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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The sunflowers have been stunning and are definitely on the list for next year’s display.
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.
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.
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.
A friend recently asked me if I’d seen anywhere selling bayonet light bulbs like the ones used in the UK. I didn’t bring any lamps with me when I relocated so never gave it a thought. Suddenly it dawned on me that something so trivial could become a major problem, if you’ve packed up your home, had it shipped abroad only to discover all the light bulbs sold here have screw fittings. I’ve been looking ever since and enquired without success at the hardware stores and thus far haven’t been able to locate a single bayonet fitting bulb.
Also on the lamp theme, I brought some treasured lampshades over from the UK only to discover after the re-wiring of the homestead that the Italian Edison bulb holders are slighter smaller than the UK ones, so the lampshades kept falling off the fittings. In the end treasured lampshades ended up in the wheelie bin.
Another thing that can annoy you when living here is the electricity, or rather lack of a decent amount of it. The basic electricity supply in Italy is a measly 3 kilowatts. This means it takes a while to get used to the fact that you can’t have a multitude of appliances working at the same time. For example if we turn on our oven and induction hob at the same time, which is usual when cooking, we have to turn off the hot water to prevent the trip switch cutting the supply. How often at the start did we forget and when the washing machine was on pop some toast into the toaster and ping no power, or one of us would be drilling something while the other decided to plug in the kettle – yes you guessed it – ping and no power. It is possible to pay extra for up to 6 kw, but we’re now used to it and if anything it’s made us more aware of wasting energy.
One thing that initially drove me round the bend was the lack of seed trays – Yes I know surely they can’t be so important to be a cause of madness, but yes initially they were. The reason being is practically every Italian citizen has a patch of land where they grow fruit and vegetables for the table. They can be seen in January and February buying seeds and potting compost. So you’d expect them to be able to buy seed trays, because we do that in Britain. But this isn’t Britain it’s Italy, and my local garden centre looked at me quizzically when I asked for some. “Seed trays?” she responded, almost mocking. “Trays for seeds.” – I felt at this point that I was in a rejected Two Ronnies sketch – I mentioned the lack of these to a friend who said, “Why have a special tray? I use the polystyrene trays that meat comes in and then throw them away.” I was about to mention that I don’t think I could use polystyrene in my electric propagator, but decided that it was best to leave the conversation there.
Did I solve this problem? Yes I had some posted from B&Q in the UK.
For the regular readers here’s an update on my Italian parsnip project.
I received a parcel in the post last week from England, my good friends from Cheshire had sent me three Suffolk latches for my interior doors as we have been unable to source anything similar here. I opened the box and found inside a couple of packets of parsnip seeds.
In fact we’ve had so many packages just lately that it’s felt like Christmas, and as you know, no Christmas dinner is complete without roasted parsnips.
I was recently chatting to someone down by the shops and the mention of my parsnip project arose, and I explained my experiment. The lady I was talking to told me two-years ago here in Abruzzo, she had sown the said vegetable and when they came to harvest them they were a thin and multi-rooted disappointment.
Undeterred, I took out my trusty seeds and after making sure my toilet roll experimental parsnip sheaths (my new name for them) I dropped one seed onto the top of each one and then covered over with the required 1 cm of potting compost.
I then closed the lid of my makeshift plastic box cold frame and left them in the sunshine to hopefully stay moist and germinate.
I’ll keep you updated as to their progress in the coming weeks.