Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Somevines, you just gotta let 'em be...

By default, the first tomato to blush in the garden should be a portent to a wonderful day, don't you think? It's not that I ask for alot [my day wasn't], but when are Mondays ever wonderful? ;-)

So instead of displaying that Brandywine Pink from yesteday, I head toward another section of the terrace orto where thrives a variety of vining vegetables: snake melons, japanese cucumbers and uchiki kuri squash. This location was not the best in terms of sunlight hours, but it was the safest place to keep the doxie pup from doing further damage to the plants! These were all started from seed, with the final butternut squash growing from pulp seeds that I had tossed into the back lot after cutting into a squash purchased at the market. What's so remarkable here is that I haven't really tended to this isolated bunch of viners. I just let them be and within a matter of weeks, flowering, then fruits were making an appearance.

baby snake melon snakemelon flower baby japanese cuke baby uchiki kuri baby butternut squash

Over the weekend I went around admiring orderly little gardens up in the mountain hamlets surrounding Lake Como. What did I find? Nothing but healthy zucchini, pumpkins, basil, rosemary, salad greens, bell peppers, beans (bush and pole) and tomatoes. And more tomatoes...and even more tomatoes. Between the loads of Cuor di Bue and San Marzano, all I could surmise is that old-timers - like my father-in-law - stick to tradition, and there is no such thing as attempting the latest fad to send raves around the plot community. What grows in their orto is what a grandfather and a great-grandfather must have grown long before that. Maybe there's a slight chance to convert a few, but for the most part, you just gotta let 'em be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wildflowers in italian alpine country

Our recent escape to the italian alpine regions of Lombardy and Trentino was to have been a bit of a “snooping session” into private little kitchen gardens, but the real surprise ended up being what flourished up at higher altitudes. Of the two shown here, I was only able to identify one.

This achene seed head (also called a fruit) with its filament-like appearance belongs to a floral genus which goes by names such as Easter flower and meadow anemone among others, but in Italy it is known as Infiorescenza di anemone alpino. I thought of them as interesting-looking weeds up until I found an italian article (cited source) which offered vernacular examples translating into hair of the witch or hair of the devil. I suppose they'd give such an impression with that red color!

The name to this flower, unfortunately, I've no clue. If anyone can identify it, please do. A third species, the edelweiss or stella alpina was one which I had hoped so much to see but was to be found nowhere. They grow at higher altitudes and getting caught picking them fetches you a hefty(?) fine. I found out that seeds are actually available online, even if I do not know of anyone who cultivates them. You can bet that edelweiss is on the flower garden planning board for next year.

Stella Alpina seed sources: LocalHarvest (USA) | Seeds of Italy (UK) | Semilandia (Italy)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Thai tiger eggplants are yielding fruit!

While spring took its sweet la-dee-da time in the mountains this year, I distinctly remember agitating over if it would ever warm up enough to leave my young thai eggplants outdoors - once and for all. Gardeners who had vegetable plots down at the lake were already in full transplanting stride, yet there I was, green with envy, wanting so much to get my green thumb going! When that time finally did come, out the eggplants went, and I hoped for all selfish reasons that this summer would be hotter than the last. The furthest thing from my mind was the arrival of any garden pest.

I didn't have to wait for long. The "pest" came in the form of a four-legged dachshund pup that recently became part of our family. He innocently nibbled every single one of the six thai eggplants (never ingesting but spitting out the pieces), so for awhile I had the potted plants set high where his short legs would never be able to jump and reach. It's been a month and a half of waiting, but look what's growing out on the terrace garden. Tiny, pale green orbs that shouldn't take much longer to become the 2 ounce, striped fruit as shown on the website from where I purchased the seeds.

And lastly the tomato jungle...

A 6-foot square section in one corner of the yard has been taken over by Rouge d'Irak tomatoes. I've dubbed it the enchanted corner since 3 lavender plants which were in the same exact spot last year grew to incredulous proportions. Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Furry Yellow Hogs and Thessalonikis are all over the place - in pots, in the ground and even in hard clay soil in the back lot. They are all producing loads of fruit! Anybody want some, give me a holler...soon we'll be drowning in the stuff. But you know what? Next year I want even more.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Gardener

No italian garden blog would be complete without paying homage to the bountiful art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, especially his paintings with double meanings. Rotating the image from left to right you have a bowl of vegetables and the gardener. Maybe a little bizarre at first (I played with the idea of composing my own vegetable man from our modest pickings), but note the primary types of vegetables depicted: onion and root. Common ingredients, which even to this day, are carefully tended in the most artistic of gardens.

Non sarebbe giusto se un blog di giardinaggio mancasse di rendere omaggio all'arte di Giuseppe Arcimboldo, sopratutto i suoi quadri a doppio senso. Girando l'imagine da sinistra a destra, si vede una ciotola di verdure e il giardiniere. Forse un po' bizarro all'inizio (mi e' venuta l'idea di farne uno io stessa), ma guarda i principali generi di verdure: cipolla e ortaggi a radice. Ingredienti abbastanza comuni, che, anche in questi tempi, sono curati con attenzione nei piu' artistici giardini.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Perilla as an insect repellent?

I was reading with great interest this article at Clean Air Gardening to plant feverfew as a natural way to repel insects, when it occurred to me to check what plants I may already have as possible deterrents to the pests that plague my asian greens. I noticed that our green perilla stands proud as a peacock with not a blemish from hungry insects. Why is that? Perilla - imho - has an odd smell. Its scent reminds me of sour...bread starter that has gone from a good sour to being just plain stink. At one point I even declared that it reminded me of my husband's armpits after a long morning of toiling away in the garden. I didn't really mean that of course; it was a rash statement! To this day when I stick my nose in the plant for a deep whiff, my olfactory senses do a short circuit and I am left confused. Perhaps that in itself is the answer. The last thing a bug needs is to be bewildered before a meal.