Wednesday, December 10, 2008

First impressions of Southern Italy (gardens)

What's remarkable about the slopes and valleys of Mt. Vesuvius (near Naples) are the vegetable fields and orchards. This is a heavily urbanized area, filled with (ugly) modern apartment houses, industrial plants, and various other things. But woven among them are pocket fields -- mixed plantings of onions, mustard greens, kale, cauliflower - aside of orchards of oranges, lemons, and dormant fruit trees. They grow nuts (hazelnuts and walnuts), as well as cherries, apricots, and probably peaches, nourished by the rich volcanic soil.

There are also rows of covered hoop houses, also growing greens, but also ornamental plants. It's hard to tell because they're obscured with the fiberglass and plastic.

To us, it's impressive to see the integration of small urban farms of 1-10 acres with an heavily populated and urban landscape. Behind many apartment blocks are small home vegetable gardens, including a few citrus trees, with dormant fruits and nut trees, punctuated by rows of greens, cauliflower, and onions.

Surprisingly, there are Japanese persimmons, too, thriving in the mild maritime climate. The tall leafless trees are loaded with fruit (putting my small tree to shame). They're hardly a traditional Italian fruit, but we've see a few in a small city fruit stall, in Sorrento, after escaping Rome traffic, and the jammed autostrada. Even in the business hotel that we stayed in last night, they served delicious cold greens, roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini with lemon and herbs, and roasted eggplant on the 'contorni' table. Yum.

It'll be interesting to see what's grown along the Amalfi Coast in winter (this is a fabled area for tourists and OVERRUN in summer by people of all nationalities.)

But the coast is beautiful, and in winter, and in a very down economic time, even budget-minded travelers like ourselves are finding quite affordable accommodation. Much less that you'd imagine for Italy even 6 months ago.

My gardening companion, an avowed olive-hater, pressed me to have a very large green olive, presented as part of snacks with pre-dinner drinks. Scrumptious, actually, not salty like the ones at home, or shriveled, but delicious, fresh, and light-tasting.

It's been raining, so we don't have any pictures yet, but the moon was bright, and almost full this evening, so tomorrow may be better!


  1. Sounds great fun already. I think Naples is an awful city from an architectural point of view but am impressed as you are by the way that local gardeners have created productive gardens in very built up locations. A lesson for us about their food culture.

  2. I'm finding it just amazing to see how much "local" food is being grown here. Seeing lettuce and chicory, as well as mustards, growing underneath olive and lemon trees in small home gardens is quite impressive.


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