Terrace growing

I’ve been on an amazing, lovely but at times stressful 7-month stay in Italy.  Being an avid gardener and lover of all things botanical, I was thrilled to finally live somewhere with warm weather again so I could grow happy tomatoes outside.  Yes, I’m really that simple of a person!  If I can grow my own food, I’m content.  Seeing three Donatello crucifixes and Giotto chapels seemingly around every corner is nice too, but heat and dirty fingernails really make me melt into a puddle of bliss.

Verona terraces.  No not THAT one.I’m in the city centre, where land is at a premium, so apartment living.  The terrace culture in Italy is as old as it’s architecture.  Juliet’s famous monologue took place (allegedly) on a Verona terrace that you can go to today, but personally I’d prefer to walk through the narrow streets of Venice or any old city and gasp at the splashes of botanical colour dripping from most balconies.  One has only to walk around a residential area and you will find gorgeous apartment terraces dotted with citrus trees and their railings spilling over with ivy and succulents.  The odd thing is that yet the ground does not seem to be a place for cultivation at all until about May.  Spare ground seems to only serve as a place to let your dog relieve itself.  It’s such a very very odd change from Edinburgh, where any spare ground will surely have crocuses, snowdrops and or daffodils popping up in the spring, and a nicely mowed grass later in the spring and summer.  And UK dog owners tend to be much better at picking up after their pets, but that’s a whole other rant for someone else’s blog.

Early spring terraces

Things perk up in Summer, but most gardens have perennial shrubs dotted around gardens instead of borders, and annuals are non-existent.  The upside is that many of the perennials are things like jasmine and wisteria, and when they bloom, it’s like someone is spraying sweet perfume at you as you walk.

Vecchi semi – Old seeds

So, I realise it’s a bit odd that my last posting is about my long-awaited success in the allotment lottery in Edinburgh, and now here I am looking for seeds in Italy.  But a 6-month sabbatical is being spend here in Italy.  I’ll still tend to my allotment though, and hopefully also to a nice terrace garden.  That is if I can find some good Italian seeds…

Semi1

After scouring the Italian internets, looking for seme and only finding sites selling marijuana seeds, I vented my frustration on Twitter. Thankfully some very nice advice lead me to searching for semenze instead, which was much more fruitful.  The only problem is that after gleefully shopping on a few sites for a couple of hours each, I would get to the payment page, only to find that either the billing address is stuck on Italy, or they won’t let you have a different country for delivery and billing.  Doesn’t anyone buy seeds as gifts for friends?  I guess not.  Eventually I found a few websites that were more promising, but it’s always nicer to actually touch the packet and buy it from a person, or so I thought.

Now ordinarily I could walk into my closest supermarket or home improvement shop and find at least one round spinning display of at least 50 vegetable and flower seed packets.  But not in Italy.  Sometimes I can buy a spray painted succulent (yeah, who knew anybody could or would buy such a thing?) or a pot of forced bulbs in the super market, but seeds for something to grow outside are nowhere to be found.  Again, after a Twitter suggestion to try looking outside of the city centre (centro cittá, but pronounced “chen-tro chee-ta” which for some reason I love saying) and spent a good chunk of time of last night searching online for plant stores, agrarian stores, and garden stores. Armed with an address for a promising sounding Centro Verde (Green Centre) today I went out in search of some seeds.

I came to where the Centro Verde ought to be and found this.

It looked sort of “planty” to I walked down the gravel driveway and into the back poly tunnels which had a few people doing something that approximated working.  They all stopped and stared at me, and since there was absolutely no signage to tell me if this was a place of business or private property, I prepared myself for a phrase to say just in case I was walking into someone’s home, or a private non-commercial nursery.

Thankfully they had a cash register and it appears they do sell plants.  So, I say that I’m looking for semi de verdura (vegetable seeds) and am escorted to small store with lots of dog-eared boxes and dusty bottles filling roughly 10% of the tired looking shelves.  In one corner there is a peg-board with lots of empty seed packet hanger bars.  But only about a dozen of the bars have any seed packets hanging from them.  I say I’m looking for carote (actually I had my heart set on heirloom white or purple carrots, but in this place I would settle for standard orange, heirloom or F1).  No semi de carote.  OK, I also wanted to find big leaved Basil, but again I would have settled for basil seeds of any variety.  I stupidly asked for basilica (very large church) but the lady kindly corrected my broken Italian and said basilico (basil) sí. Score, it’s even the basilica-sized basil I wanted!  There is a single packet of basilico, folia di lattuga (lettuce leaved Basil) so I take that packet.  I had hoped for perhaps some interesting yellow or black tomatoes.  But sadly there are no tomato seeds to be seen. I look for bell pepper, again really hoping for the new purple varieties, but not even a standard green one is there.  They only had cauliflower, spinach and kale, but I’m looking for sexy Italian vegetables.

Determined to try at least one other plant, I grab a packet of nasturizio (nasturtiums), turn over the packet in search of a price to make sure that they aren’t horrendously expensive, only to see the expiry dates!  2011 on my basilico and 2012 on the nasturzio packet! The layer of dust I can feel on the packets should have warned me.  Hmmm, the lady tells me that they are €1 each, so that’s €2 in my hands already.  I’m still a bit shocked at the dates, but I walked half an hour to get here and this is the only place I have seen any seeds in my month and half in Italy, so I decide to just buy them and see how I get on. My fingers and toes are crossed that a few of these old seeds will germinate.