Commuting with Nature – Observations Along the Railway

It’s ironic that, having moved to a beautiful place more or less in the country, I now commute into the city for work. I’m usually out of the house 12 hours a day, and don’t get much time to enjoy the natural beauties that surround me at home.

But there’s still plenty of nature to observe from the train. The spaces alonside and between the tracks run riot with growth. Sometimes there’s enough ground near the tracks to contain tiny vegetable gardens; I’m told the land is leased for the purpose, though I’m not sure by whom, or how the gardeners reach these tiny plots, which are divided and protected by rickety wood and wire fences. One such area near Lecco is entirely fenced with rusting old metal bedframes.

Some of these garden plots are beautified with flowers. Earlier in the year great clumps of vari-colored irises bloomed; then it was roses, and now it’s hydrangeas, bursting with extravagant puffballs of blue, purple, or pink flowers.

The most prolific flowers are, of course, the weeds. A few months ago the tracks were lively with red poppies, now they froth with Queen Anne’s Lace, and something with yellow blooms on a tall spike.

Back at home, our own orto (vegetable garden) is surviving my neglect – I barely have time or energy to water it every evening. I have learned that four zucchini plants are too many, and you have to watch them carefully. The fruits hide under the huge spreading leaves where I don’t notice them until they have become monster-sized (at which point they’re not very tasty to eat). I harvested a zucchinona 60 cm long, weighing four kilos (ten pounds).

We enjoyed good fresh salad for a while, but I planted too much and didn’t harvest it viciously enough, so it all bolted (flowered) and became too tough to eat. I suggested digging it all up and replanting it, which Domenico has duly done, though he dourly predicts that it’s too late in the season – in the present heat, the plants will not root strongly enough to produce much.

The cucumbers have been good, though, again, four plants are too many – next year I will purchase more conservatively. We’ve just begun to enjoy our first tomatoes. The peppers don’t seem to be doing well, I’m not sure why. Domenico has also planted broccoli, which needs to start growing now in order to produce in fall/winter (good thing I asked him about that; I was imagining I could plant it later in the year, since it’s a winter crop).

Sadly, our land doesn’t seem very suited to strawberries – for all the plants I planted and carefully tended, I only ate about six strawberries. Maybe they’ll establish themselves and do better next year. The hazelnut and fig saplings that Domenico planted are also struggling. At least the roses are doing well – 11 plants in 8 different colors, including yellow roses for Texas. They’re still blooming, a few at a time, though they wilt immediately in the crushing heat. Next spring they’ll probably be spectacular.

ps. Revenge of the garden: I went out to water yesterday evening and got stung twice on the right arm by the same wasp. Hurt like hell, and my arm still aches today. But at least now we know I’m not allergic.

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