Planting up December/January

12/02/2012 - 15:08

I really keen to get a crack on with planting up around a newly renovated building. I think I'm looking at lavender hedges, oleander and lots of herbs...and as many mosquito deterring plants I can come across! More fruit, nut and olive trees are also on the cards but can come later on. It's more trying to make a very 'blank' casaletto feel like a home at this stage! We'll be out in the Sabine Hills, an hour North of Rome for three weeks straddling December and January. Is there anything which can be planted up at this time of year? I thought to try and take advantage of recent rain etc and given that last Summer was so dry I thoughts roots might be able to get down into the soil to minimise watering in Spring when it can already start getting hot there... Any thoughts from the green fingered brigade? Thanks



Not the best time of the year and it all depends on the soil, location, weather. Some plants that could do well would be phlox, acanthus, asters, lupins , pansies, cyclamens, even some types of geraniums. I wwould advise you to look at what other neighbours grow and also find a good nursery in your area. They always give good advice.

Rachel this time of year you can plant bare root hedging and trees and from personal experience I would strongly recommend that if you haven't got any trees or natural shade to focus on this first.  We started with a new build (knock down, reclaim and rebuilt) 5 years ago and we had nothing apart from a very old protected oak and a couple of self seeded oaks on our land.  The site otherwise was bare apart from the odd broom and lots of weeds.  Like you we wanted to make a pretty garden the minute we moved in and spent an awful lot of money doing just that.  However the lack of shade and really bad soil resulted in us losing most of what we planted.  Over the years we have planted dozens of trees and fed the soil continuously allowing other shrubs, climbers, perennials etc to thrive.  We now have a really lovely and interesting garden over 2500m2 hillside, 300m above sea level.  Be patient and enjoy.  

Absolutely agree with KarenR on this. Forget poncy trite things like lavenders which you pick up for a couple of euro in the market, and they strut their stuff within six months. Buy (small) trees, or hedging, if you are really starting out on serious landscaping. (It would be great to see some pics from Karen - though I understand that it is absurdly difficullt on this forum!)

Thanks so much for the advice. I wasn't planning on planting near neighbours' boundaries yet so hopefully no issues with distances from boundaries but good to be reminded one can't go at these things willy-nilly! It was interesting to hear though about the 'willow' firewood coppices possibly being illegal. Our heating is a mix of a multi-fuel (legno, maize, pellets) termocamino and solar panel - no gas - so I had thought of planting up some quick growing firewood for future years...anyone know anything more about this? We are at 335 ft according to Google Earth. have 15 olives, a few figs - but mostly not particularly near the house and a few large cherry trees...again, not too near so what I thought to keep an easy-ish maintenance scheme at present is several bushy oleanders which I can allow to get quite big and a really long lavender hedge along the new strada bianca going up to the house. It's the lavender hedge which'll be the enormous job and which if I try and plant at a time of year when it'll need constant watering will be a nightmare! On top of this some apple and apricot trees, a walnut and hazelnut tree. Sadly I'm told peaches don't do well in our zone of the the Sabina. It's getting the time of year right on planting the various different plants...I'll head off down to a nursery and find out what bareroot stock they've got. I heard someone bemoan the quality of spades and forks in we're driving out would we be advised to get some good quality ones here in the UK  or is this ridiculous?...I had thought Italian tools would be pretty reliable given the ortos that thrive around us!

Rachel, the tools are just different that is all. In Italy they use long handled spades and a zappa instead of a fork althrough you can buy more English looking forks too. The stuff in the DIY stores isn't necessarily of great quality so find a local agricoltural supplier and they usually sell the handles and heads separately. The Post Office sell a great calendar for each year showing what should be planted when according to the phases of the moon etc. It's very informative and interesting to peruse but obviously not as good as local advice. In my experience of gardening in dry-old East Anglia, everything needs watering when first planted despite the time of year. It might be worth speaking to your neighbours and asking if they can do some watering for you if it looks like they need it.

Oleanders are very hardy; however, avoid transplanting if there is the possibility of frost. In any case, trim the top, as it would help. Last October, while visiting Paestum, we were able to admire an oleander which was like a tree, about 3 metres tall. I could not believe it was an Oleander until I checked it. They do very well in most parts of Italy. Careful with children and pets as they are toxic.

