As we approach fall, some of a gardener’s time is spent on seed saving. Many of my fellow gardeners grow plants that have their origins with their family and friends and that have been growing in their yards for many years. What true gardener has not brought back seeds with them from their home town and home countries?
Old time, or heritage seeds, are the best candidates for seed saving. The seeds saved from heritage varieties will be true to their origins and produce a new plant identical to its parent plant. This is not true of hybrid seeds, which are the basis of many modern day gardens. Having several varieties of similar plants growing close to each other could also result in the new seeds being a cross of two varieties. The easiest to cross, possibly, are pumpkins and zucchini. These two plants, grown side by side, will easily cross with the resulting plant being a green, zucchini shaped pumpkin.
Not all crosses are bad. Often, crosses produce some new colours, growing habits and flavours. Last winter, a neighbour gave us a greenhouse tomato plant. It was bred to produce a small split-proof fruit that ripened in the lower light conditions of February. One of these tomatoes fell off and landed in the pot below where it produced a great number of seedlings. I took two of these seedlings and they grew to produce large, very meaty, split-prone tomatoes.
Diligent seed savers take care to make sure their seed comes from plants that avoid these cross pollinating situations. All of the Italian gardeners to whom I have talked, have at least one or more plants that have a long pedigree. Asking the variety name usually results in the name of the person who gave the gardener the seed or the town from where it came. Romano beans and Chicoria were two items passed on to our family by the Mattioda family, hence they were always referred to as Mattioda beans and Mattioda lettuce.
Perhaps the plant with the oldest history in an Italian garden is garlic. Although garlic seeds can be used for propagation, it takes two years to produce a cloved head. The most common procedure is to save one’s best garlic heads for replanting in October. Paste tomatoes are probably the most shared seeds among our fellow gardeners. Chicoria often self seeds, ensuring each spring a fresh supply of greens.
To the Italian gardener, seed saving goes beyond the money saved. It is considered a very important and an integral part of their gardening. A phrase that is very common these days, is to “know where your food comes from”. Saving ones own seeds ensures that we know exactly from where that food item comes. There is also the Italian gardeners sense of pride, pride in the produce they grow, pride in being self-sufficient and pride in sharing those seeds with family and friends. Pride is the very essence of the Italian garden.
Don visits the garden and backyard of Silvia DiRenzo to talk about tomatoes and garlic, looking after the birds that visit and how gardening keeps you young at heart!
In Il Giardiniere Italiano, Don Rampone will be taking us into the backyard and gardens of friends and neighbours in and around Kelowna. This time, he visits Joe and Gerry Petretta, where they talk about garlic (naturally) and Joe shares some history of his family.
Emilio Nanci immigrated to Canada in 1953. In 1958, he sent for Lina and they made their home in North Vancouver for twenty years. After a holiday to Kelowna in 1970, they decided to move there permanently, in 1974. They built several houses before settling at their current location on Casorso Road. I recently visited Emilio and Lina in their garden.
A food garden has always been a part of Emilio and Lina’s lives. Their present garden is a combination of grapes, vegetables, herbs and meticulously groomed fruit trees. Garlic, lettuce, beans, chards, corn and tomatoes are in abundance. Seeds are saved from the best plants and are exchanged with family and friends. This exchange, sometimes, results in mystery plants. This year some unexpected buttercup and butternut squash are growing quite well. They have some beautiful specimens of bay leaf, basilico, rosemary, cicoria and parsley. They also have colourful flowers such as Oleander to grace their garden. A splendid grape arbour is adjacent to their greenhouse and surrounds their eating area.
According to Emilio, his garden is the “Italian style”… a place where growing and eating are merged. He also credits the call of the garden for his quick recovery from hip surgery. The tomatoes are his pride and joy. Each year, he grows a few tomatoes that reach 1 kg! The rest are preserved for tomato sauce and a lot of their vegetables are frozen for use over the winter. That’s truly organic.
The garden, sometimes, throws new challenges for Emilio and Lina. This year, the visiting deer thoroughly enjoyed their fresh lettuces and grapes vines. Numerous quail have also feasted here. Nets and wire meshing have been installed to protect some of the produce. They have set up some elaborate wiring over the gate to keep them out, but the deer are determined to eat the beet greens.
Sitting in the shade, surrounded by grapes, it was a pleasure to chat with Emilio and Lina about life in Italy, raising rabbits, chickens, pigs and goats. Their daily procedure of joining the community sheep parade to the hills, each morning, was reminiscent of the stories my grandmother told of her home town. This is where I found out Emilio and Lina were Abruzzi residents, like my grandmother, Francesca. I was overly elated to realize their current house and garden sits on land that my Nonna Francesca, farmed… what a small world we live in.