Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring planting season

When I was eighteen I moved off the farm. I decided I would never live on a farm again. No more chores, animals or plants that required my undying and regular attention. Eventually I couldn't even keep a houseplant alive.

When I was in my late thirties I moved out to the country, but the fashionable a nice house surrounded by acres of nothing. The only reason we had a large yard was because my husband wanted it enough to spend days each week maintaining it. Anything I planted around the house had to withstand my complete and total indifference to it's survival. For the first few weeks they all got attention and water, then I sort of lost focus and things inevitably died. Those that lived through the initial trial by fire thrived beyond my wildest expectations.

No plant should look this good after the treatment I gave it.
Which is to say I ignored it on a regular basis.
Except to say "Oooh, pretty!"
Now in my fifties I've moved back to the city, but this time a big city in Italy, where green space is relegated to parks and terrace envy runs rampant among neighbors. At first the fact that we even had a terrace didn't impress me. It wouldn't impress you either. It's only a little deeper than your average American clothes closet and about twelve feet long. It's not big enough for a table and chairs so there is no dining al fresco. And we can't fill it with stuff because it's also where we hang our laundry to dry.

Our neighbors downstairs, however, have tons of space and they fill it to the max with flowers and vegetables and fruit trees and olive trees. They have a complicated system that waters everything with the turn of a knob. I've been watching them now for two years, planting things and watching them grow. Suddenly, this year it isn't enough for me to just watch.

I have a practically uncontrollable urge to get my hands dirty and plant something that next week I'll remember and actually care whether or not it lives or dies. I want to be cooking at the stove and think "Gosh, this dish needs something," and walk out to the terrace (conveniently located right outside the kitchen) and pick something to add that makes our dinner special.

Actually, this urge started slowly a couple of weeks ago. I bought flowers to decorate the table for a dinner party and when they didn't die immediately I thought they looked lonely so I bought rosemary and basil to keep them company and because we use them to cook all the time. Well, when I haven't killed our rosemary and basil plants I use them to cook, so yeah, a couple of weeks out of the year we have fresh rosemary and basil. The rest of the time I just call them artisan hand-dried herbs.

My little starter garden.

I've spent these last few weeks feeling all Julia Child by walking out to the terrace and cutting off a snip of this or that for our meals (this being rosemary and that being basil), but lately I've felt like we were lacking variety. So I snuck home a pot of thyme. It's really livened up the dinner table.

And now the point of this whole story. Every spring and fall there's a plant show at one of the parks and they have the most beautiful and abundant displays of plants for sale. That's right, for sale. I was practically giddy with excitement.

I left this morning with a set amount of cash in my wallet (we don't have charge cards) and the knowledge that anything I bought had to be carried 1.9 kilometers back home. A brilliant plan if I do say so myself. (Actually, I had no idea it was that far till I checked it for this post. I may never walk there again.)

I spent over an hour wandering around oohing and aahing (silently of course, I was by myself) and debating the flowers vs herbs decision as intensely as the Supreme Court considered Roe vs Wade. You would think these plants were going to live forever the way I carefully considered which to bring into our home and which to leave for some other family to have.

First I desperately wanted a yellow climbing rose. Absolutely gorgeous, almost as tall as me and would consume my entire plant budget. Then I saw lemon trees. Don't judge me. I figured in a couple of years (OK, maybe more) it would produce enough lemons to make my own limoncello. Everyone around here seems to make their own and I think it would be awesome to wow guests with my own limoncello. These were significantly shorter than the roses but the same money. I hadn't ruled either one out yet, but I kept looking to see what else there was to see.

My favorite (flower-less) stands had herbs. Who knew there were so many different kinds of mint or thyme? Who knew that people would stand and discuss the merits and aromas of each one like they were contemplating the purchase of a new car? Who knew there was a mint that had the aromas of cheese and meat, or pineapple? Certainly not me. But I could buy quite a few of these on my budget and exponentially grow my cooking repertoire. And none of them were taller than eight inches making them easier to lug all the way back home. In fact, I got chives and mint and oregano there and still had half my budget left. Naturally I continued to browse on my way out of the garden.

And there it was. Just waiting for me. Not the yellow roses I was so enamored with at the beginning but a shorter, white and pink version of climbing rose at the perfect price. Unable to resist I picked them up and waited far too patiently for someone to notice that I was actually ready to buy something, unlike all those other pushy people who just wanted to know how much so they could roll their eyes and move on. Honestly, I didn't care. It was mine. Nirvana, right there.

I left the garden feeling wonderful and probably looking ridiculous. My purse hung from one shoulder, my long umbrella hooked onto the purse, one hand holding a blue bag overflowing with aromatic greens while the other hand carefully held the bag carrying a three and a half foot tall blooming rose with itty bitty thorns. Close to the garden all of us loaded down with bags shared sheepish but triumphant smiles....the closer I got to home the more people started looking at me curiously, probably wondering just how far I thought I was going to carry all those plants. If they had asked I would have said "As far as I need to! Look at them.....beautiful!" with one of those slightly crazed smiles that makes people back off and shut up. It should be obvious that I'm a woman on a mission.

Doesn't it just make you want to cook something?
I already know that this isn't enough. I mean, it's perfect for the life we live now, this tiny potted garden. But we both know that someday we want to be out in the country where our garden isn't limited by square meters or just how many kilos the terrace will hold before crashing down. I want to move back to the farm, or at least the Tuscan version of a farm. We want to have olive trees and grape vines and entire hedges of rosemary (yes, they do that here.) We want to have a place where people come to taste the things we have in our garden....a place to enjoy life. This little garden on our terrace is just the beginning.

Random pictures from the show

FYI the sign says now also in Italy you can grow
the North American cranberry!

No comments:

Post a Comment