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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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.

Ants in Your Plants

It’s been very hot here these past few days, Italy has had a mini heat-wave, but this morning it’s quite cool. I check on the plants growing in my mini orto. There’s some more courgettes, young and tender that need to be picked and a couple of tomatoes have donned their red jackets, so they can come out of the plot, a couple of white onions are a good enough size to harvest . I notice that ants have taken up residence my cayenne plant and as I pick a couple of the orange chillies they dash across my fingers eager to protect. I’m not worried by this, it’s rural Italy and a few ants wont ruin my day. As I walk back to the house the iPod shuffles and the strains of Hungry like the Wolf, by Duran Duran drift out into the Italian countryside.

Back inside the kitchen with my collected bounty I set to, preparing it for storage. I chop it all up and add a couple of garlic cloves, I sweat the onions off and then add the courgettes followed by the chillies and tomatoes, last to hit the pot is the garlic. I add a little water and let it simmer away until the contents of the pan have softened. I don’t season with salt and pepper as I’m going to divide the mixture once cold and freeze it.

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Now cold, the mixture is divided up into three portions and popped into the freezer and now I have a sofrito base for three pasta sauces that I can use when the season has ended. A few minutes in the morning will save me a few euros in winter time, and the memory of a summer morning will be released into the saucepan.