Penny does love her Zappa!  And so do I, if truth be told.  But they are feckin' useless for jobs which a good strong fork can undertake quite easily.  I have weeded out couch grass with a Zappa and it took for ever and wasn't that brilliant anyway.  The same job (further down the bed after a trip to Brico) with an Italian fork was much easier.  I would definitely invest in a spade and fork from Burgon and Ball.  Pricey, but worth it in my view. If you plant lavender in say March it should get plenty of water before the hot summer arrives and plenty of time to get its feet into the soil.  And lavenders are pretty tough anyway. They are about E3 in the market round us for a good sized plant, but if you are intending on planting a lot that may be too expensive.   I haven't looked THAT hard, but small and therefore cheap plants for mass planting seem hard to come by - unless someone can tell me otherwise?  So you might want to consider taking a whole lot of mini-lavenders out with you if you are driving.  Everything seems to grow at twice the speed in Italy anyway.

We've always found the Corpo Forestale very helpful. Not only do they give good advice but they even gave us a few trees free of charge (their trees are so cheap it wasn't worth charging for just a few)

Hi Our property was a new build on farmland so it was a blank canvas. I decided to go for a "try anything" and be prepared for the good and the bad. I carried out a soil test and then checked out what plants/trees could be sent from the UK. At the time I found oak, fruit and I think viburnum (related I think to oak) the only problem. I found the best supplier for quality and price was Buckingham Nurseries, I tried purchasing locally to our property in Lazio but found it to be a farcical exercise. I found nearly everything not only survive but grew very well even though they were all left to the elements. Climbers are not so easy and am still experimenting. When transporting the plants I remove all packing and leave very little earth, so as to keep the weight down. I have done this many times and success rate has made it very well worth the effort. Also took 50 forsythia plants that were cuttings from home  and eight months later are doing ok. I would therefore say experiment, experiment. Good gardening.

I always take plants over in my hand luggage.  It's amazing how much you can fit in a small backpack if you remove them from their plastic pots.  I scour ebay/amazon for v young versions so they are ztill quite small, plus take seedlings from my UK garden.  They will look a bit puny at first, but as I've said, they grow at twice the speed of the Uk. I was surprised to discover that there is no restriction on plant movements within the EU - probably the root of the ash problem...

Annec is right about the speed at which things grow here compared to Britain. It seems to me that one of the major differences between gardening in the UK and gardening in Italy is that, in Britain, you spend a lot of your time trying to get things to grow, while here you spend a lot of time hacking back stuff you don't want to grow. I'm a fan of mycorrhizal fungi culture when planting in ground that doesn't have any established trees or shrubs. I haven't risked my money by doing controlled trials and used it on some seedlings and not on others, but I am convinced that it is one factor that has helped around 50 young fruit trees that I planted two years ago on an exposed, south-facing slope to thrive. They've not been watered or received any other care since then, but they've all done very well in spite of some very dry and hot weather. (The saplings were, by the way, mostly apples and brought from England as bare-rooted maidens, mainly because we were looking for a wider range of varieties than are available in our area of Italy.) The other thing I did was put a couple of layers of regular cardboard around the base of each tree and weight it down with boulders. The squares were about 50cm on a side and the idea was to help keep the soil immediately around the trunks as moist as possible, both by preventing weeds from growing there and by helping to keep the hot sun off the soil. The ground under the cardboard still dries out and, after a few weeks with no rain, it looks almost as cracked as the surrrounding area, but I do think it makes a difference. Last summer, lots of our established trees were showing signs of water-stress and dropping leaves, but all of the saplings were looking great, with lots of glossy, green foliage. We haven't lost any of these young trees, either to the bitterly cold weather we had last winter or to the hot and dry weather we had last summer. It may be poncy and trite, but we're planning on planting a lavender hedge along a fence soon. We won't be buying in the plants, though. Our experience is that shoving a simple cutting into the ground will result in a viable plant more often than not. Our experience also is that, once you have a single lavender growing here, you'll have no shortage of springs to use as cuttings. Finally, I agree with Karen that it's unwise to try to do too much, too quickly. That's especially so for someone who isn't here permanently. For most of the year, most plants will grow incredibly well here, but the heat and dry can be devastating for plants that have neither a good root system or someone to give them a good soaking now and then. Al