Landscaping plants for Italianate design homes

Governor Ross Mansion, Seaford, DE
Italianate architecture, popular in America between 1840 and 1890, was often surrounded with elegant landscaping. Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), who was considered a landscape architect more than a landscape designer, designed houses and companion landscaping that placed people in nature, which he believed created a healing effect. You can create period-specific landscape designs for your Italianate style home using many of the same varieties of plants, shrubs and trees recommended by Downing and others.

The Setting

Downing’s perception of a landscape for Italianate-style houses was of a large lawn surrounded by trees, neatly cut grass or flower gardens. The house, which would be a “cheerful, mellow hue” and never white according to Downing, may have one or more porches, usually covered for use during hot weather. In addition, at the side of the house off the drawing room (living room as the modern-day equivalent), a large area of grass or a brick or stone patio would be surrounded with a low wall of brick, stone or heavy balustrade to create an outdoor space for family and guests. Pilasters (square pillar or pedestal) would support stone vases to grow flowers. Walkways were made of gravel or, for the more affluent, brick or stone.

Italianate architecture was popular during the Victorian era—a time when a “kitchen garden” at the rear of the house would grow vegetables destined for the table, flowers for cutting, or herbs for medicinal or fragrant benefits. The flower or herb garden, which was closer to the Italianate-style house than the vegetable garden, was designed in concentric circles or quads with a fountain or other focal point at the hub.

Trees and Shrubs

Shade trees recommended for an Italianate-style house include Lombardy poplar, elm, oak, horse chestnut and maple. Fruit trees and nut trees like cherry, plum, peach, apple or walnut might appear at the rear of house. Shrub options include columnar Irish yew for privacy or to give height at the front of house, junipers as foundation shrubs, or laurels for the landscape or for large pots to pair on opposite sides of walkway.

Flowers and Herbs

Flowers specific to the Italianate design and Victorian era would include marigolds, coreopsis, peony, pansy, daisy, verbena, petunia, geranium, snowdrop, aster, phlox or clematis. Additional flowering plants include candytuft or sweet alyssum for ground cover, or bulb plants like hyacinth, tulips, crocus, daffodils or lily.

Herbs could include lavender, purple coneflower (Echinacea), chives, dill, thyme, chamomile, sage, scented geranium, primrose, foxglove, yarrow, parsley, feverfew or peppermint.

Landscaping Plants for Mid-Atlantic to South Atlantic Coastal Areas