Villa Borghese Museum Gardens, Rome

Here, grass grows through the boxwood. Would you let this happen in your garden?

In 1605, Cardinal Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, turned a former vineyard, in what was then, a hill on the outskirts of Rome, into immense gardens. In the 1800s, much of the gardens were changed to English-style gardens, as was the taste then. In 1903, the gardens were given to Rome, now the Villa Borghese Gardens. This is the second largest park in Italy, and it's huge. It is accessible in many places, most notably at the top of the Spanish Steps. It is a beautiful park of fountains, lakes, forests, an equestrian center, open fields, sports complexes, carnival rides for kids, rent-able bikes for four, museums, fine hotels and more. This is not a post about that.

Maybe it looks better from upstairs in the Villa. Up close, it needs some care.

In this spectacular park sits the Museum Borghese. The museum is the Borghese family collection of 16th and 17th century sculptures, paintings and other works. It’s one of the best private collections of art ever amassed in the in the world. The museum only allows 200 people every two hours and you have to have an appointment to get in–no walk-ups. The collection is well-represented with Berninis, Carvaggios, Raphaels, and more. Also stunning is the craftsmanship of the building itself. The interior is almost completely sheathed in a great variety of spectacular marble and incredible wall and ceiling paintings. Every room is a visual delight, and that's before you notice the incredible art collection hanging throughout. This is not a post about that.

The tiny beds hardly seem worth the effort.

This post is about the rather unimpressive gardens surrounding the Villa itself. Set around this world-class, magnificent museum–of some of the greatest art ever created, inside the Villa Borghese park–one of the most impressively-landscaped parks ever created on such a scale, is a sort of lame garden that is (or was not at the time of our visit) a not-well-cared-for garden.

The statues are a nice touch, they keep the attention off the garden. Maybe I need statuary to distract attention in my garden.

Behind the Villa is a typical boxwood-hedged knot garden. Boxwood surrounding lavenders–I could have done THAT! All the boxwood had weeds growing through them (seen in the photo at top). I've visited many gardens in my travels and have been in awe of the design & unusual plant selections–and this one sort of fell flat. I'm no connoisseur of gardens or a professional garden critic / historian, but if I'm not impressed, I can't imagine what a professional gardener writer would think.

In front of the Villa are symmetrical raised beds of... grass! Seems like potential squandered.

Beside the Villa is a vegetable and herb garden that seemed overly designed with elaborate beds–more fussy design than the knot garden! There were star-shaped beds, compass rose-shaped, and less-easily-defined bed shapes, beds of just grass, and many beds filled with low growing plants that just looked a bit messy. Upon close inspection, not many were weeded. This was August–to be fair–all of Rome was on vacation. Apparently the gardeners were too.

Lots of small beds! How much access to the untrimmed bush in the middle does one need?

I'm not one to complain too much, it's still nicer than my garden (in parts) but I expected so much more. Have you ever visited a garden with which you've been underwhelmed? Not counting family, of course.


  1. Jim,

    We LOVE the Borghese and get tickets every time we go to Rome. Bernini sculptures are my favorites.

    I have more photos of the gardens from ground level. I poked my camera through the fence (it was locked) to get the photos!

    Last time we were in Rome, we walked a few blocks from the Borghese to the Etruscan Museum. A small, out of the way place that doesn't get tourist traffic. It contains the best collection of finely detailed Etruscan tools, jewelry and other artifacts.

    My son claims that the reason he is an archaeologist is because I dragged him all over the world!


  2. Thank you for the 'Villa Borghese revisited' with your fantastic pictures Jim. It is a wonderful place! LOLove Tyra

  3. Glad to know I'm doing better (or at least as good as) the Villa when it comes to weeding grass out of my low hedges. Clearly they also don't get the idea of scale when it comes to gardening.

    As for disappointing gardens, perhaps Sonnenberg in Canandaigua. I haven't been there in a few years (5?) but much of it was heartbreakingly neglected — mostly issues of finance. They were slowly working to restore it but it looked like it might take forever.

    Similar issue at Stan Hywet in Akron — part resorted, part under restoration and will take some time to regrow into mature beauty, and the rest terribly neglected. It all falls apart so quickly, I hate to think about it ....

