Who cares about a spot of rain? Well certainly not the fearless Garden Club members! We all crowded onto the ferry and sat on the few (nearly) dry seats to admire the loveliness of lake Como wreathed in the mists. We arrived at Villa Carlotta, one of the Grandi Giardini Italiani, to be greeted by Dr.Tantardini a phytopathologist who accompanied us round the garden. History, anecdote, advice, dripping magnolia trees, it was a fascinating walk until he said that it might be best to shelter in the villa, perhaps the rain would stop or taper off. So we had an extra opportunity to look around this lovely place with its reproductions of romantic Canova statues, Psyche and Eros of course. The rain did let up and we continued our explorations: he showed us how NOT to prune azaleas, told us which soil improvers to use for which plants and answered the many questions that we all had to ask him .What was extremely interesting was the kind of housekeeping he envisaged for a park like this. Little or no attempt had been made to prepare substitute trees should they die or get blown down; apart from the obvious danger of an old tree blowing down, the hole it leaves and above all the disappeared foliage, will completely alter the ecosystem that was there before. Tender plants will be left without shade or their windbreak so they will suffer too. We saw places in the garden where the azalea trees were old and destined to die or fall, leaving that particular space quite empty. It’s so much more complicated and linked in than I imagined. Another particularly fascinating insight was his aversion to irrigation systems. Apparently ,after time ,they tend to make the soil too lime-y and thus unsuitable for azaleas and rhododendrons. After a pretty decent lunch we tramped round the rest of the garden and then made our way home. A very succesful if wet day, there’s so much to learn.
The latest outing was planned and organised by the Garden Club of Monza, not as well-attended as it should have been unfortunately. And the weather …… awful ,after a wonderful week of sun, anyhow we went up to ….. the nursery Anna Peyron. We had been there before, in fact it’s where I first got the idea of a hydrangea tree and decided to let my beautiful macrophylla grow into a tree. We had a nice if slippery and wet walk round the nursery, very much left to its own devices to see how the plants behave when they are not too manhandled. The owner’s daughter Saskia took me to see the tree that had inspired me and I was able to ask a few questions which she answered very willingly. On our walk round she illustrated a little experiment she’d done on a rose bush; half of it had had the summer chop or if you prefer green pruning, the other half left to mature, wither and make hips. The difference was absolutely astounding, the pruned bush was pink all over with roses so next summer I think I’ll try my hand at summer pruning.
Hungry? We then went to a restaurant inside a rocca (La Rocca di Arignano) dating back to the year 1000.What an experience! In the entrance, together with the books and studies concerning the building was a beautiful modern piece of art work. (it’s by Arnaldo Pomodoro entitled “La Soglia and is one of only three examples) We went down to the dining room though I’m tempted to call it dining hall. Everything on the menu was unusual and one of the ladies was going to opt for the risotto (which is the people of Lombardy’s default menu) but we convinced her to try the taster menu.Thank god, it was fantastic. Comments like “I’ve got some of this in my garden” (plantain? ) “Is this …….”, “Can you taste the……?”a fantastic meal , washed down by a couple of bottles of the good stuff (Nebbiolo), thanks to Oliviero. Next, feeling warm and replenished and very good humoured, off to the second nursey in serious rainfall
Feletig had organised a group of like- minded people to hold a small garden show but of course there was quite enough to keep us busy. Some interesting plants with autumnal colours and particularly berries. The garden is a year-round project after all. There were some garden antiques and an English lady demonstrating water colour botanic painting. I was happy to find the young people I’d met before who have set up a firm selling wood chippings, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them. Home lateish but extremely happy with my single plant ( symphoricarpos) and a bag of chippings!
This year I made the usual trip to the castle of Masino, a FAI property and pretty interesting if you like castles. All around in the ample gardens they hold the” 3 days for the garden ” shows in conjunction with the Italian FAI (a kind of National Trust organisation).For members the entry price is slashed. And you get a ticket for a free tasting of marmalades from Kolymbethra, a property in Sicily with the most marvellous array of marmalades; Bitter orange ( what we English call Seville orange), Blonde orange and Bergamot marmalade,tasting over, I strolled round the stands asking my questions as I went – the consolation for going on your own is of course that you can spend as long as you want talking to the nurserymen and women and you don’t have to worry about your friends standing behind you totally bored! I asked about chickens, I really would love a bantam or two but I think my neighbours would object. They’d probably destroy my garden too and the cat would take umbrage. But they are cute. I also tried to get some worms but the man had only brought worm compost with him this time. I probably don’t really need any more because my lawn is disfigured by worm casts but I like to encourage people who make, grow or do unusual things. I walked round a couple of times hoping I wouldn’t forget where I’d bought my plants from…it can happen. I only bought a few this time (ordered some others from a nursery nearer home) a low growing Verbena and a lovely, delicate Thalictrum, which will shoot up to about 2 metres next year. . But it’s lunch time and though there’s a limited choice, the food available is so good you don’t need much to choose from! There was polenta and porcini mushrooms, fantastically good, washed down with something red and Piedmontese, or my latest favourite “orto fritto” which is great: eggplant, zuchini, sweet semolina, fennel, big sage leaves, macaroons, borage, apple rings oh just too good to be true. Burning hot and crisp. I love it. I sat on the ground to eat it, all the bales of straw were taken, and it was great. Another little wander round before going back to get some groundcover roses I’d seen in the morning and I found the stall of a lady who makes mead. Sounds very prehistoric and Anglo Saxon to me. Well I tried it and it was interesting. I guess it would be a good talking point at any party. I preferred the after-dinner mead to drink with sweet dishes, particuarly those crusty biscuits they eat in Italy accompanied by vin santo. I want to get home before it’s too late so off I go to buy the wonderful rose…….it’s gone! What a dope! I hadn’t asked its name or taken its picture so now I’m high and dry. This has never happened to me before and I’m kicking myself. How could I have been so silly. Well there you are, back home with an unusually empty car and a correspondingly fuller purse. (Til next week when there are two more nurseries in the pipeline).
