Gardening, My Diary, Trip

Grazzano Visconti

Last Sunday, Monza Garden Club went to Grazzano Visconti for a plant show. It was held in the grounds of the castle, a medieval structure built by Giovanni Anguissola in 1395 for his wife Beatrice Visconti and it is still in the hands of the Visconti family . It looks very much as you would imagine a castle to look , square ground plan ,four towers (two square ones and two round ones), crenellated walls ,a moat that is still visible, grassed but not filled with water and even the traces of a drawbridge . We were able to go in although it’s usually closed to the public, visiting being allowed in the surrounding postiche medieval village, that was built in the early nineteen hundreds, more Harry Potter than Disneyland but a great crowd -pleaser just the same. It’s a really busy place with all sorts of events going on as well as the usual food and drinks services; I suppose you could do worse,

snob that I am! The interest lay in the castle grounds with its belvedere, and tiny maze,all very neatly manicured and barbered.

The show counted a select few exhibitors, really competent people and so willing to share their knowledge. It’s always a pleasure to pick their brains. I’ve been faffing about a problem for well over a year because my beloved hydrangea quercifolia is hidden behind a H. paniculata which has outgrown it and has hidden it from view. What to do? At every show, nursery, garden centre I’ve been to in the last year I’ve almost begged someone to say” yes, go on move it . It’s got a pretty good chance of surviving”….but no,from 50% I’m now up to an 80% probability of it dying. But the nurseryman from Viterbo with the beautiful stand of unusual hydrangeas , had the perfect, unthought-of-by-me answer…move the paniculata! Would you believe it? I can’t believe that the idea had never entered my head! So that is probably what will happen. The quercifolia will remain in its place the other will be moved and take its chance…one problem solved.

The other interesting event was a conference given by Umberto Pasti,

a writer on botanical subjects who divides his time between Marocco and Italy .In Marocco at Rohuna he has revitalised a village with the passion of an evangelist in his attemps to salvage autochthonous plants endangered by uncontrolled building and cementification. He is also interested in preserving the local culture as far as possible. Although I was not always in agreement it’s impossible not to recognise the profound love of nature and the farseeing fear of what wild modernisation does to both the culture and the countryside. A very interesting talk indeed.

So all in all it was a really happy day,and I managed to curb my spending(!) I came home with just 4 little pots of the sweetest smelling carnations as well as a rather crumpled pulmonaria which I’m told will prosper in the deep shade under the trees.

Gardening, My Diary, Trip

Orticolario and good intentions

In Monza parking tariffs were awful as usual and train information was obscure. in fact we mysteriously paid a different price to go from the one we paid to come back.

The journey is always a pleasure, but we arrived in Como, not Como lake or Como San Giovanni which we had asked for at the ticket office so we sat for some time wondering why quite a lot of of people had already alighted! Please notice Como is Como is Como! So we finally got off, walked through the town, had Italian breakfast and wended our way to the lakeside; it was nice, photogenic , relaxed, friendly. What was not friendly was the long queue! I asked a tall guy in front of me if I was in the right one and he admonished me to “speak English” (What a useful language!). Unfortunately, I guess we were talking at cross purposes (or he was one of those people who just HAVE to give directions even when they don’t know) because when we eventually DID get to the window and after seeing ,to our horror that the next ferry AND the next were fully booked we were finally told that we had been standing in the wrong queue. The miracles of Italian signposting! Where are all those young graduates in communication for heaven’s sake?

So I believe it was pier 5, but don’t take my word for it!The trip across is “free” or rather , it is included in the price of the ticket for the show. Anyhow ,it feels free! Orticolario just gets better each year. Bigger with more exhibitors including a lot of nurserypeople from abroad and above all with the paths laid out in sisal matting so it was easier to find your way about.

Inside there are a lot of interesting floral and garden-related stands. One which interested me was a local school doing agricultural projects so I bought some worms from them. I think my next project might be a wormery. Watch this space!

Another very happy day. I just need to garden, that’s all.

