July 31, 2011

A Mediterranean Escape, In Your Garden

The colors of the Mediterranean are bright, sunny and rich, even in the shade.

Olives ripen on the larger olive trees, and yes, I live outside of Boston where one cannot grow such jewels, but with proper care, one can grow Mediterranean plants most anywhere, even in Worcester, ( Wormtown) MA.
Squash blossoms awaiting to be stuffed with ricotta, pinenuts, Parmesan and basil  for a late morning snack. They bees kept trying to get these, even when they came into the house.

A selection of Summer Squashes picked this morning. Fritatti with ricotta on the menu this afternoon, with fresh rosemary and lemon.

High summer means high romance, and nothing is more romantic than the sunny coast of France, Italy or Spain. When we imagine these places of high romance, we close our eyes, and we think of the sights, but mostly we think of the flavors, and the scents- all of which involve plants. The oleander of Costa del sol, Lavender and lemons of sunny morning in France, a Greek Island with olive trees, the salty, rich Bagna Cauda of Sicily made with cardoons that have been buried and forced underground -  Mediterranean plants are deeply rich with volatile oils, fragrance and flavor and you can grow most all of them either in your garden, on your deck or even on your windowsill.

Lavender scents the evening air, especially when it is hot and humid.

Mixed containers of Mediterranean plants at the greenhouse door. Kept near the hose, these sun lovers still need to be watered every day, as most container plant must be in the summer. Lots of sand used in their soil mix, ensures fast drainage.

Cardoons, still young, will have to wait until autumn when they are then buried completely, to create the forced stems used for the most traditional Bagna Cauda, with crispy, twisted stems rarely found outside of the remote area of Italy where they grow them in this manner. 

Rosemary comes in many forms, this one is a prostrate one, which will weep over the edge of this Terra Rosa container.Terra Rosa is a rare pink clay from southern Italy often used for low fired garden pottery.

 These plants are sun lovers. Sturdy and heat resistant, they still need daily watering if kept as hot as they like, but beyond that, they are tough and perfect for any hot, sunny garden. Larger shrubs and trees like olives must be grown in  large  containers and tubs, but think ahead, for size is important here, olives love room ( and they need more than one variety for pollination).  They can be dragged into a cool cellar in the north, in into an unheated garage if there is a window where they can spend the winter.
Olives require more than one variety for proper pollination. This one is young, a sapling really, but it will mature fast once it gets repotted into a larger container. It must spend winters in the glasshouse with the larger olive trees, which are planted in 30 gallon tubs and becoming almost too large to move.

Trees from the south of France and Italy such as olives are remarkably easy to grow in containers, as long as they are large enough. Have confidence, and pot some up. Use 1/3 sharp sand, 1/3 garden loam, and 1/3 compost for best results, but olives require something very important if you want fruit, and that is a pollinator. There must be more than one plant, and preferably more than one variety for proper pollination. They are long lived, and many can be left out-of-doors even here in New England, until nearly Christmas ( when temperatures can begin to push near 15 degrees F, which is too cold, really).

Pomegranate fruit, when young, looks very much like a flower, but there is no mistaking what a flower looks like on this beauty. Poms make very ornamental plants, even this one. There are more than thirty varieties, from Iranian green, to those that have solid black colored fruit from Turkey.

These Mediterranean gems are hardy enough to handle light to moderate frosts, and I trust my Rosemary and Olives with temps that are above 20 degrees. After that, I drag the tubs into the greenhouse, wintering over in the cold glasshouse until March, when I bring them outdoors again.

'Mediterranean plants', is a term often seen in plant books and magazines, but it is a broad term, loosely used often to refer to any plant seen or used as an ornamental plant outdoors in and around the Mediterranean ( Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, France, Italy - but I use it to cover those plants common to those living on the coast in southern to northern California too.

Our new hot gravel bed, circular walk, really, in the courtyard on the east side of the house is the perfect place for many of these containers, sunny and hot all summer long, with late afternoon shade from the house. I can water every evening when I return home from work, which is like therapy for me, hose in one hand, and glass of wine in the other ( how 'Mediterranean!).
The two large Bay Lauren trees in front of the greenhouse are almost too large to move, they must be repotted this fall, I hope that I can find a matching pair of large tubs for them.  

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