Our summer holiday this year was to Lago di Garda, or Lake Garda, in northern Italy. It’s not an area we’ve been to before, France being our usual summer holiday haunt. It’s extraordinarily beautiful, the mountains, lake and sunshine making a knock-out combination.

We had a lovely fortnight and close to the end of the trip I managed to sneak away for a few hours to visit the Heller Gardens in Gardone, a few miles down the shore from our holiday house. Gardone is famous locally for its terraced gardens, the Heller Gardens sit just back from those.

The gardens are in the grounds of a private house, covering a reasonably compact 2 acres, approximately. There is a helluva (Heller-va?) lot crammed into this space, with different zones hosting planting from different parts of the world. The gardens are named after Andre Heller, the owner of the house since 1989, an international artist. The gardens were originally developed by the first owner of the property, Arturo Hruska. I won’t attempt to give an exhaustive tour, nor am I qualified to pontificate about what was good or bad about how it was layed out, but I can give you the highlights of my visit, the things that appealed to me most.

Fair warning, there are a lot of photos in this post – I hope your broadband is well oiled!

As might be expected of a garden this age, much of the planting is very well established. Near the entrance there is a shady bamboo plantation, with some impressive looking clumps of enormous bamboo. I’ve never seen them in the wild, but this is how I imagine they look. We were just missing a giant panda for the full effect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They are very tall, and one can very quickly see how bamboo can be pressed into service as scaffold poles – they are a very substantial size. I particularly like the way the bright summer light shines through the grove.

It was mid August when I visited. I was a little surprised to find that not a great deal was flowering. There were plenty of plants that were flowering, scattered about, but I suppose I just thought it would be a floral extravanganza, given the climate.

Perhaps it was a timing issue, perhaps April to June are peak flower there. Or perhaps the owner prefers to major on form and foliage – there is some evidence to suggest that might be the case, but more on that later.

I was so busy wandering around going “ooh” and “aah” that I forgot to pay much attention to plant labels. You’ll just have to go yourself.

The garden has many statues and art installations dotted around the gardens.

I’m afraid the adolescent in me couldn’t help particularly liking the priapic goat.


Adding to the general feel of botanical abundance were a number of plants dangling from the trunks of trees and other protuberances.

I don’t know how old this wisteria is but it is yuuuge! The central trunk in the pictures belongs to the host tree, but everything else belongs to its passenger. I can only imagine how splendid this looks earlier in the year when I assume it is in flower. It’s a truly impressive thing, making the 7 year old wisteria in my back garden look decidedly spindly.

As a highly amateur gardener with a basic but developing idea of what makes a good plant, it was something of an eye opener to see the impact of varying shapes of plants, form and colour of their leaves and the contrasts of the same between plants.

I need to add more foliage plants at home.

I was surprised by how well the garden uses height for effect. This is truly a three-dimensional garden, where the garden stretches well above a traditional border height. This is achieved through both planting and topography. I’m not sure if the hills and rock-outcroppings, all heavily planted, are artificially placed or just part of the original landscape, but the effect is pleasing.

There are a number of places where precarious looking paths are provided to clamber up to the top of said outcroppings. This allows both a closer look and a more panoramic view of the surroundings.

I’ll finish off with some seed heads.

There’s a lot crammed in to the two acres, over 3000 plants apparently. I enjoyed my visit, I hope you enjoyed my recollections and a sample of the photos I took on the day.

I’ll be back soon with more garden nonsense.