We all have that secret fantasy of something we’d like to be really good at, but we’re not sure we will ever achieve it. For me it’s gardening. My lack of proficiency in this area is particularly egregious because my dad is an amazing gardener with the greenest thumb around. He once smuggled a coconut back from Hawaii and grew a humongous palm tree. This gene skipped me–I’ve only been here two months and already I’ve killed my beautiful hydrangea bush that I bought when I first moved in. I didn’t murder it on purpose, of course. It happened because I am stubborn. Barbara, from my local flower shop told me when I bought it that it wouldn’t survive inside because there wasn’t enough light. “But if I leave the front door ajar (as I always do so Cinder can go in and out), it could work,” I insisted, until she finally told me to “Prova,” or try it. One by one I watched the humongous, cotton-candy pink blossoms wilt and die. I tried moving it to the porch, but it was too late. But if there is one thing you should know about me, I don’t give up easily. No matter that my cherry tomato plants in New York produced two tomatoes, or that my herbs always looked rather sickly, something in me feels compelled to keep trying.
To this end, today I bought two basil plants. I don’t have space for a garden yet, but it’s in my long range fantasy, where I see myself walking among my grapevines, harvesting olive trees, and digging potatoes and onions from the earth. It’s good to dream!
The basil plants were an impulse purchase when I was buying Cinder’s dog food. I use a lot of basil and yesterday at the mercato, my fruttivendolo didn’t have any. He is a very sweet guy, calls me “cara” when he sees me, which always makes me happy, though he says it to all the old ladies too. Last week he introduced me to susini which is a little yellow plum (here plum is prugna) and they are delicious. Okay back to the basil…
The pet food store has a nursery on one side and outside are tons of plants. The fragrant aroma of the basil beckoned me over. I consulted with the owner as to whether the two hours of sunlight I get in the morning was sufficient and after he said that it was plenty since it was at a strong time of day, he explained when to snip the plants so that they would grow fuller and not tall and ungainly. A small bag of soil (and ten pounds of dog food later) and we were on our way back up the hill.
When I unloaded the plants I was filled with uncertainty. What if they died immediately? I’d be the shame of the street. My neighbor Paolo and his girlfriend have gorgeous window boxes of basil, sage and rosemary and I watch enviously as they pinch off what they need for their weekend lunches. I pictured them snickering at my pathetic attempts to garden, which is unfair as they are actually a terrifically sweet couple and if I asked for their advice, I’ve do doubt Paolo would gather his tools and come to the rescue. Thus far, my gardening has been limited to some lovely geraniums that despite my best efforts appear to be thriving, and I do feel guilty about it since they are still in their original plastic pots because I never bothered transplanting them.
I tried to find Marinella or my neighbor Carla, so I could get a more in-depth consultation, but strangely neither of them was at home. Marinella is wonderful and is forever bringing me delicious zucchini, lettuce and string beans from her garden since she knows I make a lot of salads. She gave me some of her “salsa” yesterday, which is her homemade tomato sauce. It’s fabulous and if I can get a recipe, I will post it. Carla is a new friend who invited me and Cinder to her l’orto or vegetable garden this week and I saw in action what a real gardener can do. She gave me a jar of her marmalata that she makes with the susini and so I was able to taste both the fresh fruit and the jam. It’s been a good “foodie” week. Carla has graciously offered to show me a thing or two about working in the garden, and I will gladly take her up on it. But of course, I am too impatient to await instruction for my basil plants, so I do a quick internet search, and then haphazardly begin my task.
The container I have is not perfect as it doesn’t allow drainage, but the plants are in and when Carla came by she told me they were fine. She also told me when to snip them and to not over water since there was no drainage. The end result is pretty, and the first rays of my morning sun are hitting them as I write so let’s see how they do. I bought tomatoes at the market yesterday and some of my basil leaves are ready to be snipped now, so I guess I know what I’m having for pranzo.