If you had some land to grow on...

07/09/2012 - 12:21

What, and why would you want to grow it Plants, flowers, fruit and veg? Any suggestions welcomed....



There are two schools of thought on growing your own veg. (taste issues aside) and quite a few friends of ours say that it's not worth the hassle of growing your own tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, aubergines etc. as when in season they are so cheap to buy. Add to this the rigmarole of buying the plants, watering every day and free food for local wildlife you always end up giving a lot away (good community relations granted) or feeling obliged to eat salad for the best part of 2 months everyday. We tend only to plant a few varieties ; Toms and salad leaves and a wide selection of herbs that we can use to augment the salads also for winter parsnips and swede. Daily watering can be a bind especially if you want to go away for a while especially if you live in a hot dry area, but I know the love of anticipation of eating what you have grown is great. What do others think?

Maybe we are lucky; we have a small patch of ground behind the house; 5m x 5m plus a strip of 10m x 1m. We manage to grow all our veg. duing the summer months, and what we don't use, we freeze for the winter months. We're also lucky to live near the local Consortium (Spinetoli AP) where we buy our plants. Occasionally you feel a bit daft buying just 12-15 tomato plants when the local guy next to you is buying 200, but what the heck. Excess tomatoes are turned into tomato sauce for pasta etc, and frozen into portion sized 'bricks'. Courgettes cubed and frozen also, rhubarb made into crumble etc, and onions dried and hung in the garage, as are the chilli peppers. The little plot is actually good fun, and although it needs tending regularly, this is also quite therapeutic, and we're lucky as we're both the types that don't go far for any length of time, so not too time consuming. Front garden; although full of roses etc also contains lots of different herbs; very low maintainance, popular with neighbours who may live on the first floor and don't have gardens etc. We tell them simply to help themselves, and this is repaid in the occasional bottle of 'family made' wine; cakes or similar. One neighbour who actually has plants etc gave us 5 kilos of lemons from their trees, so Jean made Lemon Curd and Lemon Marmalade duely delivered to 'next door'. Even after explaining that Lemon Curd is the sort of thing you may have at breakfast etc, we found out later that they had enjoyed it with their smoked salmon..... Just a few ideas then; I reckon if you are prepared for some graft, then give it a go. Certainly nicer to look at than weeds or places for the local cats to ......

I am not sure it's all about saving money, for the Italians it is a way of life thats been passed down for generations and has so many other bonus's as well. A lot of people in the UK now work 50+ hours per week, they don't have time to shop/cook/eat properly so they end up eating processed ready meals or take aways. They then become overwight and unhealthy so have to join a gym and have to work another 2 hrs every week to pay for the membership equipment etc. Compare this to the 'poor' Italian who works 30 hrs per week (paid job)  then spends the other 20 hrs in his orto, fresh air free excercise and good quality free food - who's going to live longest? Before I came to Italy I had never grown anything but I am addicted to my orto, going out to see whats ready is like being a kid on Christmas morning. Every year you learn from the last. We are lucky in Italy to have a good balance of weather and it is fairly easy to grow stuff, it's great to get your kids into it because then they want to know how to cook it and are happy to try the stuff they have grown so there's no veg phobia which seems to be acceptable with kids in England. I remember the first year we were here my kids plucked green peppers from the plant and ate them like apples whilst running round the garden, if we were still in the UK they would probably be eating a mars bars whilst playing on a computer game. I'll shurrup now cos I am going on a bit!

With the development of 'high rise' living in some parts, a curious situation arises... Often extended families are housed in the same apartment blocks, one on top of the other, and generally the first generation on the ground floor (mobility etc). On the first floor you may find their (married) children, and on the next floor up their married grandchildren etc. Sometimes it happens that the grandparents (ground floor) are responsible for the veg. garden, and do most if not all of the work, supplying the others with produce. This is a common occurrance where we live. The real experts are the 'nonni', and it's great entertainment to listen to the various opinions when they get together with uncles, great uncles/aunts dicussing just exactly how you do things like plant out, water, fertilize, keep your eye on the moon's cycles etc. Generally, if one of them leans over to your garden when you're doing something, 9 times out of 10 you're doing it wrong! In our tiny reality, the next door's generations are all involved in the allotment, and even the children of 5/6 years of age are part of the process. It's heartening to see a little one of about 8 years of age sitting halfway up a tree picking and eating fruit, but also encouraging their friends to do the same. When we planted our seedlings/plantlets etc. out, 'spot the plant' games generally result in even the youngest knowing a tomato from a courgette, a bean from an onion etc. I'm lucky to be involved in delivery of sport in schools, and often parents will ask me about their childrens' diets. Usually it revolves around the children not eating fruit and veg. My advice is to buy a couple of trays for the balcony, and ask the children to grow something - lettuce, tomatoes etc. When they cultivate their own, it takes on a whole new aspect! Works for me... Rambling now.....

