Love all things Mediterranean? Then you need an Italian Nonna Chic garden

The Italian Nonna Chic garden is at the top of our list of Mediterranean garden ideas

Close up of the plants and stoneware table in RHS Chelsea's The Mediterranean Garden
(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

It's official: the Italian Nonna Chic garden just leapt to the top of our list of must-try garden ideas.

Inspired by the homes of Italian grandmothers, this is one of those gorgeously sensory garden trends that prioritise fragrant plants, vibrant colours, and all the warmth and atmosphere that comes hand-in-hand with a summer holiday to Calabria.

In short, it's giving us serious Mediterranean garden vibes – but with a little added non so che.

A potted lavender sits next to some terracotta pots in the Mediterranean Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Future / Heather Young)

'In the south of Italy, life is lived outside most of the year,' says lifestyle and travel writer Alessia Armenise, who pens missives about her hometown in Southern Italy via The Toe newsletter on Substack.

Alessia Armenise
Alessia Armenise

Born and raised in Southern Italy, Alessia is a talented trilingual writer and editor, as well as an expert in all things lifestyle and travel-related. To learn more from her, you can subscribe to her newsletter, The Toe, read her webzine, Pretty Slow Life, or listen to her podcast, Pretty Good Business.

'Everyone has seen at least a picture of an Italian grandma sitting outside her door, often with friends, just chatting and people-watching,' continues Alessia. 

'The 'indoor-outdoor' is a typical and essential part of life in the south, and the garden, or terrace, is where most of the family life happens.'

The Italian Nonna Chic Garden

The Italian Nonna Chic trend 'celebrates the classic southern Italian vibes and colours,' explains Alessia, which means it is very easy to recreate inside our homes.

However, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to our gardens – although an outdoor dining area filled with colourful linens, hand-blown glassware, and posy-filled vases to create inviting tablescapes is a good place to start.

Terracotta ombre wall

(Image credit: Future / Heather Young)

'You want colourful ceramics bowls made to contain pasta to share with family during sunny lunches under the pergola,' says Alessia.

'You also need simple yet flamboyant pots and objects to decorate your garden, as this will help all the warmth of the Mediterranean lifestyle to any household (even in the UK!).

It is safe to say that Italian Nonna Chic is as much a way of living as it is an aesthetic.

'The status quo of celebrating family and friendship – sharing good times, good food and good wine – is certainly woven into Mediterranean culture,' says Morris Hankinson, founder and managing director at Hopes Grove Nurseries.

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

After graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex in 1992, Morris Hankinson established the award-winning nursery Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, on a half-acre plot at the 25-acre family farm in Tenterden, Kent. He is now the director of the successful business, which remains to this day the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants.

'You can carry all of these traditional, eclectic themes over to your backyard by using Mediterranean plants and dressing up an outdoor eating area on a sunny terrace,' adds Morris.

Creating your own Italian Nonna Chic garden

Keen to get started on your very own Italian Nonna Chic garden? Well, it's important to remember that it's not just about the colourful table at the centre of things (although that is very important!): it actually all comes down to the plants you choose. 

Think about it: Italy is famed for its beautiful and endless summers, which means you should focus your attentions on drought-tolerant summer plants that can withstand the heat. 

That being said, 'Italians also have some chilly winters, so your choices will need to be tough and hardy, too,' advises Morris.

Tricky, right? Here's our pick of the plants you need to nail the trend.

1. Keep it evergreen

The Val d'Orcia in Tuscany. The area has been protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The landscape's distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes.

(Image credit: Getty)

The Val d'Orcia in Tuscany (as seen above) has become synonymous with a beautiful Renaissance landscape – and, while a lot of its UNESCO-approved charms are down to its rolling and undulating hills, the cypress trees planted all around it are also a VBD.

With that in mind, then, you should start planning your Italian Nonna Chic garden with some traditional evergreen structure plants for height and effect.

