every aspect of the garden. Like an example of "conspicuous construction" a bit closer to home, the fact that the motives may have been less than pure does not detract from the work's grandeur.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Posted by Sam Valentine on June 30, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

 

After navigating tight medieval streets, entering this Renaissance garden from the stately house above was a descent into a valley of spectacle, astonishment, and moments of elegance.

 


Images: Sam Valentine and Charlie Chapman

 

Really, to use the word "garden" does not quite do this landscape justice. Joining company with the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the pyramids of Egypt, Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy is one of only about a thousand historic sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a "World Heritage Site." UNESCO describes the landscape as "one of the most remarkable and comprehensive illustrations of Renaissance culture."

 

To gardeners, Villa d'Este -- or at least certain scenes from it -- might be quite familiar. As a visitor moves from the perched palace to landscape's heart, he or she passes through grottoes, terraces, and sloped walks before soon coming to one of the garden's most unique (and photogenic) features. The "Alley of the Hundred Fountains" is a long pathway measured off by a rhythm of many tiered water spouts. Each spout originates from a unique but congruent fountainhead set within lushly overgrown planted walls. I cannot say I counted all "hundred" fountains, but the visual impact of this space and the sensation of moving along it by far exceeded my expectations.

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

The landscape configuration seen today is the product of a long string of declines, renovations, and restorations, but it is clear that hierarchy was never Villa d'Este's strong suit. However, what the landscape lacks in focus or organized movement, it compensates for with aquatic feats and bold iconographic expressions of power. (I will explore each of these concepts in a following entry.)

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

After fully descending from the palace hillside, a visitor reaches the flat plain at the center of the garden. Here, at the geographic center of the estate, visitors finds themselves in the middle of another of the garden's celebrated views; the central axis of the garden steps from soaring fountains down to wide, reflective fish ponds. At a glance, these broad, formally framed pools are analogous to those seen in other Italian, French, and even American gardens, but its unique context sets it apart and it is really just one of dozens of powerful moments in this landscape. Perhaps another thing to keep in mind is its precedence: Villa d'Este was completed more than a hundred years before work began on French gardens like Versailles and two-hundred years before the United States was founded.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa Giulia, Rome

Posted by Sam Valentine on March 31, 2015 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Resisting the temptation to dedicate a third post to Sacro Bosco, this blog shifts focus to another villa garden of the same era. Unlike the rural Sacro Bosco, Villa Giulia sits just yards from the ancient Roman walls that mark the empire's center. The two villa gardens, which both came together in the mid-1500s, are vastly different in both conception and detailing, but their distinction goes far beyond a simple country mouse / city mouse dichotomy.



 


Located less than a three-mile walk from the Vatican, Villa Giulia was built as something of a papal way station. The garden is surrounded by and integrated with what naturally appears to be a residential structure, but as Elizabeth Barlow Rogers describes, the house serves "simply an accessory to the garden" and was built "not as a residence but as a place for papal entertainment."




Rogers' statement ranking landscape over structure is significant and also reassuring. To be honest, the garden is what brought me to Villa Giulia, and during my tour of it I was concerned I was missing something -- the "residence" consistently seemed like it was playing second fiddle. Villa Giulia is not a simple landscape, but to me it unfolded in five legible chapters.




Entering through a conventional, ornamental architectural facade, a visitor passes through a vestibule that gives way to a semicircular portico. Painted with intricate ceiling frescoes and faux-ancient murals reminiscent of those seen at Pompeii, these vaulted and column-lined walks sweep around an open courtyard.



The second chapter follows along the central axis established from the front door of the entry vestibule. Forward momentum carries a visitor from the dark, shady portico into a garden court with a clear sense of perimeter enclosure. The court tempts the eye of the visitor with five doorways and is otherwise encased above eye level. To the right and left, four openings offer invitations to side gardens, but these do not rival the allure of the formal, elevated loggia located on the central axis ahead.




Climbing a few steps to the columned loggia, one achieves a sense of arrival with a twist. Across an expanse, a Palladian porch comes into view, but the groundplane between the viewer and this feature falls suddenly away. Without a word of warning, the designer brings one to the edge of an unexpected two-story depression. Looking down from a stone balustrade, an highly ornamental grotto beckons.




Descending one of two flanking stairs, the fourth chapter is reached only by leaving the central axis. Stepping down over stone and herringbone-brick stairs, the increase in coolness and moisture is noteworthy. Even with a relatively recent algae-scrubbing that Rogers describes in her book, this grotto, or "nymphaeum," has a vibrant but constrained wildness to it. The grotto is the most iconic moment of the garden, and it is interesting that the designer chose the lowest point, topographically, to serve as the summit of the villa's dramatic sequence.


 

The fifth and final chapter is a courtyard beyond the Palladian porch. Not directly accessible from the main axis and partially concealed from view, my impression was that this space was envisioned as a secondary, semi-private courtyard. (If entrance to this space was supposed to be part of the sequenced narrative, I would assess that this goal was poorly executed.) The porch and the court beyond it overlooks the grotto from an opposing angle, and maintains a strong relationship to the loggia. Perhaps from this perch, experienced visitors could be entertained by the dropping jaws of new arrivals.


A quick comparison of the photos in this blog to those from my previous two posts demonstrates that there are pronounced ornamental differences between Villa Giulia and Sacro Bosco. Having visited the two only days apart, I was surprised to learn that it is not the presence or lack of carved-stone "monsters" that drives this distinction. Next to the carefully scripted sequence of movement through Villa Giulia, Sacro Bosco, and perhaps most other gardens, feel like an improvisational -- and perhaps less masterful -- performance.