By Sharon A. Shaw
The Tuscan region of Italy is renowned for fine food, family gatherings, beautiful weather and gracious outdoor living. These are qualities that most homeowners would love to incorporate into their own backyards. Although we cannot always rely on sun-drenched days, the spirit and beauty of Tuscany can be brought into any backyard landscape.
Because of the warm, dry weather, the residents of Tuscany tend to spend much of their time outdoors. The architecture reflects this lifestyle in the use of outdoor rooms and structures that take advantage of the climate. The style is defined by architectural elements that include courtyards enclosed by walls, columns supporting pergolas for shade and fountains that offer the physical and psychological cooling effects of water.
Tuscan landscapes are characterized by the use of natural stone, stucco and tile as building materials. During the day, the intense sun warms the stone patio and surrounding walls. After the sun sets, this heat is released into the cool night air making the enclosed space warmer during the evening hours when the family can enjoy dinner outdoors.
These materials also remain cooler long into the morning making the space a comfortable retreat from the daytime’s rising temperatures. The use of light-colored materials, such as stucco and travertine limestone, helps to reflect the intense sunlight and prevent these surfaces from becoming too warm for use. Pergolas also assist in offering relief from the heat. These overhead lattice structures provide shade alone or support for vines.
Fountains are not only beautiful pieces of sculpture, but also keep an outdoor room comfortably cool. The evaporation of water into the atmosphere lowers the temperature while the relaxing sound of falling water can actually make the listener feel cooler.
Food is another important aspect of aTuscan landscape. Italian culture seems to revolve around food and the cuisine often relies on freshly prepared and grilled foods. Outdoor kitchens, where everything is close at hand, allow meals to be prepared and enjoyed outdoors.
For the Yidell family of Langhorne, the dream of a Tuscan holiday became a daily reality in their backyard. When they first spoke with Keith Frederick of Environmental Landscape Associates, the Yidells wanted to create an outdoor living space that complemented their home, provided a place for family gathering and offered privacy from the neighborhood.
A Tuscan-themed landscape, with its walled courtyards, stucco surfaces and emphasis on food and family, seemed to be the ideal style to use. Frederick’s design began with a masonry travertine limestone patio off the back door. A beautiful stucco fireplace with tile accents is the center view from the door. An outdoor kitchen flanks one side of the patio and the entire outdoor room is covered with a pergola.
The pergola combines the traditional materials of a classic Italian design into a structure that is both solid and graceful. Limestone columns are used to support the large timber beams. The lattice structure is constructed of wrought iron rods, which create the sense of enclosure but do not offer much shade. Instead, the cooling effect of a pergola is provided by two fans mounted beneath the structure. The outdoor kitchen is full of modern amenities, including a refrigerator, icemaker, sink, grill and side burner.
The countertop backsplash creates privacy on the patio from one side of the property while a stucco wall encloses the other side, and a wooden gate blocks the view from the street. A formal travertine limestone pathway connects the gateway entrance to the patio and offers a location for several focal points including a bench and trellis.
An extensive water garden replaces the typical fountain and in addition to providing a cooling effect to the patio, the water garden offers the beauty of water plants, the entertainment of fish and an interactive bridge to cross the stream or dip your feet.
One other non-traditional element was added to make the landscape even more family oriented. A unique tree house, complete with a hammock, porthole, trap-door and dumb-waiter creates an exclusive place for children to play. Landscape lighting and gardens add the final touches to thisTuscan-style outdoor living space that allows the entire family the chance to vacation in their own backyard.
Photos and article courtesy of Keith Frederick, president, Environmental Landscape Associates Inc., Doylestown. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.elaontheweb.com or call 800-ELA-9252.