Carlo GabrieleSa Pedra Arrubia: Maurizio Usai’s garden

Sometimes I just need to take a quick look at a garden to understand the personality of its owner. I don’t think it’s because I am particularly intuitive; it’s more that for some gardens the aim of the design is so clear and easy to interpret. This is what happened when I visited the garden of Maurizio Usai.
Maurizio is a landscape designer who I admire greatly, partly because he was born in Sardinia like me, but also because he took the brave decision to live and work in Sardinia where the landscape industry is quite modest. Despite this he has designed many beautiful gardens at home, across Italy and abroad.

Maurizio Usai

Maurizio Usai

Last May I was in Sardinia and I decided that it was the right time to view one of Maurizio’s gardens at Solana. The road trip to Solana, a small town on the south east coast, is incredibly charming; the road flows sinuously between the sea and the Mediterranean bush. At the time of year I travelled the road is flanked by an explosion of vivid red spots of Euphorbia amongst the lush green of Pistacia and Myrtus and the muted grey Helichrysum. The scent is distinctive, sea salt blended with liquorice from the Helichrysum, creating a ‘heady’ atmosphere that is unforgettable.

The Hot Border at La Pietra Rossa, Sardinia Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

The Hot Border at La Pietra Rossa, Sardinia Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

Maurizio warmly welcomed me at the entrance to his garden and I immediately liked him. We started talking about everything: about him, me, gardens, my choices and his ones. In the meantime I was thinking that we couldn’t have had that conversation in a better place: a magnificent profusion of plants and flowers.

Native grasses and sweet peas in the Rose Walk at La Pietra Rossa in early June - Photo & design Maurizio Usai

Native grasses and sweet peas in the Rose Walk at La Pietra Rossa in early June – Photo & design Maurizio Usai

Echium simplex and Rosa Gigantea 'Follette' in the evening light - La Pietra Rossa, Italy - Photo & design Maurizio Usai

Echium simplex and Rosa Gigantea ‘Follette’ in the evening light – La Pietra Rossa, Italy – Photo & design Maurizio Usai

He told me that the garden was born initially to collect and trial over a thousand plant species, many of which were exotic. He wanted to assess the adaptability of some of these plants to the Mediterranean climate, which is very dry and hot, especially in summer. I must confess that at times my attention drifted to the amazing garden that we were walking through and some of his words were lost on me. I was fascinated by the vast array of plants: English roses, towering Echium simplex (his signature), Iris, Farfugium, Phormium and Centranthus. It’s a triumph of different shapes and textures and extremely complex, and yet it looks quite simple and natural.

Pinks & reds - La Pietra Rossa, Italy - Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

Pinks & reds – La Pietra Rossa, Italy – Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

The garden is divided into seven rooms: one for the shady plants, another for warm-coloured flowering plants, a rose garden, a Mediterranean garden, a small garden with Helleborus, Iris and Aquilegia, and the main entrance garden. Each room is characterized by a colour scheme. For example in the main entrance Maurizio has chosen a gradation going from pink to purple.

The aquatic garden Photo & design Maurizio Usai

The aquatic garden Photo & design Maurizio Usai

The way he has laid out the garden entices you to discover every single part of it: sometimes it’s created by a view that reveals a marvellous collection of plants, or perhaps it’s a shady pathway that irresistibly attracts you, or maybe it’s a scent that guides you through mysterious masses of plants. The English inspiration is very apparent and you can easily see it in the use of mixed borders and the colour palette. Maurizio has reinterpreted the English plant palette to sympathize with the Mediterranean climate with its striking, vivid light. Such adaption provides a useful lesson that has good application here in Australia as we look to use exotic plant species in our gardens.

Tea Roses, Le Vésuve & Archiduc Joseph - La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

Tea Roses, Le Vésuve & Archiduc Joseph – La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

Tea Rose 'Le Vesuve', Pennisetum 'T all Tails' and Anisodontea 'El Rojo' in mid July - La Pietra Rossa, Italy - Photo & design Maurizio Usai

Tea Rose ‘Le Vesuve’, Pennisetum ‘T all Tails’ and Anisodontea ‘El Rojo’ in mid July – La Pietra Rossa, Italy – Photo & design Maurizio Usai

The dialog with the landscape is interesting: Maurizio named the garden ‘Pedra Arrubia‘ (red stone), from the local stone widely used to build walls and pathways. Crushed red rock has been used to form paths through a garden that is framed by evergreen hedges that abate from time to time to allow views to the amazing borrowed landscape beyond.

Mediterranean Garden Gravel Garden - La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & design Maurizio Usai

Mediterranean Garden Gravel Garden – La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & design Maurizio Usai

'Follette', chair and reflections in the Pool Garden - La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

‘Follette’, chair and reflections in the Pool Garden – La Pietra Rossa, Italy Photo & Design Maurizio Usai

At the end of my visit, while I was saying thank you to Maurizio, I realized that his garden is exactly like him: ambitious, stubborn, complex and happy.

[For more information about Maurizio Usai, see his personal Facebook page, and also his landscape design business, La Pietra Rossa]

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Carlo Gabriele

About Carlo Gabriele

Carlo Gabriele is a landscape designer from Milan, Italy, with formal qualifications in Agronomy and Landscape Design. After completing his schooling he worked with notable Italian designer Niccolo Grassi on many high profile projects within Italy and abroad which have received a lot of media attention in Marie Claire, Maison, Elle Decoration, Vanity Fair, Gardenia and Home Beautiful. In 2010 Carlo started his own design firm, Carlo Gabriele Architettura dei Giardini, designing outdoor spaces from tiny intimate courtyards to entire city parks. He has also designed striking outdoor furniture and exquisite pots; the latter have been produced and sold by the Italian company Laboratorio San Rocco. Most recently Carlo moved to Melbourne Australia where he has established his design company Carlo Gabriele Gardens.

4 thoughts on “Sa Pedra Arrubia: Maurizio Usai’s garden

  1. Love this post. The garden looks amazing and is right up my alley because I like a garden packed full of interest but planted carefully with colour theming and growing conditions attended to. I’d guarantee that Maurizio’s garden is chock full of wildlife. My only comment is that I would have liked some of the plants pictured to be named, specially the pink rose. Thank you Carlo.

    • carlo gabriele on said:

      Dear Peta, you are absolutely right: the garden of Maurizio is full of life. And joy. It’s a magical place where you can feel passion, love, peace and balance.
      Talking about plants, I suppose you are talking about the two Roses in the 7th and 8th pictures: in the first picture they are all both Tea Roses, Le Vésuve & Archiduc Joseph; in the second one it’s again Le Vésuve.
      The rose in the last picture is ‘La Follette’, a modern climber.
      Let me know if you need more info!

  2. This looks wonderful! The plants are so rich and I love the stone path through the Hot Garden, and the gravelling in the Mediterranean Gravel Garden. I am wondering what the rainfall is like in Sardinia – does he need to do a lot of watering, or does the soil look after the plants?

  3. carlo gabriele on said:

    Dear Anne, it is wonderful! Rainfall in Sardinia is really modest, and very similar to the Melbourne region. All the plants are drought resistent and once they are established they are able to survive using the water in the soil and irrigation just when it’s needed.

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