Gardening, My Diary, Trip, Uncategorized

Villa Carlotta

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.

Gardening, My Diary, Seasons, Uncategorized

A Tragi-comic Story with an Unexpected Happy Ending.

I have a young olive tree in my garden; I bought it from a seller with a truck along the roadside, not much hope there I’ m afraid. I have no idea what it really is, I mean the botanical classification but anyway it’s a kind of homage to Italy because together with those lovely Leonardesque rows of plane trees getting bluer as they recede into the distance it’s the typical Italian tree in my idea of Italian stereotypes. It was planted in the garden and surprisingly likes it. My daughter was worried about the original position so I moved it and it took off and did well there too. So by then it was making great headway but one year I was unable to prune the rambling roses scrambling over my pergola which cast so much shade over the olive tree that it tended to lean away. And of course the twigs very quickly got strong and quite thick and the tree had grown into an unpleasant, unnatural hunched shape. Obviously the only thing to do is to give the roses a haircut and try and pull the olive tree back to a more upright position. With a lot of help and muscle power from students and friends, very gradually the tree is now taking shape again, beautifully upright. It needs to fill out the more neglected side with some extra branches still, but I’m happy.

A year or two ago, I noticed I’d got a very heavy crop of olives. I asked around trying to find out when you should pick them. When I tasted them I decided they were awful until someone explained that YOU DON’T EAT OLIVES STRAIGHT FROM THE TREE! The next step was picking them and trying to make them edible (Google was very useful on this occasion) So first of all you wash them, prepare some brine and put them away in the dark. Easy peasy, except you have to do this 3 times with brines containing different percentages of salt. And I even did this. Then I forgot them in my cellar! When I DID remember, all the jars I opened had exciting varieties of mould growing on the top! Help! Throw them all away? Of course! NO though, wait a minute, don’t I know a very nice food scientist from a place I used to work? Yes. So after an exchange of photos to be sure that I wouldn’t poison myself I received a whole list of instructions. It was going to be a long job, but “in for a penny, in for a pound”. It was because I had to wash them, exagerrated a bit with the salt, found them inedible, washed them again and went through the 3-stage process yet again. Believe me however much you pay for your olives, it’s never enough. So now I proudly use my very own olives in my recipes ,that’s a success story!


Anteprima of Spring

Spring IS coming again this year, my garden told me so. We are having magnificent weather, bright and sunny, several drops in night-time temperatures but milder than last year. I have all this interesting information because I keep an R.H.S 5-year diary, fantastic invention. You can check what you’re likely to see , what’s early, what’s late what’s right on time. You can also hopefully correct a few of your last year’s mistakes!

I’ve also started combing through my “What happens each month, what to do each month”books. And I decided to put together a combination of the expert advice, the only problem with THAT brilliant idea is that I got a really long list of things”to do in January”.My idea had been to take out a book, sit in a sunny place near the Sarcococca (moved especially for this purpose) and just breathe in the inebriating perfume! Instead I find myself on my knees scratching about among the leaves which are supposed to suppress the weeds. It’s a gardener’s eternal mystery why weeds can get through ANY barrier you present them with.

I’ve also started growing seeds. I had great success last year with my Cosmos seeds, so I’m starting this new adventure. At the moment just Saxifrage and Parsley. I was shocked at the price of the saxifrage plants in the nurseries so I bought what I expected to be a root from my usual suppliers. It turned out to be ONE SEED. That’s right ,one single, wildly expensive seed. So now the lonely, minuscule, almost invisible thing is luxuriating in love and TLC.

Gardening, My Diary, Seasons, Trip

Last garden outing? Surely not

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!

Gardening, My Diary, Trip

Perhaps my Favourite Garden Show

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).