Get your own Italian garden
Italians have learned how to grow delicious vegetables in spite of their hot, dry summers grassroots
LA DOLCE VITA (Italian for “the sweet life” or “the good life”) is primarily remembered on account of the 1960 film of the same name by the acclaimed director, Federico Fellini.
For gardeners, however, one wonders where the Italian diet would be without its glorious vegetables. Even more special is that over the centuries, Italians have learned how to grow delicious veggies in spite of their hot dry summers, which are not that different from summers here.
Italians have learned to grow staples such as courgettes (both the fruit and the flowers can be used), aubergines, garlic, peppers and tomatoes. The secret of their success lies in their growing techniques. Mediterranean style With little water available in summer, Italian gardeners have come up with a number of watersaving practices. Here are just a few of their ideas:
Vegetables are planted between grooved trenches about 2025cm deep. Once the plants have become established, water can be distributed efficiently via these canals. The trenches also protect the young vegetables from the wind.
If you are watering by hand or hosepipe, water vegetables at the roots, as opposed to sprinkling the leaves, which may encourage rotting or burning in the sun.
Watering is best done in the early morning or at night, so as to avoid evaporation and water wastage.
Another trick is to plant any vegetables requiring more water close together, so water is used efficiently for those groups.
Mulching in hot climates conserves moisture in the soil, enriches the soil with a layer of organic matter and keeps the weeds down. An Italian gardener’s tip is to always mulch on well-watered soils, mixing grass clippings with coarser material so as not to allow the grass to matt and compact.
In intensely sunny sites, planting vegetables in light or dappled shade also helps to prevent them being burned or dried out by midday sun. A shade cloth may be unsightly, but Italian vegetable gardeners will tell you that growing vegetables under shade cloth is very effective in midsummer.
In autumn, after grape vines have been pruned, tie the cuttings into bundles and lay them between rows of peas. If you don’t have grape vines, try creating mounds of twiggy prunings from any shrubs. The peas cling to the vine stalks or twigs, spreading out sideways instead of upwards for easier picking. Herbs and fruits
Herbs are central to the Italian culinary tradition. Herbs that thrive in the fierce heat of an Italian summer heat include thyme, origanum and rosemary. Basil does better where it receives morning sun and is shielded from the worst of the midday sun.
If space is at as a premium go vertical with pots attached to a wall, or treat yourself to a jardinière. This French word is used locally to describe a decorative stand upon which you can place a number of herbs and vegetables. Local jardinières usually have three or four shelves.
Borage gives colour as well as food: use the vibrant blue flowers in salads, and the tender young leaves as a filling with ricotta for pasta; or boil them as a vegetable, and dress simply with olive oil and lemon juice. Borage self-seeds easily, so plant it in a part of the garden where it can spread naturally.
Italians grow broad beans beneath their olive groves and fruit trees. For the plants to survive in the heat and to create bushier plants, they advise that you earthup the stalks as they grow, encouraging side shoots to grow. When the shoot is 10cm high, pile dry soil around it to about 7.5cm, watering only at the base. This does away with the need for staking.
LA DOLCE VITA: Now is the time to plant a vegetable garden and discover the Italian delights of growing vegetables in a long hot Mediterranean style summer.
AROMATIC: Mint grows well in hanging baskets which are watered regularly and get full sun.