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Diggin' It

Abandoning the greenhouse for a trip to Tuscany

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 27, 2009

Roses outside the farmhouse in Tuscany that appear to flourish on their own.

Photos by Alexandra Marks/The Christian Science Monitor.

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We are blessed, because every spring we pack up our house and head to Tuscany, where we have a small place in an 800-year-old farmhouse that was turned into condominiums almost 30 years ago. It sits at the top of a small mountain surrounded by rolling fields with the occasional castle dotting the landscape off in the distance.

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In many ways, it’s like stepping back in time. An artist friend lives there and takes care of it for us most of the year. So when we get there, the larder is stocked and the coffee already hot. It’s very much like a homecoming – but to one in a different world.

I usually cherish these visits, in part, because there’s nothing like the Tuscan sun to make roses blush their best, to say nothing of the fields of red poppies and roadsides dotted with purpleiIrises and fragrant Scottish broom.

But this year, I was hesitant about going to Italy. I had worked feverishly to get our greenhouse built, the raised beds constructed, and many of my seedlings transplanted. In fact, I was working late into the night the day before our plane was to leave.

My last chore was to nestle a soaker hose around my newly transplanted tomato, basil, and lettuce plants. And then, grateful to a neighbor who was willing to turn it on every few days, I left – but full of trepidation for my abandoned plants.

Still, once we landed in Rome and drove the three hours up to our little place in Rosia, I was able to “let go and let God” do the worrying, as they say. The sun shone and the landscape was as lush green as I’ve ever seen it.

Turns out, it had rained much of the winter. As my neighbor Ahrata says, “It has been a very good spring. The roses are very happy.” And indeed, they were in full bloom as were the clematis, iris, poppies, and broom.

The spring breezes were fragrant and warm. I countered my occasional pangs of anxiety about the greenhouse with a determination to trust God – and my neighbor!

That allowed me to indulge my usual awe at Italian gardeners. Almost every home is draped with climbing roses and bordered with colorful gardens and overflowing window boxes. Rarely do you see people out tending them. It appears as if the flowers and vines simply grow naturally from the ancient stone buildings, kind of like moss.

As a rational being (or, at least, fairly rational), I know that’s not true. And my neighbors assure me that they do a lot of watering. But I am still not convinced. When I see them working the soil, it’s usually out in the vegetable garden.

As a “newbie” vegetable gardener myself, I decided that’s where I was going to direct my attentions and inquiries – despite the beauty of the flowers, wild and otherwise. So I knocked on my neighbor Bashir’s door and asked for a tour of the plot out behind our old house. My other neighbors had assured me he was the expert.

And as I was soon to learn, gardening in parts of Italy has taken on a very global nature.

Coming next:  The Japanese influence in the Italian backyard…

NOTE: Don't forget to upload your garden photos to Flickr's Gardening with the Monitor group. You could win a prize.

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