Combining simple shapes, strong flower colors, scent and practicality, an Italian garden should look effortlessly stylish. Traditionally, an Italian garden occupies a sun-baked site such as a south-facing courtyard, but you can landscape any bright, warm spot, such as a sunny patio or an enclosed corner, in this style. Select plants that thrive in Mediterranean climates and add sun-bleached terracotta containers, simple urns or statues from Roman mythology or history to complete the Italian look.
Formal evergreen shrubs or small trees create structure in an Italian garden. Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) grows naturally into a tall, slim, columnar form, its upright branches covered in dense, dark gray-green foliage. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, Italian cypress grows 40 to 60 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide. Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) naturally forms a pyramidal shape or can be pruned into another form. Providing bay leaves for the kitchen, bay laurel grows in USDA zones 8 through 10 and grows 10 to 30 feet tall and 5 to 20 feet wide when not pruned.
Contrasting with the sun-bleached backdrop of an Italian garden, bold flowers provide bright spots of color. Bush clover "Little Buddy" (Lespedeza bicolor "Little Buddy") bears clusters of rose-purple flowers up to 5 inches long in late summer. Growing 24 to 36 inches tall and wide, "Little Buddy" grows in USDA zones 4 through 8. Also adding vibrant color to hot summer afternoons, coneflower "Magnus" (Echinacea purpurea "Magnus") bears dark-centered, rosy purple, daisylike flowers early through late summer. Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, "Magnus" grows 30 to 36 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide.
Sometimes neglected in garden planning, fragrance is an essential ingredient in an Italian garden. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 8, provides the first scent of the year with its fragrant, creamy-white flowers that appear before its leaves in early spring. Growing 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, an established winter honeysuckle provides plenty of flowering stems to cut and bring indoors. Giant hyssop "Summer Breeze" (Agastache "Summer Breeze") continues the scented theme into summer, bearing orchid pink, fragrant, tubular flowers on spikes up to 36 inches tall. Growing 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, "Summer Breeze" grows in USDA zones 6 through 9.
A Taste of Italy
An Italian garden can be practical as well as beautiful by providing herbs. Perennial herbs that thrive in the hot, dry Mediterranean climate include fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 9, and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), which grows in USDA zones 8 through 10. Fennel grows 4 to 6 feet tall and 1 1/2 to 3 feet wide, and provides anise-flavored, feathery foliage and aromatic seeds, or you can grow it as a vegetable for its underground bulb. Rosemary grows 2 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide, and bears intensely scented foliage. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) also thrive in an Italian garden, providing onion-flavored stems and pale purple spring flowers. Chives grow in USDA zones 4 through 8.