Within the first weeks of dragging the caravan onto our land, and setting up some kind of "home" our next thoughts were to provide ourselves with some fresh and home grown veg. So armed with nothing more than shovels and picks managed to dig and seive (giving us enough rocks to build a wall!) a small patch of land about 10ft by 15ft. We raked and tilled & planted a  random mix of  seeds we had brought with us from the U.K. Yes, you live and learn. Our neighbours took great pleasure in watching and pointing and shaking there heads, and telling us that the moon phases were not conducive to planting. Asking us what curly kale, cauliflower, sprouts and parsnips were. Translations were duly given. More shaking of heads and eyes cast to the sky & mutterings of the Inglese. We watered and nurtued and failed. But, we were inundated with barrow loads of veg from neighbours far and wide. We were overwhelmed by their gratitude and help. Our first attempt at growing on the hill in fact grew the roots of many close friendships. Sprat

Forget veg. Yes it is very satisfying to grow your own but when yours are in season then more magnificent specimens  will be available in the co-op etc and cheap too! Plant an orchard Fruit trees are cheap here and you can grow things like peaches and apricots and cherries. Upside - plenty of fruit for the family minimal work - prune once a year, keep the grass low maybe spray once a year Some water as the fruit is expanding can help but not essential Downside - your fruit will not look as good as the co-op but it can be picked when it is at it's sweetest Jam-making could be needed to deal with gluts but YOUR jam will taste great! Do not bother with sharon fruit as they are horrible! Good Luck

We have given up on an orto after 6 years of failure and a pointless waste of time and energy....the only things that grow well are tomatoes. But as elliven has pointed out, much more sucessful with the fruit and nut trees and the olives are looking good as well. Ideally it would have been great to have an orto, one of the things we were looking forward to when we moved here after having had allotments in the UK, but climate and soil (however enriched) have been our downfall. Have given the last of the failed lettuce to the eggless chicken (another mistake!) and next year we wont bother......so there! 

I tried an orto a few years ago................my gawd,........ water water, weed weed, water water, weed weed !...... there were some successes, potatoes, beans, onions, zucchini and tomatoes all grew well, but the effort............blimey! I just have three tomato plants..............easy ! S

I've never managed veggies, even in good soil in the UK. It seems to me that veggies are much more demanding than shrubs, trees, or even flowers because they want water (or whatever else) today. Not the day after tomorrow, or next week - NOW. Quite a famous gardening writer (possible Christopher Lloyd, though I'm not certain) recommended that you did things (pruning, spraying, transplanting - anything) to your ornamentals when you noticed it needed doing. None of this rubbish about do it in March with a full moon - that might be the ideal, but doing it in August won't do a lot of harm. Now you can't get away with that with veggies. Of course, you need to plant the right ornamentals - droughtproof sun lovers, or find some shade (plant a tree to put your geraniums under). Fruit and nut trees are good, and hot fruit off the tree is wonderful. Treat them almost as biennials if you have trouble with diseases which need spraying against - just plant a few each year, they are so cheap, and chuck out anything looking sick after three years! Olives are pretty well bombproof - but planting 200 is going to make you a lot of work in the future - 10 or so would be more sensible. I've only grown table grapes on pergolas, but that was very easy, so a small vineyard might be fun. Good luck of any of you who are early enough risers (5.30am seems good) to cope with veggies. I admire you.

Many thanks for all your suggestions, much food for thought.  I should have said I do grow a few veg in raised beds but they do, as many say, require alot of work for a result that you can buy at a very reasonable cost at the market.  An orchard of fruit and nut trees however sounds sensible as once established would require minimal work in comparison and provide shade for any grazing animals. Interestingly, nobody has posted to say they would consider growing plants, to sell.    I have worked for wholesale plant nurseries for a number of years back home and was considering growing plants, trees and shrubs that would suit the climatic conditions but are uavailable to buy here. I would very much appreciate your thoughts on whether this would be a viable project or not and if it was, what plants would you lke to be able to buy that you cannot source here ?