Gardening, My Diary, Trip


There was an important international event at Crespi Bonsai Parabiago. I like to decide on things at the last minute which of course is great for me, but I need to get my head round the fact that not everyone is as free and available as I am, so sometimes it’s difficult to find company. However on Sunday I was really lucky. Mind you there was a bit of difficulty hooking up with my friend, my tomtom wanted me to go to church, to crash barriers and generally behave badly! In the end I called her and she came and rescued me! The amazing thing was that the gps had got me about 500 metres from our meeting place. Off to Crespi’s. It was a special day: the guided tour round the museum was offered free, so we took it and Attilio showed us the intricacies of this extraordinary discipline which combines horticultural techniques and art. The extreme care they take to match the vases which are an essential part of the whole experience, to the essence. There are two different strands running through the world of bonsai. The classic stance which emphasises the “tree-ness” according to Zen ideas, or the more modern one which is not necessarily botanically correct but the artistic qualities are underlined and there is a sense of work -in- progress, an unfinished oeuvre .There’s a kind of running diatribe between bonsai buffs and the tender -hearted people who see the art as cruelty, but I believe the profound love which first caused men to miniaturize these trees in order not to be parted from them while journeying, or to take nature inside a temple, does a lot to offset this kind of criticism. The idea of family, of continuity is very strong, they are passed from father to son through the hundreds of years they live. In fact the chef d’oevre in the museum is a group of one -thousand -year-old trees. I’m sure you know more about them than I do so let me get on to a couple of things which were relatively new to me and which I found quite moving. Kintsugi or “golden joinery”. There was one small pot, seamed with gold. Broken but mended with the technique which makes the pot even more precious broken than whole because it becomes startllngly unique, one of a kind, emphasising the cracks instead of trying to disguise them and is an ecological lesson to us all. I think I might have learnt this lesson many years ago when I was a girl; I tore my school dress which was new and so my mother mended it with a beautifully neat patch. I was so proud of this dress, it was unique different from those of the other girls’ and my mum had made a lovely job of the patch, so I’m now complimenting myself for having understood the concept of wabi-sabi (to see beauty in the flaws) at a very early age. The other things which really floored me were the breathtaking rocks presented like precious artifacts and given a place of honour in Japanese homes. Suiseki( the art of appreciating stones formed by wind and water and suggesting stability,longevity and immortality) It’s interesting how these extremely costly items are born of……nothing (the little tables they’re exhibited on plus the shallow vases they stand in on beds of sand or water are worth thousands of euros ) And they are just a bits of rock picked up and contemplated until they surrender their meaning. The equilibrium, the structure, the colours give them their power of suggestion

Gardening, My Diary, The English

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

Every time I go back home I go to the Botanic Gardens. A wonderful place beautifully laid out: you know it’s a Botanic garden because of all the labelling, but it’s also a park which people have loved so much that they’ve left money in their wills for benches for present users. It’s laid out in areas where you can lift ideas for your own garden maybe? Winter gardens, rock gardens,dry gardens,rose and scented ones as well as a bee border and if your plot is really big you can arrange a magnificent pool-side garden like theirs, surrounding their grand fountain.

They have an interesting chronological bed full of surprises. What, is that not a native English plant? No dear, It arrived from the Americas in……

The glass houses are organised on continent lines and are totally fascinating; learning here is a real joy. Did I say learning ? Well if that’s what it is, it’s purveyed with the lightest possible touch. What I did notice in particular this time was the new rising path (opened in 2018) with the guide to the evolution of plants written on the wooden floor of the path with illustrative panels showing how to look at the plants and leading to the highest point (that would be us until our natural world gives up on us and sinks back into a sea of heedlessness, a morass of folorn hopes as well as a cruel and totally self-centred theft of the kids’ future). Looking from the top of this spiral walk you gaze over a briliantly conceived open book of nature. It was one of the first to be laid out when the Gardens were moved to the present site in 1846. It is a showcase and teaching resource to represent the Swiss botanist A. de Condolle’s descriptions of monocotyledons and dicotyledons .They now have a problem: when the book was written the taxonomy was unaided by DNA detection, now what shall they do? Keep to the author’s historical layout or organize more precisely according to current knowledge? It’s a bit of a conundrum.

But apart from the gardens you have the interesting encounters too. The lady I asked “where did you get that lovely parasol from, Japan?” The unexpected answer had me dashing off to the gift shop! Would you believe it, that delicate concoction of rice paper and bamboo came from the gift shop!

Then I went for lunch. More typical English fare : baked potato with English Cheddar and ginger beer to drink. Potatoes from the New World and ginger from South East Asia! In the risto I met a sweet girl from Oristano who was desperate to speak Italian. I know just how that feels. She told me she had been in Cambridge for months trying to learn , so believe me when I tell you that you need to go with at least a basic knowledge otherwise your time is wasted.

Gardening, My Diary

My Gardening History.

I’ve always loved gardening and my dream has always been to have a garden of my own. Ever since I was a little girl. When I was about 6, my adored grandfather(allotmenteer,avid reader of cowboy books which he would start at the end, and bellringer. He used to bike round to the various village churches and direct the intricate weaving of the order of ringing the bells in a peal) Well grandfather allowed me a portion of his garden, It was a strip… and all mine! It came with a few flowers already there, a Monkey musk( Mimulus) I believe and a Leucojum. Of course, the budding landscape gardener inside me, , wanted to start from scratch! So, I took all the plants out and lay them, on the path, under the sun. When the grown -ups discovered this , they were furious! Grandfather was so cross that he actually resorted to corporal punishment, which consisted in his brushing me across the back with his cap! ooohhh the power of symbols. I was chastised, ashamed and tearful. In the end my granny (sympathetic) my mum (angry) and grandfather (aloof) helped me get the wilted plants back into the ground, Talk about a steep learning curve!! You might be glad to know that I am now the proud owner of a lovely garden,in progress, as English-looking as possible for someone gardening in Italy!