“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,”
Giardino Giusti is an oasis of glorious green.
When a garden survives for five centuries, I know the beauty in front of me must include an equally fascinating story behind its creation. “Agostino Giusti was a Knight of the Venetian Republic and Squire of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the man responsible for the design of this lovely garden. Laid out in 1570 with all the quintessential Italian charm of that period.” (Kate Wickers, 5.7. ’12, Italy Magazine) He was a master at wool dyeing, making fashionable colors and selling it for uses of the day. He led the effort to build a wool merchants cooperative helping all maximize their fortune. His success allowed him to build a grand Palazzo, and behind his house, he created his garden.
Renaissance gardens in the 15th century were a place for outdoor living and grand parties. Achieving power over nature by arranging a spectacular garden was the way to impress all those deemed worthy enough to be invited to a garden party. One impressive element in Giardino Giusti is a grotesque mask carved in the stone of the hillside.
The fearsome mask designed with a firebox behind, could upon command, shoot flames from the mouth, startling the party guests below.
The pathway or vale leading up to this mask is framed by Italian Cypress, enclosing you in a long avenue of green. Even today, the grotesque is a formidable sight; I can’t imagine the effect on unsuspecting guests seeing shooting flames in the dark of night coming from the pinnacle of the garden.
Italian Renaissance gardens, influenced by the powerful banking and art patron family, the Medici, are distinctively geometric. Straight lines and symmetry with specific angles define the style. This look is achieved with evergreen plants used as hedges and designed to be viewed from above, looking good any time of the year.
Plants, such as boxwood, gerrymander, and cotton lavender, are often used. Within these defined patterns, the green is accented with topiary and statuary. Parterre, Latin for per terre or “on the ground” is the term used for describing these patterned beds planted and clipped into form. There is an influence of Persian gardens in the layout of these squares, each divided by four, creating symmetrical designs mirroring each side. There are the classic white statues representing Diana, Venus, Atalanta, Apollo, and Adonis, signs of the education and sophistication of those who lived here. Today, nearby Diana, a woman sits on a bench doing her knitting. She seems unimpressed by this touch of classic prestige.
The walk up the hill is a gradual climb, broken up by a section of wide formal stairs. At the top is a classic pavilion, and there you choose a path. To the left you will reach the hilltop loggia, or the right you find the grottos, carved into the stone hillside offering a cooling hideaway.
From the high loggia, there is shade from the sun and a splendid view of Verona rooftops and bell towers.
Color in a renaissance garden is carefully staged. The weathered walls of a hilltop loggia are deep spicy coral. To the side of the garden are former wool working buildings with aged walls of golden yellow, deep rosy terra cotta, and gold window trim. The hillside below is a drift of colorful perennials. The bright walls peeking through the green cypress is a striking sight.
Whether as a guest in the 15th century or a visitor today, it is a green oasis, a refuge. Our visit was on blue sky Sunday afternoon in October. When we finally left this garden and walked down into the city of Verona, it was so crowded we could hardly keep walking forward. Verona is a popular tourist destination. Here is a Roman amphitheater, still used today for Opera performances. There are the Gothic graves of the historically significant Scaligeri family, elevated in death so they could always be superior to the ordinary citizens. There are ancient fountains, the famous Piazzas, and supposedly the balcony where Juliet called out to Romeo, but for me, nothing is as beautiful as Giusti Garden.