Italian cypress is a Tuscan garden classic.

Types of Plants for a Tuscan Garden

by Janet Bayers

Tuscan gardens are all about hard surfaces and formal lines. The plants are used as green architectural elements, with just a few pops of brightly colored annuals or perennials, usually in pots. Stone, terra cotta, mosaic work, statuary and fountains balance manicured greenery, gray foliage and aromatic herbs that thrive in the hot Mediterranean climate.


Olive trees (Olea europaea), which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, are a Tuscan garden standby. Often planted in large stone or terra cotta pots and arranged around a patio with potted citrus trees (Citrus spp.), which grow in the same zones, they flower and produce fruit in the summer heat. Their gray-green foliage looks good year-round. Another classic tree is the Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), used for hedging and as a columnar focal point. It grows in USDA zones 7b through 11. In some locations, olive trees have an invasive tendency.


Small, silvery-leaved shrubs are a mainstay of Tuscan gardens. They include fragrant plants such as lavender (Lavandula spp.), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 9, and lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus), which grows in USDA zones 7 through 9. Small-leaved shrubs that can be trimmed into hedges and topiary also are common.


Aromatic herbs edge pathways and mingle with vegetables in terraced garden beds in Tuscan gardens, many of them coming from the region. A Tuscan-themed garden includes rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), which grows in USDA zones 8 through 11, sage (Salvia officinalis), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 9, thyme (Thymus spp.), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 9, and, perhaps, a bay leaf tree (Laurus nobilis), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10.


Bold flower colors contrast with the gray and deep green foliage of Tuscan garden plants and play off the blue and purple flowers of lavender, rosemary and sage. Choose annuals and perennials with orange, red or gold flowers. Annual asturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) bloom in a wide range of hot colors and work well as a winter annual in USDA zones 9 through 11. Perennials such as sun rose (Helianthemum nummularium), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 10, and wallflower (Erysimum spp.), hardy in USDA zones 6a through 10b, have cultivars with flowers in orange, yellow and red-orange.

About the Author

Since 1981 Janet Bayers has written on travel, real estate trends and gardening for "The Oregonian" newspaper in Portland. Her work also has appeared in “Better Homes & Gardens,” “Traditional Home,” “Outdoor Living” and other shelter magazines. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Michigan State University.

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