New discoveries in our Piemonte, Langhe Hills, Garden
Having bought 2 acres of land it was hard to resist the urge to start landscaping and planting and cultivating from the get go, particularly coming from our 4x2m city garden, but we resisted and made a rational decision to watch the land for a year. Yes, a whole year. I had read in many a good gardening book and I think, even Monty Don, the famous 'Gardeners' World', BBC gardener suggests this to his fan base. Watching the land, as it grows, will enable us to see what springs up and in what order, after all, what looks like a weed in March, can turn out to be a pretty, bee loving, flower by August. So, painful though it was to sit back and watch, that is what we have done. Here are my first year observations.
Firstly, the land grows very fast in the Langhe Hills in Piemonte. Whether this was anything to do with the spring snow, or the rain fall in late spring, I don’t know, but Andrew, and his new additional muscles, knows all about it, or his new title, ’Strimmer in Chief’ (SIC), SIC being sick of strimming! Every three weeks a few feet of shrub would stretch up from all of the ground, every stalk waving around in the air, feeling the freedom of a plant on the make, that is until Andrew lopped them all off with a commanding swish of his new power strimmer, give a man a tool for a day etc. We made the decision to leave a couple of sections to grow uninterrupted for wild flower purposes, because one of our discoveries above the house, on neighbouring land, had been a small bee hive farm and I hope to meet the farmer soon to see if I can get a share of the nectar bounty, after all our garden has been feeding the bees! Nothing beats the sight, or sound, of honey bees making the rounds in the garden.
Secondly, we seem to have a wild mint problem. One of the first smells, I noticed, when we viewed the property that fateful day last November, was wafting up from the underfoot crushed wild mint on the lawn, wow what a gorgeous deep smell it is too. I thought this a selling point of the house, Giovanni has recently pointed out that this is, in fact, an invasive weed and I had better Monsanto it! I think he was joking about Monsanto, I have repeatedly said our land will be organic and not in any way covered in vile noxious rubbish like ‘Round up’, I am sure he was joking, as he seems to be passionate about not having chemicals anywhere, including in his wine. I am sending some soil off to be tested soon though to see what chance we have of claiming organic land.
Along with the wild mint there appeared a lot of Yarrow, Elderflower and my favourite, St. John’s Wort, sprouting all over the place, like a Piemonte herbalists apothecary. I had bought some St.John’s Wort plants back in Dublin and knew what it was straight away, manna, no more buying St.John’s Wort again, I have so far made an oil from it and a tincture. The oil is great, as it works brilliantly on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a side effect of too much strimming! Next year, I am going to get some herbal recipes for Yarrow and not miss the Elderflower bonanza again.
Some of the unidentified fruit trees came out, in the end, to reveal their fruity secrets, peaches galore, both white and regular, on two trees, made into peaches in brandy for Christmas. Plum tree with a few plums, a gargantuan cherry tree with so many cherries on it, sadly we missed the harvest, as we were away in Dublin for a couple of weeks and when we returned they had pretty much been nicked by the birds and half rotten, I have diarised that now for next year, as I intend to make a fierce cherry brandy in 2017. A very healthy fig tree ripened in mid-September and all gobbled up fast, as they don’t last long before spoiling. A neighbour’s apple tree has been adopted, as the apples were rolling on to our side of the unfenced garden and were, umm, going to waste. Wild strawberries lined the driveway raised bed and many a strawberry leaf tea was made, I will dry these leaves next year. Our 10 grape vines, which no one seemed to know what variety they were, stayed white, and then, just as we were considering harvesting them, Giovanni revealed that they weren’t grapes for wine but regular eating grapes! Boring or what? We aren’t too sure on keeping these long term, neither of us being avid grape eaters, but grape drinking on the other hand... Andrew has decided that they can stay until after the extension is built, then up they will come and be replaced by about 40 Dolcetto vines instead, along that lovely wide sun drenched terrace, at the moment it will stay empty, bar the vine edging along the front, as the builders will have to use it for access. Giovanni had gifted us a surprise of two almond trees, which he planted in secret, while we were away in April, on return there they sat, on the edge of the lower terrace, with a fascinatingly situated, if not peculiar, asparagus row, which he has set in between the two almond trees, another Giovanni addition, I’m not sure if this is a Piemonte gardening trick, or in his case, Sardinian, but we will have to see. This year only one of the almond trees fruited, providing 5 nuts! I think we will give them a few more years’ reprieve to see how they grow.
But the biggest surprise the land has given us, this year, is our very own hazelnut plantation. When Andrew had negotiated the extra parcel of land from Giovanni, we knew it had been registered as ‘vini culture’, vine land for a vineyard. We didn’t mind this, as we had the usual dream of making our own Langhe Hills wine. However, as the season shifted to early summer and we got more familiar with the surrounding farms and masses of neighbouring nocciole (hazelnut) plantations, I started to notice the resemblance of our vineyard’s tree lined boundary, the trees arcing protectively around the land boundary, next to the not very busy road. One day, in early summer, my mother and I set out to investigate and upon reaching the first trees, there, on the branches, were the little hazelnut pods! Every tree was covered in them. All 52 hazelnut trees! This was our lightbulb moment! I had always said that the land would tell us what it wants to grow, and it did.
And last, but maybe even least, a funghi, not the normal mushroom stalk with umbrella top funghi but a weird shaped, orange, funghi growing around the base of a tree stump, well we are in funghi season after all, and in Piemonte that means plenty of funghi eating festivals, but I think we will leave this one to it's own devices and stick to more well known quantities of mushrooms from the market, mushrooms on toast anyone?
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