Steve Martino: desert gardens

I have always been delighted with the graceful form, vibrant colour and modernist shapes that constitute the very personal aesthetic of the landscape architect Steve Martino.

Simple selections of form, plants that hold the space visually and structurally, are enhanced by bursts of colour and strongly toned contrasts.

Below is a selection of garden projects that marry  formality with the poetry of desert light. The wild and sharp features of the planting, organised against the planes of built  and naturally occurring colour, are some of esterni's favourite juxtapositions in residential garden design.

All images courtesy of

Carlo Scarpa & Fernando Caruncho- water

In this post- we're having a short break in the next couple of weeks - I would like to speculate on connections between the architect Carlo Scarpa's and the garden architect Fernando Caruncho's use of water. This is prompted by an interesting post by an architecture student at Curtin University, Australia, blogging at architecture moves us. I am indebted to him for the use of the images below:

Here is his quote:

Born as Venetian, water is one of the greatest elements of Carlo Scarpa’s architecture. The cemetery is carved with a series of everflowing canals; sometimes flowing aside the path and sometimes within a pond surrounding the steps and pavillion.

This put me in mind of Caruncho's equally impressive, but more positive and sundrenched water parterres, large and reflecting to Scarpa's minimal but exquisitely detailed.

S'Agao garden
Caruncho garden

And in turn, there is something about how both these men imagine and build with water which reminds me of Calvino's meanderings in recollecting the city of venice...

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

Quote from review for Invisible Cities,

Happy summer break, see you at the beginning of September.

Italian echoes in a grotto at Stowe Landscape gardens

During this Easter there has been much gardening and visiting of open gardens and National Trust properties. Some time ago, I heard garden designer Chris Beardshaw talk on Gardener's Question Time of his initial interest in gardens being inspired by Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire, and so went to visit last week.

The large proportions of the landscape are  brought into human scale by the follies, ornamental monuments and pleasure temples dotted around the estate. The naturalistic style of the landscape is punctuated by large trees and shrubberies of box, yew and mixed native species, within which the garden buildings contrast their geometric, architectural forms. This is quite reminiscent of the renaissance approach seen in some of the Bosco Sacro gardens in Tuscany, where the esterni design influences are well embedded!

Among these we came across an Italianate grotto, of which we may see other lovely examples in Monty Don's current programme on Italian Gardens.

The grotto is unusual in that it is a semicircular shape, and that it is reminiscent of a mosaic decoration as seen in the roman villas of Southern Sicily, but it is entirely made of coloured pebbles set in pale, old cement mix.

We propose it in our blog as it has a light contemporary feel, and it is something that could be included in the treatment of pebbled flooring...a contemporary approach to decoration-  coat of arms may also be applicable.....

Landscaping ideas: a Hampshire school

A less insitutionalised approach to designing for  schools is something the esterni partnership have been interested in for a long time.

Urban greening is one of our key messages, and we now have an opportunity to suggest some starting points for discussion at a local school.

The site is relatively modern, dating from the 1970's, with extensions and additions in brick and render.

The entrance to the school is currently dominated by a car park, and rather threadbare grassy islands. The brief was to introduce the ethos of learning and nature, starting from the physical approach to the school.

The suggestions you see below are designed to provide a welcome into the school grounds, emphasise the idea of multiple forms of learning and provide shade and seating for waiting parents.

Here is our initial report: if you like or use the images, please send a trackback to this site.

Alternatively, if you think we can help with your exterior projects, send and e-mail to

esterni design partnership report Western primary