Friday, June 02, 2006

Brrrrr….IT’S JUNE!

Yes, we’re freezing our butts off here in Italy….at night it gets down to around 50º, and during the day it might get into the mid 60’s if we’re lucky……but the cloudy skies, lack of sun and constant cold wind make it feel even colder. I also think that 65º feels a lot colder in May or June than it does in February. If we were having this weather in February we’d be so happy, but……it’s the first of June.

Although the garden might not be growing by leaps and bounds, at least everything is planted and I sure won’t have to worry about the plants stressing out due to the fierce heat!

Down in the orto I put in a total of nine tomato plants. Some are for sauce and some are for eating. I asked at the garden center for some San Marzano tomatoes….the meaty plum style tomatoes, and the woman there asked if I wanted them for eating or for cooking. I was surprised because I had no idea that there was more than one type of San Marzano, and of course I got both. Once they start to ripen it’ll be interesting to see if I can figure out which is which.

One interesting thing that I’ve learned about Italians and tomatoes is that most Italians consider a red ripe tomato only good for making sauce. For salads they prefer that the tomatoes be partially green, and this is a concept that’s completely new to me. I’m not a fan a fried green tomatoes, and only eat a tomato when it’s completely red…or at least I did before I lived in Italy.

I simplified the garden this year, only planting tomatoes and basil in the orto, and of course I have my little backyard herb garden in pots. They should get plenty of sun this summer now that the trees have been cut.

I’ve also finally finished planting my flowers, adding some New Guinea impatiens today, and moving my rosebush to a container. This move is a last ditch effort to save the rose, and although I think it’s too late, I’m certain that a pot is the best place for the rose, at least at this point.

One of the reasons the rose isn’t too happy is because of the mulch I’ve been using. First of all, I have to remind you that mulch seems to be relatively unknown and unused in Italy. Because the soil in our backyard is so dry, I wanted to use mulch in order to conserve as much moisture as possible, especially when everything was competing with all the evergreen trees for water.

A friend recommended something called laterite which is just small terra cotta balls. Normally this product is used by plumbers around drains and pipes because the terra cotta wicks the moisture away. I don’t understand why it works in her garden, because in my garden the product has caused the moisture to wick towards the top of the soil, resulting in plants with straggly roots that run along the surface of the ground. I’m a strong believer in watering deeply, but no matter how deeply I watered, the roots still cling to the surface.

Today when I dug up the rosebush it was quite evident that all the roots, thin as they were, were on top of the ground or just below the surface. I had bought a large planter…plastic, NOT terra cotta, and thought I would at least give it a try. My plan was to sit the potted rosebush in the same location as before where it will now get plenty of sun.

And now I have to digress a bit to tell you about the sun in our backyard. With the trees from the park gone, our backyard is now too sunny to have lunch. We get shade later in the afternoon, maybe around four o’clock. The morning sun isn’t too bad since it’s not quite as intense, but because we like to have lunch on the patio and sit outside, the afternoon sun is really too hot. So now we need to make some shade. Isn’t that crazy???

As luck would have it, an ad from the IperCoop arrived in our mailbox just a few days ago, and they had a nice umbrella for €69. The ad said it was three meters square, and it sat on a base with a curved arm that hung out over the table. Okay, big splurge, IperCop here we come!

We invited Virgil and Jean to come with us, which was probably a mistake, considering the size of the umbrella. Unfortunately we didn’t stop to consider that when we invited them and it was only once we were in the store and saw how imposing the umbrella was that we began to panic.

Since Virgil and Jean have only been here for a few weeks, there are still household items they need, and of course just like us, they needed to pick up a few groceries. By the time we were ready to check out, I was getting worried about the ride home.

We tried to take advantage of every space in the car, and I put some of our groceries on the floor between my feet, while Jean and Virgil held some of their things in their laps. And then we drove to the back of the shopping center to pick up the umbrella.

You know how when you buy anything that’s a do-it-yourself project there are always a thousand and one pieces, along with 3 pages of instructions with pictures that look nothing like your pieces? Well, that wouldn’t be our problem. NO, for once, the thing came almost completely assembled, except for the two crossbars that formed the base. What this means is that the box was really, really long, and we weren’t even sure if it would fit in the car lengthwise, much less if there would be any room for us to sit.

After a quick measurement showed that we had 20 whole centimeters to spare (about 8 inches), Art’s idea to keep the seats up and just slide the box in on top of the back seat, front seat and dashboard all the way to the windshield proved to be the only solution.

