Woke up to mists and rain. It has been raining all night too but we will not be deterred from our garden visit. Paulette and I headed off to our local plant nursery for our day of horticultural information, lunch, garden visit and afternoon tea. Hard work but someone had to do it.
‘Salto del Prete’ is the name of our local plant nursery and garden centre. They have won several awards for design and for developing new plant varieties and more importantly for their knowledge and promotion of draught tolerant and indigenous plants. After last year’s lack of rain the lawns and rose gardens of some of the local homes seem completely ridiculous; the levels of maintenance and care even on our small patch after three months of temperatures in the high ‘30’s was quite something. Even though this spring has been very, very wet, the ground is so sandy that much of it soaks straight away; good for the underground reserves and wells but not much use for small gardens. So any information about plant varieties and the best way to plant and when, was really interesting.
Our tour of the nursery began with an explanation of the plants that are indigenous to dry, Mediterranean climates with cold winters. I didn’t realise there were so many types and varieties as well as the usual suspects like lavender, santolina and …..The nursery also use special pots for growing on their plants. They are square and have channelled sides. This encourages downward root development so that when planted into open soil they are already deep and secure, rather than a knotted spiral rootball that will find it difficult to absorb moisture and will fail to thrive. Brilliant and obvious when you think about it and also they recommend establishing plants in autumn rather than spring. This gives them time to form good strong root systems whilst their heads are dormant so that when spring arrives they are in the best condition to make strong, vigorous top growth. You can see I was paying attention to our talk by Eugenia, who is the daughter of the nursery owner and has won prizes for plant development.
There followed a demonstration of how to take cuttings and propagation, a tour of the rest of the nursery and on to our lunch venue, ‘Bistrot della Duca’ back in Citta della Pieve. Originally lunch was planned as an al fresco event in the nursery, and despite the weather and skies lightening, it was considered safer to eat inside.
First course was a spelt salad with fresh beetroot, apple, lettuce and French dressing. Next was penne pasta served with a pesto sauce made from ground almonds, rocket and sun dried tomatoes, and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Dessert was a vanilla mouse within a bitter chocolate dome, amaretti crumb and strawberry coulis. I thought I might need a lie- down after that lot but we then headed on out to the last stage of our garden day and the village of Panicale, on a hillside which overlooks the waters of Lake Trasimeno.
This garden belongs to an English couple and is the creation of Yvonne who has transformed a sloping site of builders rubble, concrete and stony soil into an exquisite Mediterranean retreat. The lack of top soil meant that local wild shrubs like cistus where to form the framework, wild thymes in the rock crevices, achilleas, scabious, euphorbias, sages, irises and also wild roses soon created a garden. The winding paths lead the eye into the distant landscape of Umbrian hills but still you arrive at small garden rooms where you can sit and enjoy the shade of ancient olives and the scent of rosemary. Finally on the far side of the house and along from the terrace we arrived at the enormous swimming pond. A natural shaped pond, landscaped with enormous flat boulders and full to brimming with pink waterlilies and just beginning at the far end, pale lemon waterlilies, and tiny little green frogs to help keep down the mosquitoes presumably.
We had afternoon tea in the shade of mediterranean oaks, an enormous rambling rose, that I have forgotten the name of, and a smaller deep magenta old fashioned double rose called ‘seven sisters’. This rose was apparently taken by French settlers from France to Louisiana and the southern states of the US, to remind them of home.
What a super day of doing what I enjoy most, looking at other people’s houses and gardens and learning about new plants. So different from Italian gardens with their accent on growing plants for eating with the odd bank of formal roses or trained ornamental tree. Even the famous classical gardens are triumphs of manicured hedges, greenery and topiarised shapes. Fountains and sculpture are all very well but where is the passion in this formality, the winding paths with hidden plant treasures, combinations of colour and leaf form?
Inevitably we stopped at the nursery on the way home too to buy a few examples to squeeze into our garden – somewhere!