Plans And Plants

I love this time of year, there’s so much to look forward to, sunshine, days at the beach and a riot of colour in the garden. Being in Italy means I can start off my seed sowing earlier than if I was in the UK, but first I like to be organised and have a plan: some would say it’s OCD, but whatever, it works for me.

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The best time is when I have sorted the seeds and decided what I’ll be growing and at the end of January out of storage comes the electric propagator. Seeds trays are washed and disinfected and two trays of compost are popped in to warm overnight.

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Not everything works here in Italy though, some plants just don’t thrive in the summer heat, but it’s fun trying different ones. Despite being native to Sicily, Sweet Peas have failed every year for me and this year is my last attempt, so I started them off in November so they’ll be bigger and stronger when they go outside: I have some outside already in a pot which I can bring in if we get a forecast of snow.

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Space is limited in the propagator and with marble windowsills that can be too cold for seeds once they’ve been removed. I had to come up with a way to keep the seeds insulated. So I started to save polystyrene food trays and I drop the young seedling into these to keep them warmer. I’ve found it works really well and promotes good root growth.

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I also enjoy the preparation that seed sowing and gardening brings, above is one of my sunflower trays. I scrounged the polystyrene trays from the local butcher and the growing pods are toilet rolls cut in half. This system keeps the roots contained and can be planted direct into the ground once the plants are large enough. It helps when you’re planning on sowing 70+ sunflowers.

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Finally, the joy of pricking out. Above is a tray of 15 Coreopsis, I only want six plants for the garden so this means there’ll be nine left over to donate to friends. I’ll no doubt during the summer be sharing photographs of the garden with my readers here. Until then, happy gardening everyone.

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I Fiori

After an hour pricking out sweet William seedlings and winter flowering pansies ready to take over from the summer bedding, I was thinking that this year’s display of flowers has been the best yet since moving to Abruzzo.

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Previous years have seen me pay more attention to the orto and raising vegetables, however this year apart from a few tomato and chilli plants and I’ve not bothered with veg growing and concentrated more on flowers.

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The sunflowers have been stunning and are definitely on the list for next year’s display.

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Choosing what to grow can be a case of suck it and see, things that do well in the UK can be horticultural disasters here in the heat of an Italian summer and I’ve had some failures. Sweet peas start off well but once the temperature climbs they fail to do the same, cornflowers get off to a good start but here the flowers seem to be somewhat smaller than in England.

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My greatest achievement is my hosta box, I love hostas and despite them preferring damp shady spots mine do well here. They only get full sun after 2:30 pm and take lots of looking after which means watering twice a day and a daily ritual of picking snails off the planter to stop the leaves becoming perforated by the greedy molluscs: This year we had only three holes in just two leaves.

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I’ve decided to add some flower beds in the rear garden and have already started to collect seeds in readiness for next year’s display, that I hope will be more dramatic than this year’s has been.

The Parsnip Project (4)

I had a message yesterday from someone asking me why I had not posted on my blog for a while and how was the parsnip project going?

I realise I have been silent here for quite a while and the reason is down to the scale of work I have on at the moment. To find just a few minutes to blog about the minutia of my day or the eccentricities of Italian life has been difficult and to be honest I don’t see my workload lightening any day soon.

But I do feel an update on the parsnip project is due.

So the French lady’s toilet roll germination method failed miserably, with just one seed bursting into life, so I undertook another method. I had the half a barrel with potatoes growing inside, (which we harvested last week and jolly nice they were too) and so filled the other one that was waiting for the loo-roll seedlings that never appeared with compost and left it in the sun to warm up.

After a few days in the sun the compost was lovely and warm, so I watered it in the morning and left it until the early evening when it was still warm and quite moist and then I sowed the remaining parsnip seeds.

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That was just over 13 weeks ago and they are doing really well as you can see, so I have my fingers crossed that come November/December we’ll have some lovely parsnips for our winter dinners.

I’ve also started off my cauliflowers, a month later than I would in the UK, and they are doing really well, I have 32 planted up in a semi-shady spot and just hope they don’t die during the August heat; I think maybe I should have waited a few more weeks before sowing them.

Sound and Vision

Monday morning has arrived, the Monday morning we tackle the back garden. The iPod shuffles and Downtempo, by Scouting for Girls plays as Seppe arrives to give us the benefit of his landscaping wisdom. With over forty-years of professional gardening experience, we really do need help. So far whenever asked what we’re doing at the back of the house, the answer has been, bit of hard landscaping and a patio, possibly gravel. In short we haven’t a clue what we want, let alone how to tackle the mess of rubble and encroaching wilderness.

Seppe looks at the area and is very soon calling out instructions which we follow. A frame is constructed which will be the main patio area we are informed, then he talks of dry-stone walls and gravel beds and even earmarks an area for our orto. He obviously has an idea of what will work in the space we have but we still cannot see his vision. The morning progresses with the sound of voices and the clack of stone upon stone as we fill the frame with rubble. Seppe constructs a retaining dry-stone wall and pretty quickly the wasteland takes shape.

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At the end of the first day that garden has a definite shape and each section is clearly defined, days two and three are taken up with retrieving rubble that the digger driving, Toto pushed over the edge. The rubble fills the frame for the patio and is spread out to level the area that will be covered with sand and eventually gravel. I mention that I’d like a cherry tree and we decide where the best place for it would be, before day five we clear the orto area of stones. A week in and we can see how it will eventually look.

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So a week later the cement and sand is ordered alongside the fence posts and we look at recycling the old stable doors to make gates. Let’s hope the weather cools a little more this week, as temperatures of twenty-six plus are difficult to work in. Luckily for me however I have quite a large workload this month, so will be stuck inside where it’s cool tapping at the laptop, while others toils outside with stones and sunshine.

Evidence of Dogs

As we near the end of our house refurbishment the front garden is looking less like a building site and more like a wasteland. The grasses have been killed off by piles of sand and cement. Plastic covered piles of materials have gone to reveal yellowing weeds and there’s lots of evidence that dogs live here.

Now when I say evidence that dogs live here, I don’t mean what I’m sure has sprung to mind. I’m not referring to dog poop, that is quickly dispensed with and dropped into the appropriate council bin. What I mean by evidence, is dog litter.

The iPod is playing and as it shuffles and as Girls Aloud, (yes I have Girls Aloud on my iPod) begin to play, Something Kinda Oooh, I decide to clean up outside. I look around at the doggie destruction, a tennis ball lies disembowelled near the herb planter, that incidentally will be taken out as the dogs have removed fifty per cent of its soil by digging in it. On the step is a chewed plastic bottle and beside a scarlet geranium is a discarded and bitten ice cream container.

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The day is heating up and the thought of clearing up the dog litter as I sweat under the sun makes me consider it’s best to leave the task until later, maybe early evening. I look at the only patch of green outside and it’s strewn with ripped up pieces of cement bags; the perils of puppyhood is the constant urge to chew. There’s a crushed plastic plant pot and a finger from a gardening glove and where our flooring had been stored is a mangled kitchen spatula: When did that go missing?

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Early evening arrives and I find another excuse not to tidy up, the mosquito’s are out, just flying at ankle level, maybe I’d be better to get up early in the morning when the ankle biting insects are away and the sun is still waking up. I stroll back into the house, the iPod shuffles and, David Bowie launches into, Diamond Dogs, I put out of my mind the need to clean up after my dogs who are not diamonds but are still precious, and pour a glass of wine. We’ll see if tomorrow morning brings back the urge to tidy up the front of the house.

Somehow I doubt it.