Because the box would sit on top of the seats, there wasn’t room to stand it on its side….we now had to lay it flat, which meant that Virgil and I had very little room between the edge of the box, which was right at face level, and the door. The ride home wasn’t very comfortable, especially when had to go up the winding road to San Venanzo, but we made it.

Because we wouldn’t have had room in the car, and because we really thought we could get them later, we hadn’t bought the large concrete blocks to weight down the base of the umbrella. The curve of the pole made the weights a necessity, and at four o’clock we headed to the hardware store to see if we could find them.

No, the hardware lady told us, they only got those blocks by special order, and you couldn’t order as few as four. On to Marsciano. We went to the plumbing supply place, but the blocks they had weren’t the right size….or so I thought. We had to get back home since we were having company for dinner, but we were resigned to driving back to Collestrada the next morning to get the blocks.

The next morning at the IperCoop it didn’t seem a bit unusual when the salesclerk told us that the concrete blocks were sold out. Where to go now? OBI? Geniale? Both weren’t exactly close, which is always the problem when shopping in Italy….it seems as if a 30-45 minute ride is always required.

We had stopped in the garden center in Marsciano before we drove to the IperCoop in the hopes that they would have some of the concrete blocks, but of course they didn’t. I did pick up the last few flowers for the backyard, having decided that the area by the gate looked a bit sparse.

While we were at the garden center we forgot to guy a bag of potting soil, so once we left the IperCoop I asked Art to stop at the garden center that sits just off the E45 between Ponte San Giovanni and Collestrada. We’d never been there before, so this would be a good excuse.

Once we pulled into the parking lot, we saw that they had the same type of umbrellas as we did, and used the same concrete blocks we wanted. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell the blocks, but they gave us directions, and we knew exactly where to go….to the industrial zone where we had gone to buy the stones for our patio.

I bought a bag of potting soil, and as I was leaving, something caught my. There was a display of gnomes for the garden, all sitting on a nice bed of……MULCH! Yes, it was pine bark mulch not hardwood as I would have preferred, but wow! What a find! We bought three bags and I knew we’d be back for more.

We stopped at the concrete place and bought our four blocks, and even saved a few euro in the process…each block was one euro cheaper that it was at the IperCoop. Now all we had to do was go home, wrestle the HEAVY concrete blocks out of the car, take the potting soil, mulch and plants to the backyard and get to work.

After lunch I headed to the garden and tried to figure out where to start. I potted up the New Guinea impatiens, alyssum and ageratum that we’d bought and they looked fantastic. The deep orange color that Art picked out was just the right punch of color for the spot near the gate. Now the hard part….digging out the rose bush.

First of course I had to rake all the laterite aside, not an easy task, even with the variable width rake. The pieces are so small, maybe ¼” in diameter, and I cleared the area first with the rake, and finally just by sweeping the area with my (gloved) hands. Digging up the rose wasn’t easy because of the tangle of thin roots so close to the surface.

I don’t know if the rose will survive, and Antonella told us she can't order another McCartney rose until next year, so for now it will be a wait and see project. If it lives, fine, and if not I’ll try again next year. Perhaps with the laterite gone I could plant the rose in the ground, but since I’ve got this large pot now I guess I’ll just go for the sure thing. Amazingly, at least to me, roses seem to thrive in pots everywhere around here.

The next project was the umbrella. We had played with the location and knew which corner of the patio was the best choice. Unfortunately it didn’t swivel, and the way the crossbar supports were set up meant that the base couldn’t sit with two of the sides butting against the sides of the patio. With part of the base sitting on the patio, we’d need to raise and level the ground underneath the concrete blocks. Art was planning to get some gravel, but I decided to try using some of the Laterite instead. Its small size made it easy to fill in and level out the uneven ground, and the base seemed to be pretty stabile.

Once that job was finished, I decided to use more of the laterite over the gravel. Because of the constant shedding of the trees, we really needed another load of gravel because it’s just impossible to rake out the pine needles and other assorted stuff that collects in the gravel.

The laterite looked pretty good around the base of the umbrella, and I decided to keep going with it, to cover the entire area with laterite….what else was I going to do with it? I did call Art to take a look at it before I got too carried away, and he agreed with me that it looked great.

We’ll have to return to the garden center next week to buy more mulch…and let me tell you, this stuff is NOT cheap! I guess it’s really a specialty item at this point, not much in demand. I think we paid about €7 for one bag! But of course we’ve now made the investment in the plants themselves, and if we want them to survive we have to make them happy. This really isn’t a big deal, because anyone who has a garden knows that they are a constantly evolving project. I think that we finally may be on the right path, and I’m looking forward to a summer on a patio that has sun when and where I want it and shade when I need it.

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