  4. I know this post isn't about the museum, but my comment is! :)
    In the 2.5 weeks my wife and I spent in Italy last summer, the Borghese Gallery was the best museum we had the pleasure of visiting. It topped the Vatican Museum with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, DaVinci's Last Supper in Milan and probably even Michelangelo's David in Florence (though that one is amazing, too). The Bernini statues in The Borghese Gallery are worth flying to Rome on their own.

  5. Linda Luna,
    Well thank you. From one person in advertising to another, I appreciate the compliment.

    There's nothing NOT to love about the museum's interiors. I poked my camera through the locked fence to the garden on the side of the museum too. I've never been to the Etruscan Museum. Next time.

    It is wonderful. The collection, and the interiors stay with you.

    Ms. Wis,
    I have not been to Sonnenberg, although I have no good reason not to. My in-laws live on Canandaigua Lake and I was just there this weekend. Elizabeth from's posted about Sonnenberg's dilapidated state in the past. I've never been to Stan Hywet. It doesn't take long for a garden to look worn around the edges.

    Not sure if it tops the Sistine Ceiling, or David (only in my estimation), but it is one of the better museums/collections I've ever had the privilege to visit. I have not yet sen the last Supper, although I've been to Milan a couple times.

  6. So sad that the gardens are so uninspiring and uncared for when they really could be amazing if someone cared enough. Now that museum...sigh...I would LOVE to see that museum Incredible.

    The last time I viewed a large public garden I was a toddler :) The closest ones are on the south coast of BC, about an eight hour drive for us (or more like 10 or 11 if our kids come too). I do plan to get down there someday and simply drink in those gorgeous gardens!


  7. Not sure why it is so fussy and neglected at the same time - maybe a gardeners' strike? Italy doesn't strike me as the most fabulous of gardening countries. But maybe I wasn't looking too hard when I was there, it was before I got bit by the gardening bug. Is that the park where there are all the statues with the noses knocked off? :)

  8. What a bummer! I know if I went to a big public garden and it was a weedy mess I'd be really bummed, especially if I'd gone a long way to get there. Unfortunately my *own* garden is a weedy (snowy) mess right now, so... eek.

  9. Blossom,
    Wow! You are REMOTE! An eight hour drive to see a large public garden? Thank goodness any good field or forest is just as interesting. And you want to drink in a gorgeous garden? I'd like to drink just about anyplace - a garden is best though.

    I was unimpressed by the public gardens I saw (excluding the Borghese Park). The private gardens are way cooler. Italy does have some spectacular gardens. We've visited some of the Villas around Lake Como that are stunning. These statues had noses.

    The benefit of snow is that you shouldn't be able to see the weeds! I think you need more snow.

  10. Blackberry brambles grew up through my boxwoods. I finally get rid of them. Those boxwoods in your photo of the museum garden need severe cutting back at the right time so they can thicken up again, and better pruning technique.

    You won't be seeing photos of mine until I apply that technique here in a few weeks and get them into shape.

    Thank you for commenting on Seedscatterer. You have to search out the right paperwhite cultivar that doesn't smell like the bottom of the dirty-clothes hamper. I was lucky this time. These don't have to bloom in the laundry room.

  11. It's been an amazing 'pop in' visit and my head is twirling, especially commenting on weeds in my garden ... :( Please visit in May for a tour with a glass of 'May Wine' (which softens weeds and makes all growing glow beautifully :)

    Happy New Year!

  12. Hi!
    These gardens do seem kind of small compared to the scale of everything else! Thanks for stopping by my place. Glad you DIDN'T use the Trumpet Vine, it's a very aggravating plant. Have a great New Year!!


  13. Jean,
    Brambles in the boxwoods... sounds like the title to a romance novel. The paperwhites were a gift. I'm not sure what we're getting ourselves into.

    Wine does soften the edges. And I've found that most of my friends are NOT gardeners and don't notice half the stuff I do. But if they do, I will offer them another drink.

    On our garden tour here, GArden Walk Buffalo, there are a few examples of spectacular trumpet vines - but you're right - they've taken over what ever they travel on

  14. I don't remember any interesting public gardens in Rome; in fact, private buildings seemed relatively free of decorative plantings.

    Sicliy and Amalfi were much more floriferous. In Rome there is so much more to see, so I didn't mind. I did notice tha lack and so did Amy when she visited.

  15. EAL,
    That's what I remember of Rome too. What little public gardens I saw were not cared for. I was more impressed with the balcony gardening.


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