When I was younger, (quite a lot younger actually), I wrote a poem (well, a few words really, nothing as high falutin’ as a poem) and driving to work today I was reminded of that because the way to work can go through a rather lovely wooded area near a river which hosts a cycle track. I love green, I guess it’s the colour of my soul! but it’s not only the colour of MY soul apparently, it is a shade that denotes renewal and resurrection to Christians and it the colour of Islamic paradise.
We all associate green with Spring of course, and are happy seeing the first mist or fog of colour before there’s even a bud to be seen. Might that be some sort of collective hallucination do you think? Because if you look closer there really are no buds. It’s the colour of safety, GO GO GO. The one we expect anxiously when we’re in a hurry, not the red one please! and of course it’s the colour of the Irish. Why is Ireland called the Emerald Isle? Probably truer as tourist-hype than the monicker given to Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda! Unless of course that refers to the sea and in that case I haven’t got a leg to stand on! How many shades of green do the Irish say their lovely island has?
And what about money? The Americans call or called their bills greenbacks and it’s the colour associated with envy in English “I am green with envy at the number of greenbacks that green guy in the office has”. (We also say that people who are inexperienced are green!)
It’s supposed to have healing powers and is the most restful and relaxing of all colours. Curiously our exam papers were always printed on wishy-washy pale green paper. When I asked about it I was told it helps calm student nerves.”They paint prisons this colour too Anne” the teacher said. Yes, well….(But honestly, I think most students need a wake-up colour) However, back to our psychological insights: it can enhance vision, stability and endurance .It takes up more space in the colour spectrum visible to the human eye. And so, finally, here’s my “poem”:
I never do seem to be able
To get enough of green.
The Virginia creeper
Jungles its way over the terracotta tiles
No leaf mosaic here
In these depths,
The fugues of paler, tinier greens
And my gaze keeps hovering back
Until my retina is forested in green,
Not like the kaleidescope of Autumn reds, rarer
Punctuated with grape-blue tiny berries
You can admire them for some minutes,
Even every day and feel content.
But the greens,the greens
Actually that’s not the title of the song which is” I’m just a gal who can’t say no and I’m in a terrible fix”.I wish I were like that girl because procrastination is my enemy, Thief of my mini holiday!A gal who can’t say go, me down to the ground! So, eventually, tardily, tootling along in my car admiring the distant hills but knowing all the time that flat land is in my soul. Here the paddyfields and Poplar woods of the Lombard plain. Their flatness satisfies me, flat land, the horizontal lines give a feeling of calm., I’m not interested in the vertical thrusting lines leading up to….where? The really bright acid green of the rice fields, the poplars, green leaves their silver undersides shimmering in the slightest breeze all against that Leonardesque background of blues fading more and more as they are further away from me. I guess the mountains are wonderful to the more energetic souls among you or even the very romantic ones, but give me flat land.
I had decided to go and have a look at the lavender fields of the Oltrepò, but after quite a long ride, the landscape was unrelentingly green. Nice of course, but shouldn’t it be violet?So I stopped and asked a man where it was, and sometimes I’m pleased I have a foreign accent, foreigners are more easily forgiven for their lack of knowledge. ” Signora it was all harvested three weeks ago”! I really should do my research before starting out. So what to do? visit a little borgo, one ot the most beautiful ones in Italy apparently, and it was. Those quiet deserted streets , the climb up to the castle area and the church where I noticed that it’s not enough to be good to get into heaven, you have to climb a lot of steps. A nice little place, beautifully kept, but for me it was more to do with the intangibles: the perfect silence interrupted only by the birdsong, a cool fresh breeze which made walking a pleasure, even at 13.30, butterflies fluttering all around, occasional elderly ladies out walking with their granddaughters, the lady who stopped cleaning her windows to draw the curtains so I could get a decent shot of the gothic arched window….