When I traveled to Italy one summer a few years ago, I went with a friend to visit her grandfather who eagerly showed us his very impressive garden. The garden was a vast hodgepodge of wildflowers, herbs, vegetables and even a fig tree. As I went with my friend to visit other relatives and neighbors, it seemed most everyone was growing something. Even those without a proper yard were growing flowers or vegetables outside their windows on a ledge.
Gardening has always been a prevalent tradition in Italy. Before the late 19th century, the working class was usually forced to do elaborate gardening for the nobility or forced to donate half of their own crops to the aristocrats who controlled most of the land. Once Italy became a unified country the Italian people were free to live independently, work their own land and cultivate their own crops without being required to bequeath half of their harvest to the wealthy. Gardens were particularly necessary after the country was ravaged by two World Wars; most people had to depend solely on their own gardens for food. These backyard harvests gave rise to the Italian vegetable gardens and homemade products that Italians pride themselves on today (Life in Italy).
It does seem to be an aspect of Italian culture; the pride of growing something, no matter what the available work space is.
TYPES OF ITALIAN GARDENS
Also called classic Italian gardens, these gardens are recognized by their symmetrical landscaping, neatly trimmed and shaped hedges, and the occasional water feature such as a fountain, pond or stream (Life in Italy).
CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN GARDENS
The polar opposite of a renaissance gardens, contemporary gardens are without the structure and symmetry that classic gardens display. Instead, contemporary gardens are allowed to grow more naturally with minimal maintenance (Globe Rove).
TUSCAN STYLE GARDENS
Tuscan style gardens combines some the structure from the renaissance garden and the natural, minimalist feel of the contemporary garden. This was the style of gardening most popular among farmers; all herbs, trees, and flowers were planted for a reason; the garden not just for sheer enjoyment (Globe Rove). Tuscan style gardens are popular today for its warm colors that stand out brightly in the sunlight (Landscaping Network).
When I was growing up, we had a small backyard, but that has never stopped my mother from putting together a garden. Every year, my mother grows herbs such as rosemary, chives, parsley and basil. She uses these in many of her summer recipes; particularly with the basil from which she makes a homemade pesto sauce. My Italian grandparents also had a small backyard when they moved to the Washington, D.C. area, and every year my grandfather planted flowers and grew vegetables. His garden-fresh tomatoes were always something to look forward to every year.
I always believed that my mother and grandfather were following tradition through their gardening. My mother remembers her own grandfather’s vast garden of flowers and vegetables, particularly his pumpkins, which he grew for each one of his nine grandchildren. My Grandpa Petosa remembered when he was growing up in New Jersey, his Italian friends and relatives had huge gardens where they grew not only flowers, but also tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley and squash. Most even had their own grape arbors from which grape jelly and wine were made. Naturally, the proud gardeners would jar their own vegetables and create their own homemade wines. Neighbors and relatives would often get together to sample each other’s homemade wine and judge the producer’s wine making skills…or lack thereof.
Gardening has certainly become a tradition on the Italian side of my family, so I am hoping this skill will be genetic. I am currently praying for the survival of my hydrangea bush and tomato plants.
Written by OSIA National Office Administrative Assistant, Laura Kelly.