Thursday, February 05, 2009

Itchy (green) Fingers

My fingers are itching to get out into the garden, tidy up and look for signs of spring.
In Luxembourg, we are still in sub-zero temperatures, with ground frost and snow. The only thing that seems to be growing is the city of mole hills spreading it's way across the lawn and into the garden beds. I can probably say goodbye to the tulip bulbs I planted.

In Positano, it's quite a different scenario.
The continuous rain this year hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of the roses which continue to bloom, nor that of the native white jonquils fragrant and invasive, sitting prettily under the orange trees and flowering in drifts along the cliff-side gardens down to the beach.

I am rarely in Positano at the right time for gardening, being chained to the school calender for trips. We are obliged to take on a gardener for seasonal jobs, rather than let the place run to seed.

But there is a thing about gardeners in Italy and myself. We don't quite see eye to eye about what is acceptable and what is not.

I revel in nature and the surprises it presents in different places. Italians like to control it or fashion it into tidy rows, with weed free straight lines and pruning everything to an inch of its life.

Several years ago, we were looking for someone to tend the garden in Positano in our absence. We had a few waiters-cum-gardeners-cum-painters-cum-handymen visit, after I had tidied the garden to what seemed to us to be a pleasing standard.

As I showed them around and waited for the compliments, all I heard was 'ahi' or 'ehi ' and an intake of breath.

You see my (unrealistic) dreams of a tropical paradise in the heart of Positano, with jungle vines vying for space with dilapidated dry stone walls, or a sort of mediterranean adaptation of an English Cottage Garden, has to contend with the Italian conception of 'bello'.

Or in other words this :

Our present gardener who prunes the grape vines and plants a few vegetables in our absence insisted that my husband take a photo of the fruit garden so he could show me his work.
Nada, Niente , nothing there. All cleaned up, dug under and clear of growth. And he was very proud of it to. What you can't see is the peas, broad beans and a few head of lettuce that he put in for our consumption in April. But otherwise this is it.

Our gardener Michele, from days long past, used to say that 'if you couldn't eat it, you shouldn't be growing it'. His only exception to this rule was a Calla lily or Dama in Camicia in the corner of the fruit garden.

I have convinced our present gardener that the ornamental plants are just as important to me as the vegetable part, but it seems that sometimes, I am talking to an (ivy clad) brick wall.

Our huge rose bushes were pruned literally to death and their replacements will take a long time to reach the height of the 30 year old giants.
I have to repeat each year that want the bougainvillea to trail down the wall so that he doesn't chop it back too drastically, and to let jasmine scramble naturally in the sun rather than tie it back.
I know Plumbago is rampant, but letting it sucker in the stone wall gives us privacy from the neighbours.
I don't mind that the blood red hibiscus in the corner looks old and forlorn because I planted it there the year I arrived in Positano. In it's hey days, it made its way into many a guide book's photos, the scarlet taken against the blue of the sea.

I'd like plants, please. Verdant and with flowers, scent and colour. Low maintenance, low watering and able to get along without my help for months on end.

I know, many of you will be thinking that a plastic plant will probably do the trick.

I am so unreasonable. I only have to go to Positano unexpectedly to see what a great clean up this gardener does to prepare for our stay.

A good dedicated gardener is now a rarity in these parts. That is, one that actually admires and tends ornamentals as well as the edibles. In the past, people in Positano would come and beg for work. Now it's considered too strenuous for most people who prefer to have a comfy hotel job, to the point that the neighbours come and beg the gardener to look after their houses too.

I'm tempted to take the ball and chain off my legs and tie it on his.


Chef Chuck said...

Hi Scintilla, I Love gardening to, and have those same kind of feelings, one of excitement and anticipation to begin this wonderful season of growth!! Every year it builds up to a great level, as we know the weather is not far from warmth, Spring time!! I have appreciated your blog so much! You give me a great perspective of the lifestyle in your area of Italy. Also looking forward to sharing our gardening joys!
Thank You, Chuck

Lucia said...

It's -20c...gardening seems a long way off for me...and I do very minimal but I like my garden messy fragrant (I use herbs) and overgrown!!! You have inspired me to do a vegetable garden this year, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers because I do those well!