'I love the gorgeous pencil shaped Italian Cypress trees,' says Morris. 'If space is an issue, you can grow them in large terracotta pots.'

Italian cypress | from £24.99 on Crocus

Italian cypress | from £24.99 on Crocus

This evergreen Italian cypress is guaranteed to give you a gorgeously green and shady spot, no matter how hot the thermostat gets. Still, it's important to remember that it performs best in a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil. 

Alternatively, you could try a Pittosporum tobira Nana, which is ideal for smaller plots.'

Of course, if you are looking for the best trees for small gardens, then you could instead opt for a single potted olive tree or two.

Ideally, Morris says, you want to source an old one with a strikingly gnarly trunk for true Mediterranean vibes.

2. Try your hand at topiary

Two bay trees in pots on either side of door

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

A well-tended topiary is one of those plants that will add value to your home, so it's a definite no-brainer to add one to your Italian Nonna Chic garden.

'No traditional Italian-inspired garden would be complete without some topiary,' says Morris. 

'To keep everything on the right theme, I would suggest bay laurel, myrtle, or the lesser known but equally on trend jasmine box that was very extensively planted in countless historical gardens.'

3. Add some shade (and scent!)

Flowering jasmine flowers clambering up a green wall in Montenegro

(Image credit: Getty)

Much like the erotic garden trend, the Italian Nonna Chic garden challenges us to think about using plants that will intoxicate all of the senses – especially scent.

'Some shade will be welcome on the hottest days, so a pergola idea should be on the list, ideally clothed with the deliciously scented star jasmine,' says Morris. 

This delightful evergreen climber will be laden with perfumed white flowers from June until autumn, so it's an excellent choice if you're planning on hosting some late summer parties in your new Mediterranean-inspired backyard.

'Perhaps you could add an evergreen clematis for some flowers in the winter and spring too, just for good measure,' muses Morris.

4. Fill in the gaps of your Italian-inspired tapestry garden

purple flowers white flowers greenery close up

(Image credit: Future PLC / Claire Lloyd-Davies)

All that remains now is to fill in the smaller gaps of your Italian inspired tapestry of plants. And, if you have been busy taking lavender cuttings this summer, you'll be undoubtedly pleased to know you can put them to good use in your Italian Nonna Chic garden.

'Keeping to the traditional Italian theme, I suggest you go for cotton lavender, lavenders, and bears breeches,' says Morris.

Lavender 'Munstead'| from £7.99 at Crocus

Lavender 'Munstead'| from £7.99 at Crocus

This compact lavender produces dense spikes of fragrant, bluish-purple summer flowers above slender, aromatic, grey-green leaves. Perfect for edging paths and borders!

It is also worth mining your list of herb garden ideas for inspiration, as planting oregano, rosemary and thyme around your seating area isn't just a great way to create a functional kitchen garden paving (something any Italian Nonna would approve of).

In fact, if you position them just right, they should release their scent when your guests brush past to get to their seats. Another sensory win!

garden with blue painted wall and fireplace table and chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC / Claire Lloyd-Davies)

Of course, the centrepiece amid all these plants should be a welcoming dining area (check out our pick of the best garden furniture if you need inspiration).

Whichever garden table you choose, be sure to keep yours looking warm and relaxed with linen tablecloths, coloured glassware, stoneware jugs, fresh flowers and candles aplenty. And remember: the most important thing on that table, if you ask any Italian Nonna, is the food and drink itself.

Join us in looking to the Pasta Grannies for a few tips on how to do this well. Fresh salad, warm breads, and homemade spaghetti, anyone? 

What does nonna mean in Italy?

As you've likely guessed, nonna is the Italian word for grandmother. Which means, yes, that this trend is all about embracing the home of the Italian matriarch.

What is the Italian Nonna Chic trend?

The Nonna Chic trend, inspired by the warm and welcoming homes of Italian grandmothers (as well as the importance they place on family gatherings and Italian gastronomy), is a timeless trend that is immediately evocative of a time and a location.

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.