Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thinking Warm Thoughts

     Here in Bucks County, it snowed another eight inches this week, refreshing the blanket of white already coating the landscape. I guess this is validation of Punxsatawney Phil, the ground-hogs' prediction of another six weeks of winter, as if we needed it. Still, I won't complain, as this will help to ensure an adequate water supply for the coming growing season, something that my gardening friends in northern California are deeply worried about. They are experiencing another year of drought conditions that will only worsen if current weather patterns hold, preventing the planting and growth of many of the edible treats that we here in the snowy northeast can look forward to enjoying once Spring comes.
     The question is how do we get that "green" fix we all crave, while waiting for the first shoots of Spring to pop up out of the ground? The answer is as varied as are gardens, but a few effective solutions come to mind. Simplest of all - if you don't have some already, get some houseplants. Even if it is just a philodendron from your local supermarket, having some live plant will ease that craving for something growing in your life. Better yet, use a sunny window sill to start some herbs or salad greens. When it warms sufficiently to transplant them out of doors, you will rejoice at having  a "jump" on the growing season. 
     My own solution to this dilemma was inspired by a trip I made to Florence, (Firenze), Italy, in early Spring a couple of years ago. Before going, I read in one of my favorite books - The Ol
d Gardens of Italy, by Mrs. Aubrey Le Blond, (1912) - about a garden of a Villa Corsini Al Prato. ( I use the indefinite article, as there are several villas with gardens belonging to this venerable, princely family.) As it happened, this one was located not far from my hotel.  I resolved that I had to see this space, which was noted for its "bosco," (an evocation of a woodland), and statuary aligned in graduated sizes, the better to create a heightened sense of perspective. Never mind that it remains a private residence, not open to the public. I showed up with my camera in tow, and begged the "portieres'" indulgence, which, of course, he refused. "Privato, privato," he told me. Nonetheless, my look of sorry disappointment ov
ercame him, and I was granted admission, for ten minutes. "Dieci minuto." I thanked him, "gracie, Senore," and went in. After all these years, it was just as Mrs. Le Blond described it in her book.
 Hidden behind high walls, it encompasses nearly a block in area, right in the middle of the city. There are gravel paths bordered by boxwood, and (in Spring) beds of blue Scilla. There was one feature however, which I couldn't make sense of; located at regular intervals in the border were round ceramic "bases" nearly level with the
 ground. "What use do they serve," I wondered? The answer awaited me in a long narrow structure - the "limonaia" - at the rear of the garden. Inside, were rows of mature lemon trees in tub sized terra-cotta pots. One wall, which I assume was south-facing, had tall shutters, which could be opened to admit light and warmth on sunny days. Otherwise, the trees were sheltered and protected from the cold until warm weather returned. Come Spring, these potted beauties would be transported outside and placed atop these mysterious ceramic "footings" where once again they would furnish the garden, creating an allee of blossoms and, in time, the fruit that the Florentines use so imaginatively in their cuisine.
     This garden - and the Botticellis in the Uffizi - made an indelible impression on me. I couldn't bring the Botticellis home with me, however, I was determined to have a lemon tree of my own. Thanks to One Green World, the catalogue that specializes in exotic and semi-tropical plants, I got my (Meyer) lemon tree. The streets of New York (104th between
 West End Avenue and Broadway) provided me with a large glazed ceramic pot in which my lemon grows happily. 
     As for a "limonaia?" Well, as it happens, the basement here at Penrose Bungalow works just fine. It is cool, but warm enough, and windows permit sufficient light to nurture not only myu lemon tree, but bananas, a fig, a palm, a pomegranate and all of the semi-tropical plants that are too fragile to over-winter out of doors. 
     So, when the winter "blues" get me down, I know right where to go. If you need me, just look for me in my "limonaia," right downstairs.

1 comment:

  1. Aaah, ITALY!!! A transporting tale; thank you Everett!! Was the garden you visited Villa la Pietra by any chance? Also private, it is currently owned by NYU. I recall a limonaia lean-to just like that when I visited there. The Italians have such a humble, yet reverential, awareness for meaningful simplicity of food. Lemons, olives, even the sea. We can all take a cue from your experience and bring that same kind of value to food we can perhaps grow ourselves. Fantastic post!!!