Milan: Our Month in Italy Begins


After months of preparation, we’re back in Italy again. This time around we’re celebrating my husband’s 50th so we’re spending more time here and we’ll be visiting his hometown of Genoa this time.

We’ve only been in Milano for a two days but the first one was spent catching up on sleep. Today was our only day to see the sights, and as usual, I was looking for signs of plant life, gardening, and Sicily. Tomorrow we leave for Genoa so here are a few fun things I’ve seen today.

By far, the most unusual thing we found today was fashion inspired by a variety of Sicilian planter. I am not joking. Thank you Dolce & Gabbana. The shoes are clearly in the front, and the heads you see behind them are the planters.

Yesterday I saw this fun planter outside of a hotel. I want to call it “giardino di casalinga” or housewife’s garden. Sure, Milan is full of fashion, but this is Italy after all, and Italians have a sense of humor too.
While out shopping today I bought these great gardening magazines and am looking forward to reading them to learn more gardening and horticultural vocabulary. While glancing over them after dinner, I found that one contained an article about Abutilon megapotamicum by a garden blogger named Renato Ronco. You can find his blog here:

Upon leaving the hotel this morning to take a short walk to the center of town I found this window box and I think it’s the perfect low maintance look. Let’s face it. Italian gardening is not fussy. Simple and green with a tad of color thrown in here and there with plants that don’t get much water is the way to go. So, in this case, ivy and two kinds of asparagus ferns. There may be a lime Cypress of some kind in there too.

While walking to the statue erected for a famous jurist who helped to abolish the death penalty in Italy, I was having more trouble trying to correctly pronounce his first name without it sounding Spanish. Then I noticed the Italian buckthorn in these gigantic planters. I’ve seen them often in magazines, but this was the first time I’d seen them in situ and they looked really nice around the monument.  At the rear of Il Duomo there are two magnolia trees planted near the corners. Probably not my first tree choice for this building, but someone had to pick something and these were it.

To balance them out, or else to confuse folks like me, they have matching little clouds of ivy growing in the grass areas with them and very nice metal edging. Upon our return to the hotel I noted a small elderly man perched on the edge of one of these boarders and I had to admit to myself that I was impressed. He seemed restful. Not sure I could have pulled that off.

  The usual suspects inhabited most windowsills but this one reminded me of the south a bit more with its Agaves and cycads.

 Long rows of standardized Lonicera with ivy at their base grow in these pretty planters not far from our hotel.

One more example of how simple plantings can be in this town. This seemed oddly simple and elegant as we walked past it. Wild blooms are somehow more controlled on this Forsythia.

Courtyard plantings amaze me here and this one at The Duomo Museum was interesting seeing as it was filled with things I like in a combination that may make many of my friends cringe a little. Yet to me, it works quite well.

Little Ophiopogon is marched into little tight lines inside of a rectangle made with pumice bricks, mulches in small pumice stone, that’s then surrounded by tumbled white marble. Above, the courtyard wall is covered in star jasmine. I couldn’t have loved this combo more.

So these are just a few random thoughts from Milan! More to come!

The Seed Labor-atory Grows

I am currently in my zero gravity recliner recuperating after two very long 10-hour days in the garden. The weather had been cold and wet so I’d put off dealing with all of my seedlings. When the sun arrived earlier this week, I rushed out like an idiot and jumped right in. Now I have garden rashes on my forearms that are both topped with a nice sunburn. My back is killing me and I can barely move my fingers. Was it all really worth it? I keep asking myself this over and over. And the answer I keep coming up with? Absolutely!
Part of my springtime mess. Sure, I have a potting area, but there is a pile of stuff there right now.

When you look at my seed starting numbers for 2011 you can see why I am so tired. You may find yourself wondering too if I am nuts, and yes, I might be because these numbers are totally ridiculous.

Indoors: I planted about 302 different plants.
There were 1658 peat pods or plugs, etc.
 As of yesterday, 340 plastic 4″ pots had been potted up. (Many of these contain several seedlings.)
Outside: I planted about 300 different plants.
They were planted in plug trays or rectangular biodegradable fiber flats.
I have not yet started to process these, but I imagine about 200 plants will be potted up.

I have also been potting up plants from flats I planted a few years ago—not all plants grow quickly. Some of them actually have surprised me. They looked rather small in their pots, but their roots were really ready to go and grow on.

Eventually, I will plant some of the plants, watch them grow, and then collect their seeds. Some of these plants will be traded, and the rest will be sold on Craigslist—or else to friends and family.

The back garden before severe editing that will begin soon.
Some of the seedlings in their new pots.
Scene of springtime that kept me focused as I worked.
From time to time I take breaks and reconsider where to add my garden goodies.
I purchased this great plant hanger a year or so ago at Molbak’s Garden+Home up in the Seattle area, and I found the hanging buckets at IKEA. What’s so great is that they hold 1 gallon plastic pots. So far, I have only chosen two of the five plants for the buckets, but the possibilities are simply endless. (I know the same plant would look better, but I am all about the seeds and I need to have many different plants.)

Then there are the houseplants that I arrange, and then rearrange. This is always a fun way to spend my time both inside and outside and it is a great break in my seedling routine. The houseplants are so much happier because of it too.

This Tradescantia sure made a mess when I brought it back inside the house last fall. Now the other houseplants that lived beneath it all winter have babies. Next year I am going to collect the seeds and keep that from happening again. I have no idea which species this is, but I think it’s Tradescantia fluminensis. Any thoughts?

This year I purchased this planter at IKEA. Like the other ones from last year, it is also made to hold a 1 gallon plastic containers. I had a small one stuffed in it in this picture, but you get the idea. I love that it can hang perfectly on a chain link fence.

Lastly, there is another new addition.

I am one of those folks who grew up in a home and garden that was like a museum and mom would have cringed if this had ever arrived in her space. I too wondered about it when I first saw it, but I was with a foster girl, one who is likely to be in the system until she is an adult, and she really loved it.

In her world, no one can afford things like this, and yes, they are seen as completely frivolous, but the fact that I would buy it and hang it outside actually mattered to her. When you are caring for a child of meth, one who’s mother chose the drug over her children, this kind of thing does matter.

Wearing my big heart on the sleeve of my house’s eave mattered to her, and for this reason, it mattered to me. I wanted to model the kind of behavior she craved in an adult, and so I obliged.

To my surprise, my husband liked it a lot. It reminded him of the 1960s and The Beatles, and over time it has started to remind me of Keith Haring’s art from the 1980s. I think it was a wonderful addition to our home and I cannot wait for the fern to perk up.
If you are interested in purchasing one for any reason, here is the link:
Mac’s Yard Hearts (I bought mine locally at Al’s Garden Center, but I think they can be shipped too.)