Venice: You’re So Lovely You Broke the Camera

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Let’s just get to the point. Not long after arriving in Venezia my iPhone went a bit nuts and ended up imploding which led to a photo dump. (I suspect it was from taking videos and far too many photo. The phone really seems to hate the videos most of all.) I’d thought the photos would be saved on the iPad we brought, but well, I was wrong. The photos will be missed, but the greatest regret is that I won’t be able to post images from our visit to the Giardini Botanici Hanbury near Ventimiglia, Italy. Much planning went into that day trip, and the photos somehow made it all worth the effort. We awoke early, took the train from Genova to Ventimiglia, bought our bus tickets, waited for the bus, and then we experienced the best of the Italian Riviera for the rest of the day. While waiting at the bus stop after our garden visit, we met a British couple who’d walked there from the French town just over the border and were taking the train back to their hotel that night, while we were leaving from the same station to return to our apartment. While chatting, a woman in a car that had exited a garage across the street asked if we needed a ride back into town. Turns out a Hanbury family member is still there—although the garden is now part of the University of Genova. She was a wonderful guide during our short ride and once again I am reminded that true plant people are a small lot of people and we love crossing paths with other plant people. 

Well, rather than cry over spilled milk, I’ll move on to the next course. 

I Giardini Reali (The Royal Gardens) as seen from one of the restored rooms in the former Royal Palace, now part of the Museo Correr.

 

During our last trip here we’d stumbled upon this little patch of green near the water at St. Mark’s Square and it immediately reminded me of Paris. Turns out that Napoleaon had his hand in the development of this spot while in power here and while he lived in the Royal Palace. Only a few of the rooms remain, but from this window, it’s clear to see how the garden must have served its purpose. 

Our apartment door is to the right. This is our little deadend street at night.

  

We’re staying near the Rialto Bridge just steps away from the Rialto Market. This is what the view can be like just walking to the supermarket in the evening.

   
Italians feel much differently about plants and gardening than many other cultures and I am not going to begin a big discussion on the matter other than to back them up. I hear time and again the remark that things could look better if they just tidied things up but then this wouldn’t be Italy and its people would no longer be the quirky Italians that foreigners so admire.

Balconies full of wild messy ivy are quite commonplace all over Italy—especially so in Vencie. With low light coming in between the buildings in the narrow canals and streets it makes sense and is very low maintenance. 

The other common combination you’ll see up higher on rooftop terraces will be something along these lines: screen plants (optional), tomato plants (not optional), marigolds or calendula, geraniums, herbs, maybe a rose or jasmine vine if their rooftop has something for it to climb on, agave (optional), other foliage plants (optional).

They really do keep it simple around here.

“Here on the night of November 26, 1944 Amerigo Perini died by a fascist bullet hastening the hour of liberation of Italy from tyranny both inside and out.”

In addition to being used as an herb, bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is still used culturally to connote victory just as it has for many centuries. Memorial signs such as this are given large frames or wreaths covered in laurel leaves, and newly graduated college students still walk the streets of Venice this time of year wearing their laurel crowns and singing together. It is nice to see plant symbolism and tradition at work.  Since I am ever the traveler wandering about while managing my own chronic health problems, it is nice to see such fine seats.  Seeing these near La Fenice made me realize I really should get some portable comfortable furniture for the garden this summer. I think that our elderly cat will approve of the idea too.  Piazza San Marco has nothing to do with gardening, and there are no plants, but it is magnificent in its design. This trip we visited the interior of the church and the mosaic work was truly stunning. When I return home, I want to begin making mosaics again. 

  

This is the view from the roof of St. Mark’s Basilica. 

  There are museums and art all over the city. Since Medusa is one of my favorite mytholical creatures, I snapped a photo of her on Athena’s aegis. This is from a sculpture that’s a Roman copy of a Greek original.   Ceramics are also a favorite and this dish depicts one of my favorite stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Cannot remember the date, but this is likely from the Renaissance.
  Yet another view from the top of St. Mark’s Basilica looking out toward the lagoon with the Doge’s Palace on the left.  The classical Venetian interior has a lot of dark, heavy wood. I doubt that was done to showcase fine Murano glass chandeliers, but it sure does work don’t you think? This museum room contained an incredible historic library with books on exploration. 

