Get your own Ital­ian gar­den

Ital­ians have learned how to grow de­li­cious veg­eta­bles in spite of their hot, dry sum­mers grass­roots

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD PASTIMES - KAY MONT­GOMERY

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.

PIC­TURES: LUKAS OTTO

ARO­MATIC: Mint grows well in hang­ing bas­kets which are wa­tered reg­u­larly and get full sun.

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