If you long for Tuscany but are trapped in Toledo, just design a slice of Italy outside your door and landscape your way to Lucca or Firenze. Tuscan outdoor design is relaxed, textured, colorful and convivial. Spaces are meant to be used and shared; nature's bounty is constant year-round, but captured in pots and planters, the landscaping is woody, terraced, clipped, flowering, carefully controlled and evergreen.
The Stony End
You need a patio floor, paths, containment walls, water features -- and all of them built with stone and clay. Tuscan decor is earthy, so think boulders, pavers and tiles in natural colors, and definitely in place of grass. No lawn -- just built, usable space that can withstand all weather and support social activity. Mediterranean terra cotta offers a softer, more variegated version of the vivid orange clay in the New World. Old World terra cotta might include lots of violets, green, blues, yellows, creams and faded or muted reds and oranges. The slightly uneven and handmade look of oversize tiles, mortared in place with tinted cement, gives a patio or porch a Renaissance-era rustic finish.
Surround a patio or edge a porch with a low stone wall -- not stacked stone but mortared, rounder stones -- or add half-height stucco-painted walls to define areas. Approach and wander off from the terrace or front door on paver paths or flat stones set at stepping distance with ground cover poking up between them. The exterior should look as if it was hewn from the environment to provide another living space.
Focal Point Fountain
Now that you have your base, add a water feature as a centerpiece. A painted tile fountain built against a stuccoed outside wall spills water from a spout to a basin to a low pool, adding a musical background to an al fresco meal -- a meal eaten outdoors. A freestanding, multitiered stone fountain occupies pride of place on a patio, embellished with sculptural scrolls or mythological figures, water overflowing level-by-level to a retaining pool encircled by low evergreen shrubs and bright blooming annuals. Plant geraniums, irises, impatiens, daisies or daylilies. Extend the plantings to clay pots and stone urns around a patio perimeter.
Make the outdoor space an extension of the interior -- a fair-weather dining room with a family-size rustic table and hanging wrought-iron lanterns. Hang the lanterns -- and some trailing plants -- from a wood pergola that covers a good portion of the patio, providing shade and some shelter from brisk breezes. A pergola can be a simple geometric grid, supported on posts to resemble a grape arbor. You can even grow some grapevines or roses to trail over it, if your climate permits.
Italian Country Colors
You've got the natural stone and the wood, maybe some colorful painted tile accents, now paint the stucco with flat Mediterranean colors to evoke the timeless landscape of Tuscany. Muted oranges, like pumpkin or rust, olive and avocado greens, sunny yellows and deep golds, cerulean blues, brick, coral and woody browns are colors derived from nature and used -- with the artistry of a painter -- to evoke a mood. Create a celebratory or a calm outdoor room with an accent wall, a market umbrella or cushions in Tuscan colors. Shaped cypress, olive or bay trees in pots, walled plots or planters enhance the green.