  This wouldn’t be Italy, and I wouldn’t be an Italian-American, if I didn’t share a basket of fake fruit with you. John and I both laughed when we saw it. We had to admit this one was quite stylish.  The cafes in Piazza San Marco are well known and can be a lot of fun if you’re there when the crowds are too much. We picked Caffè Florian since it was founded in 1720. For the price you pay to remain in the square to relax, it was worth it with this atmosphere. Outside our window the musicians played and we watched people walk by us.    The details in Italy are what boggle my mind and fill my heart with smiles. This incredible concrete work filled my imagination and simultaneously made me hungry. Not everyone has that reaction to tentacles, but I do. 

  This little patio is around the corner from our apartment.
  Some of my favorite spots in Venice are passageways such as this one. It too is nearby. From the kitchen porch we have a nice few of the bell tower. 
   But I must see the plants as I wander the streets. Wisteria is in bloom everywhere. It’s a very popular ornamental plant in Italy. I think their buildings are strong enough to maintain these floral beasts. 
  Everywhere you will find Sedum. This is by far the most common plant. I’ve yet to see it for sale so it must be passed along from balcony to balcony.   
   As you walk you find more and more of the usual low-maintenance suspects. Since there are so few plants here, when you do see them, their impact is strongly felt. 
   
  Then you find the little collections of potted plants and you know a gardener lives there. This little collection (in both pictures) was being cared for by an old man.   Leaving to pick up a rental car other morning I saw these boxes and thought it was strange I hadn’t seen a Dwarf Alberta spruce in several weeks. 
We also noticed this on a building. Reminds me a bit of Napoleon’s bee, but I’m not sure if this building was connected to him. He did loot the place and rearranged a few things before passing it along to the next ruler. So glad Venice is free now.   Last time we were here I really wanted to get something for the garden. This time, I am returning to this shop to pick up a few pieces. 
 Wish I could get a matching earring a necklace combo while we’re here but I can’t afford them—maybe next time. Being able to stay in Italy for a month was really the greatest treasure I get to take home. 

More from Veneto soon! 

Genova: You’re My Kind of Town

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Detail from a palazzo ceiling fresco.


We arrived in Genoa on Saturday and have spent a few days walking around and spending time with John’s family. He was born here 50 years ago and this trip is an extended celebration of that event. I am more than happy to celebrate with him. This is a once in a lifetime experience for me.  

Seen here in a photo, that’s my husband with the little chubby knees and his parents are on either side of the woman in blue.

 
Genova isn’t known as a garden city, it’s a port town, and above all, it’s most famous for being the home of both pesto and focaccia—as well as some guy named Christopher Columbus. In the short time that we’ve been here, I’ve had plenty of fantastic food, and I can say with certainty that I very much enjoy the Ligurian region and its people. There is an underground subversiveness to this town and I admire that deeply. But my husband is not Ligurian, his late father was Croatian, and his mother is Venetian from the Veneto.  

The walls of the historic area of town are famous for their subversive graffiti. This one doesn’t mince words. “A single cry. An alarm. Milan in flames.” It is safe to say that the two towns are quite different.

 

Here are just a few images I took from walking around these past few days. I don’t want to sit on these photos for too long because they’ll overwhelm me and then I’ll never get around to posting them.

Phoenix dactylifera down by the water.

  
  

Part of a botanical display in a museum in a beautiful atrium.

  

Some churches place mirrors on the floor so that you don’t have to hurt your neck while admiring their ceilings.

  

The historic district is known for its many narrow alleys.

  

To say this place is a bit controversial is an understatement.

