Tuscan-inspired gardens evoke images of clear blue skies and warm, sunny days. Planting a garden inspired by Tuscany is as easy as choosing a few select plant varieties that are commonly grown in the region. Grown for their usefulness and beauty, the plants found in Tuscan gardens blur the line between utility and visual appeal. Does this Spark an idea?
- The tall, stately spires of Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) are a must for any Tuscan-inspired garden. Used to provide structure and line walkways, this species is known for its erect posture and dark whorls of evergreen foliage. Due to their compact base, Italian cypress can be planted in relatively small spaces but are best used in border areas or along fences because of their height, which can exceed 100 feet. They are not fussy about soil type and are drought tolerant, but young trees can be susceptible to breakage in high winds.
- Olive trees (Olea europaea) are essential in Tuscan gardens, being both useful and beautiful. Although they are technically trees, their billowing crown of foliage responds well to pruning and can be shaped into a large shrub. If left to grow naturally, they eventually make an excellent shade tree. The leaves are slender and muted green with a silver-white underside. They prefer full sun and rocky soil, and require little water once established. Fruiting and non-fruiting varieties are available.
- No Tuscan garden is complete without a pergola covered in grape vines. The common grape vine (Vitis vinifera) is found in gardens throughout Tuscany, providing shade with its graceful lobed leaves and plentiful fruit in late summer. It is a woody vining perennial that can exceed lengths of 100 feet, although proper pruning can keep it to a manageable size. True to its Mediterranean origins, grape vines require long hot summers and mild, moist winters to thrive. Gravelly clay soil is best because it provides ample drainage, and ideal soil pH should be between 4.5 to 8.7.
- Trained against a trellis or pergola, cabbage roses (Rosa centifolia) are right at home in a Tuscan-inspired garden. Although most plants found in Tuscan gardens are grown for their usefulness, roses can be grown purely for their beauty and fragrance. Cabbage rose, or Provence rose, has long been a favorite throughout the Mediterranean. It is a shrubby variety that grows to 6 feet in height with an open, slightly drooping habit. The leaves are understated and grayish-green with serrated edges. Throughout the summer, cabbage rose bears a profusion of rounded, many-petaled flowers that resemble heads of cabbage. Coming in all shades of pink, the roses are strongly scented and long-lasting.
- Although most often associated with the south of France, lavender (Lavandula) is native to the entire Mediterranean region and is a cornerstone of Tuscan gardens. Grown for its fragrance and culinary value, lavender is perfectly adapted to areas with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Two of the best varieties to grow in a Tuscan-inspired garden are Grosso lavender (Lavandula intermedia) and variegated French lavender (Lavandula dentata). Both are hardy in zones 8 to 10, require little water and produce masses of pale purple flowers atop tall stalks throughout the summer.
- Herbs, if well tended, can be decorative as well as useful. In Tuscan gardens, several herbs are frequently grown. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil are all widely used in Italian cuisine and are featured prominently in gardens throughout the country. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody perennial herb grown for its needle-like foliage and pale-blue flowers, both of which are fragrant and useful in cooking. Many varieties are available, including upright and trailing types. It requires little water or care and can be used to great effect along borders, walkways and in planters. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a dainty herb with tiny leaves and subtle, pale-pink flowers. Native to the southern Mediterranean, thyme is a low-growing herb best planted between stepping stones or along the front of beds. One of the most commonly used and grown herbs in Tuscany is oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum). It is extremely hardy and enjoys full-sun, with dark-green leaves that are slightly hairy. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a low-growing, annual herb native to the Mediterranean. Few herbs are as ornamental as basil, which has large glossy leaves and tall spikes of pale-pink flowers
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