Siena may be famous for its medieval history, quaint cobblestone streets and beloved Palio horse race, but the city is also home to incredible gardens. Their variety of green spaces offer the chance to relax under the rare and beautiful trees, surrounded by the history they’re steeped in.
You can visit the Botanical Museum and Garden at the University of Siena: founded in 1856, the botanical garden extends for 2.5 hectares and is located just outside the city walls. Here, you can find more than 2,000 plant species, like exotic cactus plants, Tuscan ferns, fruit trees, beech trees, white firs and plants used for food, fodder and to make textiles. You can also admire Ginkgo biloba, giant sequoias, junipers, unique plants that were already around in the 1800s like the well-known quince, honey locust and the fascinating Osage orange.
The herbarium, known as the Herbarium Universitatis Senensis, is where more than 90,000 dried plants are kept. The garden’s greenhouse (built in 1875) is a must-see, which replicates the warm and wet climate characteristic of forests on the equator, as is the tepidarium and the limonaia.
Garden-goers will love taking a stroll around the grounds of Villa di Vicobello. Landscaping of this 16th-century garden is credited to Baldassare Peruzzi and the guests can still see traces of its classic Italian style, depite some variations made with the passing of time. The garden boasts a myriad of natural beauties, from lemon trees in large baked clay vases to terraced gardens. Visit also the greenhouse for orchids and other exotic plants.
Belcaro Castello, just outside Siena in Costafabbri,was once a medieval hamlet that was transformed into a country villa by Baldassarre Peruzzi. Take a stroll down the tree-lined avenue surrounding the castle, which hosts many of the conifers that were typical in the 19th century local parks, including black cypress, Arizona cypress, cedars and firs. Inside the castle walls, you’ll find a “secret garden” with geometric flower beds surrounded by forest brush and potted lemon trees.
Celsa Castle in Sovicille has a Neo-Gothic garden surrounding a medieval castle. Its vast terraced Renaissance garden was perhaps created by Peruzzi. Within its balustrade walls you can find geometric labyrinth-style designs made with shrubbery. Many of its architectural elements recall 17th-century styles, while its natural elements, including cypress and cedar trees, are the result of a 19th-century landscaping, when the area was used as a hunting ground.
The grandiose Villa di Cetinale in Sovicille, a few kilometres west of Siena, was designed by Carlo Fontana, a disciple of Bernini. Its vast 18th-century park is divided in different parts and is full of religious symbols, while the garden surrounding the villa boasts a Renaissance style. Behind the villa, you can see an avenue of cypresses that leads to an upward slope known as “La Santa Scala”. Thanks to cardinal Flavio Chigi, the garden now hosts a meditative woodsy area known as “Tebaide” that is decorated with numerous statues of saints.