  

Years ago guilds in the city built these niches for saints and at night they lit the alleyways. Nowadays, you might find a prank such as this one where the saint has been replaced by a cardboard witch and the A for anarchy.

  

You never know what you’re going to find at a flea market.

  

Homemade gnocci and pesto from our family meal.

  
    

Medieval gate marking the edge of the neighborhood.

    
    

My Plant Lust bag and I returning from grocery shopping.

    

I added this to show that there is a heavy French influence here. It can be seen and heard in the local dialect as well.

   And before I begin my next post on the Orto Botanico di Genova, a few more plants…  
 

At the market.

 

Wordless Wednesday: Green Peeks from Sicily, Italy (Sicilia, Italia)

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Tassel Hyacinth aka Muscari comosa or Leopoldia comosa. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
Possibly date palm—let me know if you can identify it. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
One of many Cercis siliquastrum seen blooming in Sicily in April. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at the garden wall of Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Lovely Bougainvillea.  (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Please don’t prune your Asparagus to look like this. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Unknown tree. (Photo taken at the cimitero in Termini Imerese.)
More palm trees and lovely handmade pebble paving from the streets of Termini Imerese. (This was the home of my great-grandparents.)
Trees in the city park in Termini Imerese.
Lovely large Lantana along the street in Termini Imerese.
Caster bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow wild along the roads in Sicily.
Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) growing along the road.)
Borage (Borago officinalis) growing wild along the side of the road in Sicily.
Wild Sedum growing along the roadside near Termini Imerese.
Wild snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) growing in its native environs. My husband told me that in Italian they’re called  “mouth of the lion”. He played a lot with these flowers as a boy.
Not exactly sure of the plant, but I do recognize Sicilian ingenuity. If Dad gardened, this is how he’d stake his plants.
Convolvulus tricolor growing wild in Sicily.

Emerging Anew: Budding and Reblooming (The cycle never seems to end.)

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The blog has been largely quiet for the last few months as I’ve been reentering and reshaping my life. What’s nice to know, at least for my own sake, is that this blog is not going to go away anytime soon. As hokey as it sounds—like me, or even you—it’s just going to continue to grow and change.

Rhododendron hybrid at the Espy House in Oysterville, WA.

I want to grow and change. I want to be like my formerly feral cat who’s grown to trust me more and more. For this love she’s shown me, I fixed her fence again about a month ago. I’m not going to say that she does the dishes now, but she’s quite happy with the respect I’ve shown her.

Currently I’m seeing so many things again as if for the first time and part of what’s kept me away from my typically long and meandering posts has been a reticence to describe my new life because it is taking time for me to watch it as it unfurls.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).

I’m emerging too and with the amount of restorative exercise I’ve been doing I’m looking like myself again. One cannot describe how much illness changes you inside as you suffer through the pain. In my case, I struggled for years on my own.

Though I’m better now, and so much stronger physically, for the last few months I’ve had to continue battling Hereditary Angiodema while at the same time accepting the fact that two falls down staircases have caused some serious damage to my back and neck. It is difficult to accept that I didn’t seek the help I needed at the time I needed it. Daily I’m reminded of this, and daily I’m learning to think about it differently while acknowledging I did the best that I could at that time. I needed help though in my daily life, and I needed a lot of support. Accepting that I still do, and that I need to ask for it from now on, is something I see now as an immediate need as I better define what living with dignity means to me.

With allergies and food intolerances it’s been difficult for years to eat but I’ve taken charge of that too. Having spent a lot of time with a Scandinavian friend with similar issues helped me a lot last year. Sometimes we cooked for one another too. It really helped me to rebuild my confidence and as my health has improved I’ve had more endurance in that arena too. Cooking is a big part of who I am.

A shrimp and basil casserole I made with a recipe from the island of Elba. It has tomatoes and potatoes too and that’s just about it.
Handmade cannoli I made for my boyfriend’s birthday. Yes, I even made my own shells too.

My online seed shop has recently been remodeled and cleaned up a bit too. I’ve been working on many other responsibilities as well. Highlights of my days include moments when I can sneak outside to discover new blooms on my old garden friends.

