Tuscan gardens and Italian gardens in general have long been represented by the superbly shaped Italian cypress tree, so much so that the tree has even adopted the name “Italian cypress tree”, despite having originated in the area around Persia/Syria.
The Italian cypress tree clearly offers the garden designer a superb and original, dark green and evergreen, vertical form, which is unrivaled by any other tree. This has meant that the plant has been used in all parts of Italy over the centuries, not only in Tuscany. However in Tuscany there is a rather large concentration of this tree, thanks to it’s an introduction to the area by the Etruscans, in around the 4th century B.C. They considered the plant to be very spiritual and often planted it near their dwellings to freshen the air and also to make sarcophagi.
This strong symbolism has led to the strong presence of the Italian cypress tree around Tuscan houses and in Tuscan garden design to this day.The relationship between the Italian cypress tree and human dwellings in Tuscany has, however, been slightly exaggerated in recent years, resulting in the tree being planted along every possible driveway in Tuscany. Although the Italian cypress highlights entrances perfectly, it’s use has become somewhat contrived and rather overdone in recent years, seeing them being planted in almost every available space in Tuscan gardens. Of course it has been the foreign home buyer that can be blamed for this, as the average Tuscan actually declines from planting them in their gardens, on the grounds that it denotes death and cemeteries to them now.
The Italian cypress tree should be used sparingly and with intelligence within any Tuscan garden, so as to avoid overdoing a stunning visual statement. When used to accentuate an entrance driveway, Italian cypress trees can be planted in 5 to 10metre intervals in straight lines. However, within the garden the cypress tree should be planted in natural groups, as opposed to planting them in lines. Care should also be taken to choose trees of several different heights and these should be planted in groups of odd numbers within the main group to increase the informal and natural feel.
Unfortunately Italian cypress trees suffer from a deadly fungal disease and an anti-fungal spray should be applied throughout the growing season as prevention. Prune the Italian cypress tree in the early spring, with garden shears, to maintain a precise needle-like shape and prevent the branches being snapped open by heavy snow falls. Mulch with a thick layer of organic material at planting to ensure rapid growth and water retention.
As a garden designer, working in Tuscany, I truly admire this wonderful plant. However I also that it should be used with a little more discretion, so as to avoid ruining the image of this superb, vertical visual statement.
I receive requests for Italian style garden designs all over the States, therefore I would be very interested in finding a supplier for the Italian cypress in the U.S.A, as I am having trouble finding one.