Planning and Planting a Tuscan Style Garden

Tuscan garden © Jonathan Radford

Tuscan garden © Jonathan Radford

What is a Tuscan Style Garden?

Italian gardens and the Italian style of gardeninghave become very popular in recent years, however, it is really the Tuscan style garden that has created the most interest amongst foreign homebuyers. A rustic harmony with nature, a mixture of Renaissance classicism and a humble interaction with nature are both displayed proudly in the Tuscan style garden.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, it is fundamentally important to define which style of Italian garden one wishes to create from the beginning of the design process. The Tuscan style garden is a good choice of Italian garden style and the Tuscan style can suit many foreign budgets and many natural gardening philosophies, if it is tackled with integrity. I have been living in Italy for 13 years, I have chosen to base my garden design practise in Tuscany and I have been designing Tuscan style gardens from here for nearly ten years now. In this time I have had the opportunity to put many Italian garden design styles to the test and I have to say that the Tuscan garden style is by far my favourite. Applying a Tuscan style to the Italian garden allows one to express many facets of Italian garden design, yet it also allows one to pick up on some quite strong cultural symbolism.

Mulberry ©  Jonathan Radford

Mulberry © Jonathan Radford

Due to the curious and sometimes tense relationship between aristocratic Tuscan landowner and the peasant Tuscan farmer the Tuscan garden has adopted many symbols that reflect the Tuscan culture. For example, the mulberry tree (Morus alba) is almost always present in the authentic Tuscan garden. It’s leaves were collected and sold to the silk industry in order to feed the voracious silk worm that has a preference for the Mulberry leaves. This provided the Tuscan farmer with one of his only cash crops as he was forced to share half of his annual farm produce with the, often, greedy landowner. The mulberry lives for many years and stands as a strong cultural statement near most old Tuscan farmhouses.

Wild flower meadows were also encouraged in order to provide rich hay for the farm animals and many beautiful wild flower pastures can still be seen, brimming with poppies and wild mustard. Tuscan farmer’s wives can still be seen collecting fresh herbs from these wild flower meadows in order to feed, fatten and flavour the meat of their rabbits and to create natural medicines from their natural Tuscan garden medicine cupboard. Wild Tuscan flower meadows once provided everything that the modern chemist now supplies: cures for colds, fevers, acne and many other more serious ailments. Old amphora (terracotta urns) once used to store wine and oil can now be found dotted around farmyards here, planted with geraniums or sedums and stand as a testament to the harder, healthier and happier times without the presence of the plastic bottle.

Tuscan gardens resonate harmony to every visitor to this wonderful area and the reason for this is because the Tuscan farmer has reached a perfect harmony with the landscape in which he lives - through his bitter struggle to survive upon it. Tuscany holds the origins of many parts of the Italian culture: the language, the food and also the garden as we now know it today. During the Renaissance period, works of garden art like Villa Gamberaia, Villa Medici or Boboli, with their elaborate Italianate formal gardens and water features set the gardening scene for the following centuries in Europe. However, never has the gardening world had its eyes set so firmly on the Tuscan style of gardening!

Maybe we have realised that there really is nothing more modern than the… past!