Slowly, I’m weeding the garden back into shape. Last year I didn’t work outside much at all. It was simply too painful. This year, I am trying really hard to take my garden back.

Iris fiorentina. 

There are the new-to-me flowers too. Even if I’ve seen them a million times in print or online, seeing them up close and in person makes such a difference. I’ve been visiting friends’ gardens more and more and I love it when I’m surprised by what I can only call “new material”.

Sparaxis tricolor.

The classics have been comforting me this spring. After years of living with great stress and uncertainty I’m finally calm enough to really soak up and appreciate their beauty.

Tulip hybrid in the company of a peony.

The return of my green rose has brought me great comfort and gardener pride. With the high temperatures we’ve been having it’s blooming early this year.

Their black pepper scent was much missed.

Rosa viridiflora.

With a return to the kitchen, I’ve become interested again in cooking with herbs and other plants. I’ve been wanting to raid my neighbor’s calendula for years and this is finally the year for me to do it. Have you cooked with Calendula before? Just curious.

Calendula officinalis.

Lastly, I’ve been returning to my roots and have been enjoying the natural beauty of the region I live in once more. There is so much meaning in everything I see and do now after so many years of struggling personally, professionally, and in my private life. Sometimes I wish that this process could speed up and end but in order to grow, I see clearly now that this takes time and care. I must tend to myself first and then to my garden. In the end, we’ll all be much stronger and more disease and pest resistant.

Oh, and I’m getting really excited now about being part of a presentation—along with some other garden blogging friends—on June 8th out at Joy Creek Nursery. Should be fun to really think about the topic of garden blogging over the next few weeks.

Manual for Life in the Open Air aka Outdoor Manual

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This Italian book from the 1970s was recently found in a box while my boyfriend was sorting through his things.
As a boy, he moved from Italy to the United States with his family. Since he left while still learning to read and write well, he asked his mom if they could order some Italian books. This way, he could continue to work on his literacy. I guess this is one of the books they ordered for him.
The illustration of Mother Nature is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen. Leave it to an Italian illustrator to make her look so sultry with bright red lips.

The book covers many areas of natural science and it includes so many great illustrations. My favorites are of course the line drawings of different plants, but I also enjoy that section because I learned many of the Italian common names for different plants that grow here too.

Luckily, Latin names are included. That stuff really helps otherwise I’d have had no idea what they were talking about at all! Line drawings are good, but they’re often difficult to read well without brilliant colors and details.

Carduni aka Cardoons

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Uncle Joe didn’t live long enough to eat the fried little treats, but nevertheless, that summer, we ate the carduni without him. He had been so excited to hear about my wonderful Sicilian-American husband, a non-relation from California, of good Sicilian ancestry of course, that the fact that he was also a trained cook was secondary, but it wasn’t so bad either. If only Pietro could go and show that man-called-a-cook at the retirement center how to cook pasta. That was what Joe wanted most of all, just plain decent everyday food. Every time we saw Joe, it was either a plea for help from him asking us to deal with the kitchen staff where he lived, or else he had a few nice things to say about the young female attendants. Keeping him away from both subjects was always a good choice when I visited though, and that was where the cardoons came in handy.
Now we still have the same cardoons, the ones I planted for him 3 years ago, and although I should probably re-seed them again so that the stalks next year will be younger and tastier, I just have a hard time ripping them out. Those plants make me think of Uncle Joe and what he meant to me. He was one of the strange but wonderful bachelors in my family who never married, choosing instead to live with family, pooling their money and resources as they lived together. Each individual appeared to have their place in they system, at least from my perspective, but who really knows now.
As I move on in my own life, I have to let these things go sometimes, and I have to hold on to what I can. I just wish that I could have held on to Uncle Joe longer, or to my Uncle Charlie or Uncle Fritz. I would trade those damn cardoons for a moment with any one of my old Sicilian relations in an instant.