The ‘Terrain’ late cropping peas and mangetout ‘Sweet Horizon’ that I was given to trial by Thompson & Morgan seem to be doing well in the greenhouse with plenty of flowers and pods that are starting to set. It’s all a bit of an experiment, but with the tomatoes finished, its worth giving them a go while the greenhouse is not needed for other things.
The sweetpeas that I sowed in Roottrainers earlier in October have now moved out into the cold frame where they will grow slowly over winter, developing strong root systems so that they eastablish quickly and easily when they are planted out next spring.
As someone with a bit of an obsession about plants and gardening, I do love looking at botanical details in major artworks – Madonna and Child paintings often have recognisable plants growing in the foreground – I saw clover, violets, daisies, roses and dandelions and some less recognisable plants too, of which I particularly liked this little plant in a painting at the Accademia in Venice.
And on a day trip to Padua to see the Giotto Chapel, we also discovered the magnificent Palazzo Regione with its elegant loggia decorated with botanical frescoes. Sadly, no time to visit Padua’s Botanic Garden – which is the oldest in the world. Still its always good to start compiling a list for the next visit before returning home.
Having successfully crammed my possessions into half of my suitcase for the trip home, I spent a very happy hour shopping for food in the Rialto Market. Top of my list was Radicchio Tradivo a special type of radicchio that is only available in the Veneto during the autumn. It looks amazing and is extraordinarily delicious. Once home, I put it in cold water overnight, then cleaned it and cut it in half lengthwise, seasoned it with pepper and salt and drizzled it generously with olive oil before grilling it gently, turning it over half way through cooking. It reduces dramatically in the cooking, but there was enough to share with friends who agreed that its gently bitter, caramelised flavour was both delicious and memorable. Had I filled the entire suitcase with radicchio I might have been able to make risotto with it too – maybe next time.
I recently read Helen Attlee’s engrossing book ‘The Land where Lemons Grow’ about the turbulent (at times Mafia dominated) history of lemon and mandarin growing in Sicily and the many different varieties available in different seasons, so I selected one green and one orange variety of mandarin to add to my shopping bag and finished off with a large lump of parmesan and some porcini – the latter suffered most from the travelling – but they still tasted delicious.
There are few places that surpass one’s expectations, but Venice is definitely one of them and a five night stay was just about enough time to take in the major sights without feeling that we were on a cultural treadmill. There was also time for dipping into the Biennale with its contemporary art that ranged from the beautiful, to the bewildering, to the plain bonkers, but as there are only so many Titians and Tintorettos you can look at without glazing over, it was useful to have the contrasting experiences.
What became very clear was that (quite understandably) gardening doesn’t figure much in this watery place. We stayed in apartment with its own small garden, but I’ve seldom seen tattier grass or more neglected shrubs – the highlight was a jubejube tree Zizyphus jubjuba with a good crop of fruit. I saw them for sale in the market, but after reading explorer Sir Richard Burton’s description of them as “like a bad plum, an unrepentant cherry and an insipid apple” I wasn’t tempted to eat them. Clearly an acquired taste which even the pigeons in the garden hadn’t developed as they totally ignored the fallen fruit.
Courtesy of a guide book called ‘Secret Venice’ we did gain entrance to several hidden gardens – mainly belonging to convents – but weedy lawns, shrubs and a few trees pretty well summed them up. A few rooftop gardens and balconies had some greenery in evidence, but I don’t think Venice is a destination for anyone wanting to earn a living as a gardener. I’m sure that tucked behind palazzos there may be some gardens of note but we didn’t see them – and we didn’t get to Burano which is supposed to have a garden worth visiting. Still, it’s good that there is something we do better than the Venetians, because when it comes to pretty well everything else, they seem to lead the way.