Summer without a vegetable garden is unimagineable to me.
For as far back as I can remember, my summers are dotted with memories of the garden. I can still see my beloved Papu’ (maternal grandfather) with a sprig of basil tucked behind his ear. And I can picture my paternal grandparents preparing to hike up into the hills to tend their plots of land.
Mostly, though, I am filled with memories of my father planting, tilling, watering, tending and watching. I can still remember the watering can he fashioned for me by attaching an old coffee can to the end of a long stick. This enabled me to walk along the high concrete wall bordering one end of our home garden and water all the plants without having to actually step in between them.
I was a girl, after all. As much as I wanted to be in the garden I was all about sugar and spice and everything nice. All those icky bugs were a bit much!
Now that I’m grown, I think nothing of plunging my bare hands into the earth – something I would have NEVER done when I was a younger.
Our home garden is an homage to the farming background of both of my parents. In Italy, the land was the main source of food. The very idea of going to a store to buy your tomatoes or onions must have once seemed so strange to my parents.
Our little garden is a wild place and I love it. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, swiss chard, lettuce, lavender, strawberries, sage, mint, cucumbers, rosemary, tarragon and basil are gathered together like an outrageous green family. At times you have to strain to see through it all lest you miss a perfectly ripe tomato, ready to be plucked. The strawberries and the tarragon bush hang over the cracked concrete wall that holds up one side of the raised garden bed. That same side is covered by an old makeshift trellis built by my father, many years ago, as a support for his grape vines. Though they are old, to this day they still spread their leaves along the precarious structure before producing the lovely green grapes that dangle down so tantalizingly.
It’s a jumbled, edible forest and I love it. I cannot imagine my life without it.
For this reason, I chose to feature Viana La Place’s My Italian Garden as the Flavour of the Month for August 2007. While August is already almost half over, it was high time to introduce this book.
It is a gem.
It is a testament to a person’s will to grow fresh food in whatever little corner they inhabit. To read La Place’s account of how she transformed her backyard into a small garden oasis is truly inspiring. And the recipes – oh, the recipes!
While I have yet to try one, I will very soon and of course you shall be the beneficiaries. In the meantime, I decided to use so many of the beautiful zucchini flowers our plants yield to make one of my very favourite summer dishes: ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers.
I hope you all have a garden to love!