Anonymous said...

I too enjoy an overgrown garden with ivy growing up walls and a wealth of wildflowers...goodluck reaching a happy medium!

Anonymous said...

I love overgrown gardens, and they fit right in with my naive ideas of Italy! I am not much of a gardener, and while I keep thinking that I will be when I own my own house, I know I will have no idea how to go about it. I guess I will have to get in touch with you!

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

I see or hear what you are saying! So many Italians have their gardens as their mini farm growing everything they can in a small space...which is great - however they do tend to think pretty flowers a waste of space.

Maybe you need to see if you can find an expat gardener!

Rowena said...

I hear you on the itchy an act of defiance I potted a couple of eggfruit seeds that I had brought back with me from the islands. Nothing to show yet, but the forecast looks like it'll be warmer next week!

Anonymous said...

I am totally with you on this one. The difference as I see it, is that we need to work with nature on this one. Not force her into straight lines.

I also don't over-clear the ground during winter. The result is that now I've got little snowdrops peeking up from under the leaves I didn't sweep up and the rocket went to seed, untouched, which will mean another great crop next year.

I'm sure my neighbours think I'm just lazy, but I like it like that - I also love all the fireflies we have on hot summer nights, because I don't use weed-killer either. (Did I say "hot summer nights"? mmmm!)

The Food Hunter said...

I love gardening too. Here in Phoenix I still have tomatoes and peppers growing. My basil though never makes it through the winter.

Rosa said...

Chuck - Spring is probably the best time of the year in the garden. One still has all those months ahead of outdoor life to look forward too.

Lucia- Poor you! Toronto winter bites deep. I like the same sort of garden as you have.
I don't have any luck with cucumbers !

Eryn - I haven't lost hope yet !

Kelkel- thank you for stopping by!
I'll be happy to help when you get you piece of earth...

Leanne- Lots of the old Italian folks in Australia used to use their front gardens as a veggie patch too.

Rowena- Is egg fruit a climber/vine? You could train it up Sally's lemon tree.

Sally- There used to be a lot of fireflies in Positano but they are far between now. I'll have to look in the garden here to see if the snowdrops are up. Everything seems to be delayed this year.

The Food Hunter- Imagine still having tomatoes and peppers ! You are so lucky !

Paul Anater said...

I just found your blog after following the comment you left on mine. What a wonderful break on a chilly Saturday morning, thank you! I'm going to write about your blog for my post tomorrow, I hope you won't mind. Full attribution of course!

Rosa said...

Paul - Hello there! You described Positano so well and the place had obviously crept under your skin too - it came out in your post...

Anonymous said...

Is there a word in Italian besides "garden" that would convey the feeling of overgrown jungly look that you are trying to create? Maybe if you explain that it's NOT a garden that you want them to tend, but an "overgrown jungle" maybe then they would put their pruning shears to rest.

So now I have one more place that I must visit before I, you know.

♥ Braja said...

Damn. My gardener does that too. Or used to, until I stopped him.Very proud of his slash and burn methods, but no more....

LaDue & Crew said...

Oh, I love a garden that is lush and free forming. Too many retire from being a butcher, thinking that they can now garden! I am looking forward to planting some here in a few weeks. I have to do it now, because our spring is so hot! Everything dies here in the summer :-(.

Thanks so much for your inspiring words! Hopefully, I can show before and after photo's when I am done. And you're right, we have to steer Chef Chuck over to the vegetable garden, tee hee!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. My husband, who doesn't really participate at all in the gardening, always wants to go out and cut everything back-it drives me nuts!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Scintilla, I can just stare at your photos all day! I'm always daydreaming when I come here, and I always enjoy your writing!!

Louise | Italy said...

Hi, oh for the Med! Lovely pictures. Up here in Piemonte we're still definitely in winter. I have a neighbour who also works by the maxim that if you can't eat it you shouldn't grow it. Like you, I'm also trying for a delightfully tangled wilderness garden, camellias jostling with jasmine, mixed with English roses and German cabbages. But you know natural chaos is much, much harder than the scorched earth look...

Louise | Italy said...

PS I want to be one of your followers, why don't you have one of those widgets?