Italian Water Garden

A long rectangular water garden of five pools and multiple fountains extends out in a large area surrounded by green trees under a blue sky
District
Lakes District
Style
Formal, Ornate, Romantic
Best Seasons to Visit
Summer
Scale
3.8 Acres

If you haven’t yet visited the Italian Water Garden, we’re almost sorry to ruin the surprise. With its sparkling blue-tiled pools, splashing fountains, and lush lawns, it is, in a word, sublime. Enclosed by pristine allées of littleleaf lindens and mature evergreens, this formal space, nestled between its naturalistic neighbors, evokes a tranquil grandeur—and the allure of a secret garden.

About This Garden

Simple tones of blue and green comprise the palette of this symmetrical and exquisite water garden, lively with 600 water jets and views of six pools and 12 pedestal basins. There is an old-world flair to the formality of the design, which features hand-carved stonework ornaments, copings, urns, pedestals, and fountainhead decorations from Italy and Philadelphia. A curvilinear water staircase and stone wall with arched recesses add to the distinguished feel of the space while supporting the southern terrace. Hand-pruned littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordata) provide a canopy on either side of the garden from spring through autumn—and during the winter months, their artfully manicured limbs add a sculptural element to the experience. 

Whether you enter from the wilds of the Meadow Garden to the north, from the lakes to the south, or from the woodlands of Peirce’s Woods or Peirce’s Park to the west, the contrast in garden design can’t be ignored. Part of what is so enchanting about the formal versus informal juxtaposition of these adjacent spaces is the sense of discovery it provides, particularly with the seasonal changes and all that they bring to the landscape. Especially lovely are the views of this garden from the terrace: Note the focal points of symmetry that lead one’s eye north to the distant Meadow Garden while still providing a sense of enclosure, with echoes of order seen in the shapes of the conical evergreens and the rows of lindens.

Please note: The water features of this garden can be enjoyed from mid-April until mid-October. The fountains are now off for the season and will return in spring 2023.

A Bit Of History

Inspired by a trip he’d taken in 1913 to the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy, Pierre planned every aspect of the project for what he would soon call “The Water Garden.”  From the sculptures to the engineering calculations, his attention to every detail was remarkable; he even determined that the northernmost pools should be built 14-feet longer than those to the south to counteract foreshortening from the viewing terrace. Alice is also believed to have influenced the design of the garden. During her 1922 visit to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, she wrote to Pierre expressing her admiration for the water features of the Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife gardens. She returned with photographs of the arched jets above the garden’s famed canal, which bear resemblance to those implemented along the rectangular pools in the Italian Water Garden.

Inevitably, by the late 1980s, improvements needed to be made owing to water leaks and the desire to modernize the mechanical and technological systems. Visually, however, the goal was to return the garden to its original appearance. Once construction began, all features of the garden were dismantled, and the Large Lake had to be dredged to accommodate the upgrades. The tiled pools were painstakingly put back together after new utilities were installed and the stone ornamentation was replaced. After years of intensive collaboration by many different teams, the Italian Water Garden reopened to the public in 1992, with additional repairs carried out a few years later.  The splendor of this garden has been enjoyed by our guests to this day.

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