Italian Garden 2007: March

They tell us that this past winter has been the warmest in Europe for 200 years. Certainly our plants are confused. Some of the bulbs I planted in October were sprouting by December. The mimosas bloomed before la Festa della Donna, which I’ve never seen happen before. Crocuses in Italian are called bucanevi – “make holes in the snow” – but they could only make pretty white spots in the grass. And now the irises are blooming, on unusually short stalks.

I’m as confused as the plants are, but I guess there’s nothing for it but to start the orto (vegetable garden). In spite of pollen allergies (also early this year) and a lingering sinus infection, I’ve been out toiling the soil. (Actually, the sun helped to dry out my respiratory system.)

Two weekends ago I cleared part of the orto (vegetable garden) of its winter weeds, and planted basil, parsley, one kind of lettuce, and spring onions. I weeded the flowerbed by the garage wall and planted coriander, dill, and arugula there. (Now if I can only get the neighbor’s cats to quit using that area as a litter box…) And I planted various flower seeds in some of the dozens of cinder block “planters” that form our retaining wall.

(This is what the wall looked like two years ago. I’ll take a more up to date picture when we have a prettier day for it. This picture was taken in May, when the poppies usually bloom at this altitude. It will be interesting to see how early they appear this year.)

This past Saturday I worked on the compost heap that occupies a corner of the bottom level of our terraced backyard. There’s too much wood in there – I need to break that into smaller pieces, and start mixing in more leafy stuff. But at the bottom, when I reached it, I found several buckets of decent compost.

I transplanted a mountain pine seedling that we had taken from the wild during a walk last year and planted in a pot. It lost all its needles over the winter and I thought I’d killed it, but now it’s sprouting new greenery. I planted it at the bottom of the retaining wall where it can, well, help retain.

We went to the azienda agricola (“agricultural company”) near home. I was hoping to get a jump on planting the vegetables, but they don’t have much yet – I guess the greenhouses weren’t expecting winter to be over so soon. But they did have, strangely, cranberries – not at all native to this region! 18 euros for six little pots of cranberry plants; we bought them on a whim. Checking my organic gardening book back home, I find that cranberries want to be in a boggy area with lots of sun. No such thing in our yard. Lots of sun, yes, but no bog – our soil is very clayey and dries out quickly. I enriched the soil in one corner of the garden with compost and planted them anyway; we’ll just have to water them a lot and hope for the best. It would be nice to have fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving.

We had a fairly successful orto last year, but I learned a few lessons to apply this year:

  • Plant zucchine where they will have room to spread. This year I’m going to try putting them at the top of a little slope at the bottom of the large retainin wall. This slope is usually covered in weeds – the zucchine plants can smother out the weeds for me, rather than growing down the lower retaining wall and covering plants I’d rather keep healthy.
  • Plant more eggplant. We didn’t get very many last year, and the fruit never got big, but they were very tasty – I want more of that!
  • Plant more of the tomato variety called costolute (“ribbed”) – of the various tomato varieties we have tried, these seem to do best in our environment.
  • Keep cutting back the lettuce and replanting it throughout the season. I let most of it bolt last year.
  • Can I do something to cover the strawberries so that we get to eat them, rather than the birds? Must see what I can rig up.

Enrico mutters that the roses aren’t performing as well as he had hoped when we bought them. I keep explaining that a grand garden takes time. Someday we, too, will have a wall of roses like this house in Milan:

top photo by Rossella

7 thoughts on “Italian Garden 2007: March”

  1. A question and a comment in response to your latest newsletter:

    1. I’ve always wondered why I never see any avocados or limes growing in Italy. Since so much of what’s eaten in Italy has eminated from distant lands, I find this perplexing.

    2. Relative to strikes, I seem to have a penchant for being in Naples when there is one or another going on. However, when the funicular (and other transpo modes that day) was out of service due to un sciopero, my up-hill walk from my hotel to the funicular station was disapppointing – less so for the strike. Once again, my hotel didn’t think it at all appropriate to inform its guests about the need to make other arrangements. They were aware of the strike and even after my suggestion to post this info in the lobby, they still neglected to do so. If only the puffed-up and self-important (and granted, often handsome) desk staff could offer more than window dressing in the lobby! These peacocks were more irritating than the strike.

    On another occasion in Naples, there was a strike that took to the streets at the very moment I instucted a taxi to take us to the renowned Da Michele for pizza. When the taxi driver said he knew of an equally good pizza place (“Why must you go to Da Michele?”), my instincts told me otherwise. Too often cousin Mario’s pizza shop, B&B, restaurant, etc. turns out to be a disaster due to an unqualified recomendation. Instead, I said, “Get around that mess and get me to Da Michele; or I’ll find another taxi to get me there.” We got there and the street sciopero we had to get through was rather entertaining and educational. BTW, Da Michele was delish and something I’m happy to say I didn’t miss.
    Boston (USA)

  2. I wish I could grow some of the flowers/plants you mention. I live on a mountain, and when I am lucky enough to find a spot that has enough dirt (without hitting rock) to plant something, the deer, bear, rabbits, whatever come and enjoy the salad bar.
    I’ve tried exotics, Lantana from Winterthur specially developed for my zone. Lasted about a week before they were 1st nibbled, then just to taunt me, pulled out of the ground.
    We will keep on going though.
    Best to all.

  3. Hello, I just came upon your site while I was correcting my translation of some Battisti songs and then stumbled around your site for awhile, I really like it and wanted to say hi from a fellow blogger who misses Italy…Actually, I am about to graduate and have been trying to find out more about coming back to Italy for work, but the search continues, hope all is well across the ocean.

  4. RE: garden update: The roses are great, but with a backdrop like that bottom photo, it’s like gilding the lily. 😉

  5. The wall of roses looks amazing! I wonder how much time it took to get it to grow healthy like that. Making sure they get enough distribution of water and light. Simply amazing.

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