They gathered guide books and regional maps, and pinpointed interesting locations-and airports, since easy access was a criterion. But for all the logistical forethought and research, in the end it came down to a dinner-party introduction to someone who owned a farmhouse in Umbria. He, in turn, was the key to the realization of the couple's dream: the geometra, or building surveyor. For Lucy and Marvin, this was Antonio Marriotti, whose main professional interest is the renovation and restoration of vintage buildings. In 1991, Marriotti took the couple to a rundown property, San Pietro Colle di Sole (loosely translated as St. Peter's Sunny Hilltop), an amalgam of traditional Umbrian structures, including a rustic 11th-century chapel and a 15th-century farm dwelling that had been enlarged in the 18th century to incorporate animal stalls on the ground level below the main living areas. It was near the city of Città di Castello in the foothills of the Umbrian Apennines.
"The sale of the house was complete on December 21st," says Lucy. "We celebrated with Tonio in the local café and started thinking about what needed to be done-not only to the buildings but also to the garden. That's when we realized we had no sense of what to do!"
"But then," continues Marvin, "we were introduced to Don Leevers." The couple spent a week at Venzano, Leevers' home and nursery near Volterra in Tuscany, and the three started working out what they wanted. Thanks to Leevers' guidance and design, today a visit to San Pietro is like stepping back in time. Italian garden history virtually begins with the garden of Pliny the Younger, a 1st-century Roman orator and statesman who built a country villa near Città di Castello and treated the garden as a natural extension of the house-with outdoor rooms walled by tall hedges and connected by gravel and marble-paved pathways. Similarly, San Pietro's 21st-century garden unfolds from the house in a series of flower-filled rooms laid within a framework of gravel paths-shaded, as they would have been in Pliny's garden-by vine-covered pergolas.
From the beginning, the couple knew they wanted a garden that would last through the summer, which meant it would have to have an irrigation system. Second, they wanted a pergola-covered terrace for outdoor living, and third, the garden plan had to make the most of San Pietro's hilltop site, with its panoramic views across the nearby valley of the Soara River and down the Tiber valley-a view that Pliny probably enjoyed.