Tag Archives: cork oak

Postcards of Italy

The reflecting pool at La Torrecchia

While the visit to Ninfa was the reason that took us to the area around Latina, south of Rome, we were also fortunate to get to the nearby garden of La Torrecchia. It, too, is created around the ruins of a medieval village, though a smaller one than Ninfa. It is a much more recent garden, dating back to 1991, and it remains gardening on a private, domestic scale. Much of the design can be attributed to the English landscaper, Dan Pearson, whose style interests us a great deal. While this is early Pearson (dating back almost 25 years now), the reflecting pool above is his work. Surrounded by a riot of self-sown seedlings, it was a delight.

The cork oak, Quercus suber

In New Zealand, it is rare to see a wine bottle with a cork these days and most of those will be plastic. This is the land of the stelvin screw top closure. But I give you the curious cork oak, Quercus suber. This fine specimen is in the garden of La Torrecchia. The switch to screw tops has done much to relieve the pressure on these trees which had, apparently resulted in too many inferior corks. It is a curious fact that many restaurants here still pour a mouthful of wine to be sampled by the patron when, as I understand it, this tradition came about because of wine being tainted by the original cork.

The cork dog kennel stood by the gardener’s cottage at La Torrecchia. Whether a resident dog lives in it remains a mystery but I can tell you that we saw a big as, bigly even, huge hornet fly into the cork. We don’t have hornets at home, let alone these scary specimens. If I was a dog, I would be refusing to share my quarters with a hornet like that.

It is always a slightly strange feeling to encounter one of our plants across the world so I made Mark pose by the specimen of Magnolia Atlas in La Torrecchia. This one was bred by his father, Felix, and it felt very personal that there was a little bit of Tikorangi even in an Italian garden.

Mark beside Atlas at La Torrecchia

Kiwi fruit (actinidia) may have originated in China but we pretty much claim them as our own in NZ. And the commercial product now bears little resemblance to the wild species in their native habitat. It is one of our horticultural stars and a linchpin of our economy. So we were more than a little surprised to see the extent of kiwifruit plantings in Italy. Apparently it is now greater than in this country and a fair acreage of it was in the area around Cisterna di Latina. It is all irrigated which may prove interesting in the future if water becomes an issue.

Vast kiwi fruit plantations in Italy

At the local supermarket in Tivoli, we saw fruit being sold. So I can tell you that the green kiwifruit imported from Chile retailed at 2.99 euros a kilo (Haywards variety). The Zespri Green variety grown in Italy retailed at 4.99 euros a kilo while Zespri Gold sourced from New Zealand was 5.99 euros a kilo (which is a little over $9NZ a kilo). We did not buy any, preferring the big beautiful cherries we could buy at the morning market in Tivoli for a little less than that price.


Gardening in the old town of Tivoli

We used Air BnB on line to book most of our accommodation and this proved a huge success for us. In Tivoli, we had a charming one bedroomed, full self-contained apartment with a large garden, right in the heart of the old town.  All this for just over $70 a night which seemed astonishingly good value to us. Just down the road from us was this apartment which clearly lacked any outdoor space so the owner could only garden around her door. I always find the urge to grow plants in the most constrained circumstances affirming. At the same time, I felt a twinge of shame and sadness that I doubt such a publicly exposed private garden would even survive in the country I call home. It is more likely that the pots would be smashed and the plants vandalised within days. Or stolen. Sometimes I wonder how civilised we really are.

I give you the inquisitive man to whom I am married. He does like to look closely. In this case, he was interested in the construction of the bamboo door to the tool shed that he spotted at Ninfa. The bamboo will have been harvested from their own plantations in the garden and are a creative solution to crafting a door to fit a non-standard entry which likely dates back to the Middle Ages when the buildings of this town were largely constructed. I hasten to add, the door was left open. Mark may inspect but does not usually pry.

The bamboo grove at Ninfa, not unlike our own one.

Looking back at the entrance way to La Torrecchia, also built around the ruins of a small medieval village