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Gardens of the Mediterranean: the Tuscan style

In this third part of the series of articles dedicated to the Mediterranean garden we would like to give some information about Mediterranean garden "Tuscan Style"

As we said in the previous articles (link at the bottom), one can easily conjure up a generalized picture of a Mediterranean garden “Tuscan Style”, using just a few of the basic and classical characteristics (Gildemeister, 1996). There would be an Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), olives, holm oak (Quercus ilex), Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea), Mulberry (Morus alba), bay-laurel (Laurus nobilis), boxwood, oleander, several kind of rose, rosemary, sage, lavender, santolina, iris, rock rose (Cistus spp.), pomegranate, broom species, strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), some climbers and perennials, especially those which grow in the calcareous soils and in the stone retaining walls, all creating a cascade down to the pebble or to the stone surface at the ground level, that perfectly harmonize into the structure of the garden.

Completing the picture there would be terraces, courtyards, stone retaining walls, stone stairs, pergolas, stone paving, gravel surfaces, handmade terracotta pots, perhaps a few jars, and in the most luxury ones, even a swimming pool. It would be a garden structured for outdoor living.
Major considerations in developing a garden in Tuscany are, firstly, the landscape which surrounds the garden and, secondly, the style of the house which the garden is designed to complement. These are especially pertinent in rural areas where one is literally painting in a detail of the landscape when planting out a garden or restoring a house. A garden must be blend into the encompassing countryside, more into it, not to be in conflict or establish boundaries with it.
The countryside is typically characterized by levels of terraced olive groves, undulating hills, brilliant with golden wheels of wheat in summer and now, in spring, bright green with cover crops and long grasses. In June-July fields of bloom with giant sunflowers are a really golden spectacle.

Renaissance and Baroc Gardens were designed around the features of landscape-vistas where purposefully framed and allees led out to link villas with woodlands and fields.
It is still a valid maxim, one that is too often forgotten, and we can interpret it further by introducing more plants from the surrounding natural environment into the manipulated garden environment.
Thus not only is the garden structurally connected with the landscape, it is botanically “fused” as well.
However we are not advocating totally native plants, nor we are in favor of recreating strictly period gardens as too much restraint is imposed and too many creative possibilities closed out. We now have access to an astounding variety of plants. We may continue complaining but we have greater opportunities to use plants from other Mediterranean climates. Even some australiasian plants like Callistemon citrinus (bottle brush tree) or the New Zealand tea-tree (Leptospermum spp.), have become quite commonplace in the last few years. Species of Acacia other than dealbata can now also be found. Not to mention the gorgeous Bougainvillea a climber which can be considered a "marker" of the garden in south Italy and in the islands of the Mediterranean. Few locals would be aware that these new additions to their gardens were Australasian in origin. These plants are water saving and may be grown together with Mediterranean ones for additional color.

So in the last 10-15 years, as stated by Gildemeister (1996) there have been dramatic changes in the look of the landscape as new housing estates are “mushrooming” outside the medieval hill villages and old peasant’s house have been renovated. In fact as changing agricultural practices have transformed the landscape, social changes have likewise led to a shift in housing patterns. Most of the century-old houses of the farmers were abandoned as an easier life was sought in urban centers. Initially the “outsiders” both foreigners and italians, bought up these properties, restoring them into permanent residences or “country houses”. Agro-tourism is now providing a new impetus for a further development of this housing.
These so-called “case coloniche ” (the houses of the sharefarmers) laid in open countryside and were basically gardenless, life was harsh, the water supply limited and used primarily for stock and food production. There could have been a few trees, plants that had to be functional (i.e. walnut) and any flowers that were grown were those which could be thrown into a corner and look after themselves, i.e. some old roses, the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), some species of Aster and Iris germanica var. florentina. This iris (which is the symbol of Florence) used to be and it is still cultivated in Tuscany for the use of dried rhizomes (orris) for the sensuous, deep violet-grape scent in perfumes.

The houses are now being “re-interpreted” and gardens are being established. Grandiose entrance gatedare being constructed and long cypress-lied driveways created (abandoning the original shorted access);these features were once confined to the villa(where the original landowner lived).
Meters of external lighting seemed to be increasingly “de rigueur”, sometimes producing Disneyland spectacles in a once barely illuminated night landscape. So the humble housing of the rural underclass have been converted into new country villas for wealthy people. Ironically, the garden of the local villa is all too likely to be found in a deteriorating or much reduced state. Most of the contemporary “serious” gardening – the forging of the new tuscan style – is to be found in these recently created gardens of the old “case coloniche”.

But, on the other hand, more changes have been done: exotic conifers and Magnolia grandiflora are being planted extensively in both town and country gardens; varieties of spruce (Picea spp.), Fir (Abies spp.), Cedar (Cedrus spp.) and palms (Phoenix, Trachycarpus, Chamaerops, Cycas) and the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria spp.), can be unfortunately found jammed with little thought as to their growth potential. This has brought in another dimension of the “Tuscan cottage garden” style. “Incorrect” and lacking in aesthetic as it may be, it has become a reality which will endure.

The facility with which one can increasingly defy nature is also leaving its mark – greater ramification to be seen in the future perhaps. Unlike in some other Mediterranean areas, although the summer is long, hot and often dry, there is a potential to tap underground water. With money this resource can be readily utilized and too often, indiscriminately plundered. Wells are sunk (often beyond the legal limit), powerful pumps installed and with an automatic irrigation system thousands of gallons can be daily poured onto a Mediterranean garden. The fina

The old houses have been redefined with the construction of new green areas. Not always the novelty led improvements with bad choices

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