I'm amazed Sprats neighbours asked her what Cauliflowers were - seeing as Italy grows more Cauliflowers than any other country in Europe. Perhaps they were taking the piss?

Dylano, Australian natives would be very adaptable to the Italian climate conditions; however, they are not easy to find with the exception of a few callistemons, or "kangaroo paws". There  is plenty of information about varieties in the web and I can tell you that they are becoming increasingly popular in California.

I'd be interested in anything that was drought resistant and also hardy enough to withstand mountain winters. UK staples eg geraniums (not pelargoniums) and irises (in colours other than blue) My taste is for plants that are close to or are native species (ie weeds).  I did ask the tourist office in Visso why it didn't sell packs of seeds from the mountain flora - I would certainly buy those.  Some of the thistle-type things I've seen in the Sibillinis are very dramatic even when just the seed husk is left.  And a field left uncultivated near us is a fantastic blue which (I think) is some sort of vetch And since I'm rubbish with seeds (don't have the patience), would certainly be happy to buy plants someone else has grown on PS - also a fan of grasses.  Some of the wild ones round us have fantastic sprays if left to develop.  And a huge range of grasses is drought-resistant

so they are already on my list Annec.  Already have approx 20 varieties of iris's and do intend to increase stock.  Could the blue field be Alfafa (lucerne) ?  Where we are there are many fields full of it an excellent green manure crop.  When out walking last year came across a field of erymgiums, will try some named varieties from seed next year... and agree thistles are beautiful, as you say plants close to the native species have to be born survivors. Will keep you posted but hopefully, in a very small way, will start selling next year.  Thank you for your suggestions.

Have tried Kangaroo Paws - v impressive during the summer but gave up the ghost in winter. Bottle brushes - Callistemon OK I have grown them from seed - quite easy if you have patience. Drought resistant and hardy here. Pot grown varieties will be better in flower but will need some water for first 2 years. Australian flowers are v interesting  but some have rather specialised requirements. My current success story is Tradescantia of the non PC Wandering Jew type. Do very well , lots of different types, die down in winter but spring back to life after being put in a sheltered spot. Use a decent sized pot and give a bit of feed in summer. Will tolerate you going away for a few days . Only problem is getting new plants these days - yes I know your granny had one on the windowsill. As for selling plants I think I'd leave that to the local experts.

In reply to by elliven

I too have tried various Australian plants - but for areas subject to cold (most of inland Italy if it's bit high) they do tend to peg out. But tradescantia - wow - that is truly wonderful for me outside - the variegated ones often appear to die in a cold winter, but the roots are fine and it comes back up. Some of them like a bit (or even total) shade, most obliging plants. Tradescantia x andersoniana is quite stunning and will do in full sun - a pot survived a lot of ice on it this winter with no complaints. One thing you just can't buy here are the sort of plants other gardeners 'wish' on you in the UK. Like vincas, snow-in-summer, unflashy sedums - weedproof low ground cover to chuck out when better plants have established themselves. They wouldn't command a high price though. I'm not convinced growing and selling plants is much of a money spinner here in Italy: okay, there are high priced desirables on sale at plant shows and the posher nurseries, but there are also plenty of single polytunnel sell off the side of the road merchants which are clearly run by well equipped nurserymen, and though they make their bread and butter by raising pelargoniums and tomato plants increasingly there is someone in the family who branches out a bit. I bought a few ornamental asparagus for a euro apiece for a dark corner which are doing fabulously, and some boxes which would have cost 20 euro which they were flogging for 4: they had F1 bedding plants of great beauty and unusual colours/forms - but at 2 euro each. As a development of a hobby, and to know that you've introduced someone to a new plant it will be a worthwhile venture, but you may struggle to cover your costs, but best of luck anyway, and keep us posted!

Fillide and Elliven, interesting reading but not yet put off....   Elliven, I have worked in many branches of the horticultural world for quite a few years and have always managed to make a reasonable living.  'Experts' here, seem to be steeped in tradition and give the impression of not being aware of modern methods and changing 'fashions' .  The choice of plants is still very limited and anything different is either unavailable or very expensive and often of poor quality. Fillide, I hear what you are saying about 'Aussie' plants and would of course take site and therefore climatic zone into consideration before selecting plants to grow.  I do not live close to a main road and being competative in the pelargonium and tomato market does not appeal.  As you say I would prefer to introduce someone to a new plant knowing it will give them a great deal of pleasure over a number of years.  Will keep you posted.