Tag Archives: gardening

Balcony Garden

All edible: nasturtiums, two kinds of sage, tomatoes (gift from @bubbva), parsley, bell pepper, serrano pepper, rosemary, thyme basil and (in front) variegated pineapple mint from Jeffrey and John – and it really does smell like pineapple! Will have to experiment making some tropical drinks with that. Let’s see, I have cachaça and mango juice… Read More…

All edible: nasturtiums, two kinds of sage, tomatoes (gift from @bubbva), parsley, bell pepper, serrano pepper, rosemary, thyme basil and (in front) variegated pineapple mint from Jeffrey and John – and it really does smell like pineapple! Will have to experiment making some tropical drinks with that. Let’s see, I have cachaça and mango juice…

Flowers in the Windows

One of the many things I enjoy about Italy is the flowers. Italians love flowers, and not just in gardens: they grow them in every available corner. Particularly in the mountains, the displays can be spectacular. Bormio Red geraniums are a favorite. Bergamo, June Even shop windows can be decorated with flowers. Varenna, April And Read More…

One of the many things I enjoy about Italy is the flowers. Italians love flowers, and not just in gardens: they grow them in every available corner. Particularly in the mountains, the displays can be spectacular.

Bormio

Red geraniums are a favorite. Bergamo, June

Even shop windows can be decorated with flowers. Varenna, April

And lakes. Varenna

And roads. Tuscany, July

and views. Tuscany, July

and doorways

and entire houses

The secret is to have an army of dedicated little old ladies to take care of them!Bergamo

The determined balcony gardener can even find room for a garden gnome.Chiavenna, August

 

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 Read More…

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.

Gardening: In Italy, a Man’s Home is His Orto

^ Fresh produce from our garden. The zucchine aren’t supposed to be that shape; they had long skinny ends which I cut off because they were rotting; the uneven growth might be due to uneven watering (we’re still learning). I also need to learn to look more closely at the tomatoes before I cut them. Read More…

^ Fresh produce from our garden. The zucchine aren’t supposed to be that shape; they had long skinny ends which I cut off because they were rotting; the uneven growth might be due to uneven watering (we’re still learning). I also need to learn to look more closely at the tomatoes before I cut them. But it makes a visually interesting assortment.

Our new home has a bit of land around it, so, for the first time in 30 years, I can plant in something bigger than a windowbox. There’s a lot to do to turn this mess into a garden, however – the previous owners neglected it terribly. For starters, since we moved here I’ve grubbed up several hundred kilos of dandelions and other weeds from the lawn. (I don’t mind. I find weeding therapeutic during times of frustration, such as phone calls to Telecom Italia.)

I planted bulbs back in October, in the bare patches left after the dandelions were removed, so we have cheerful clumps of daffodils, with hyacinths, tulips, and irises coming along later. My weeding activities have given the lawn a mangy look, but I’m reseeding it with grass and wildflowers.

Measured horizontally, our backyard would be about 10 by 12 meters. But we’re on a slope – in its natural state, this land would be almost vertical, so when the house was built, the land got terraced. There’s a piece of flat yard extending about four meters from the door of our basement-level den out towards the lake, then there’s a six-meter drop. The mass of earth (building rubble and very clayey soil) is kept in place by a stack of open cinder blocks, mostly filled with rocks and weeds (yes, my fellow Woodstockers, we have our very own khud!). There’s another three-meter terrace of flat land below, then it drops three meters (more cinder blocks) to a tiny strip (1/2 meter) of dirt abutting the neighbors’ fence. All this is traversed by a narrow staircase of more cinder blocks.

What to do with this peculiar arrangement? The top level we’ll mostly keep clear, in hopes of eventually having a lawn worth enjoying. And lawn chairs – it gets lots of sun. We’ve planted ten rose bushes along the low fence that stops people falling down to the terrace below, and yesterday I put up a low enclosure for the turtles. (Predictably, they spent most of the time trying to get out of it.) After I decide exactly where I want that to be permanently placed, we’ll put in a little pond so that they can stay out there full-time when the weather’s warm enough.

The terrace below is in the process of becoming a vegetable garden (orto). For this, I have help. We had scarcely moved into the new house last September when Mimma (the wonderful Sicilian lady who cleans and irons for us) brought her husband Domenico to have a look. Retired from factory work, Domenico is a keen gardener, maintaining their own orto somewhere near Lecco, as well as gardening for several other people.

Domenico is a very practical man: his first suggestion was to plow up everything, including the top level, and make it all into orto. I resisted this – I want a place to lounge in the sun, when I have time for such things. (And can stop myself leaping up to dig, plant, or weed.) We do have a patch of herbs in the corner by the garage, and I’ve planted green beans on the other side of the fence where the roses are (there’s just enough space between fence and drop for me to walk along). This may be unorthodox, but legumes fix nitrogens in the soil (so I’ve read), so they should be good for the roses, and of course they can climb the fence.

green bug on purple iris

Down below, I’ve already planted various salad greens, with parsely, basil, and coriander in alternate rows. I am reading up on organic gardening, trying to find natural preventatives and remedies – it seems silly to go to all the trouble of planting our own veggies, and then have to spray them with nasty chemicals and wonder what we’re eating. So far I’ve read that garlic and other “smelly” plants help discourage bugs; I’ve planted garlic around the roses. I’m growing marigolds from seeds and will transplant them out to the orto when they’re bigger, as they, too, are said to have a bug-scaring smell. And nasturtiums, which not only smell bad to bugs, but can be eaten by humans (both flowers and leaves, in salads).

In a few weeks, when the weather is truly warm, we’ll buy vegetable plants – eggplant, tomatoes, zucchine, cucumbers, peppers – which Domenico will come plant for me. Yesterday he brought some sapling trees from his own orto (two figs, four hazelnuts) which he planted along the bottom of the first retaining wall; when they get bigger, they may help prevent a landslide. This whole hillside used to be a hazelnut orchard, and the neighbors still have some very nice trees, but our property was completely deforested by someone stupid, and is therefore prone to slippage.

The rows of cinder blocks are offset from each other and stick out just enough to make little planters, so I’m slowly filling them up with odds and ends: two miniature carnation plants, small succulents that will expand to fill their spaces, and wild strawberries. The property is full of strawberry plants, but they have a tendency to grow where they will get stepped on, so I’m transplanting them to the cinder blocks, which should make perfect strawberry planters.

…and I could go on all day, obviously. I’d forgotten how much I love gardening, it’s been so long since I had a real opportunity to do it. I like watching things grow. And having an orto is very much an Italian tradition – anyone who has a patch of land, no matter how small, plants things that they can eat. Part of eating good food is having it fresh, and it doesn’t get any fresher than right out of your own garden. I’m looking forward to putting own on produce on our dining table this summer!

May 11, 2005

I should have been grateful for the unusually long winter. Now spring has set in with a vengeance, and with it, allergies. We had a beautiful weekend, and I would have loved to be out gardening, but I was stuck in my room with my clean-air machine, taking allergy pills and eyedrops (probably more of both than I should), and nonetheless in sneezing, eye-burning misery. Oh, well. At least I have a nice view of all the burgeoning greenery from my window…