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Garden Where You Can

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributor

Friday, June 10, 2011

Maria, Italian gardener

Photo by Rick Gush

This garden, wedged between a road and a 15-foot drop, has been in Maria's family for generations.

Maria tends an 8-foot-wide by 50-yard-long strip that is wedged between the main road and a 15-foot drop. The garden is always tidy and full of healthy-looking plants. I’ve been driving past it for 10 years now and finally decided I had to stop and chat with the owner.

Maria told me that the garden has been worked by her family for many generations, which means that this little strip of a garden has witnessed a great deal of history and undoubtedly experienced a whole lot of poaching from passing soldiers. Maria’s garden runs right alongside the road called Via Aurelia, which is the north-south road that the Romans built. Armies have been marching up and down this road since before Hannibal brought his elephants here, and everybody from Napoleon to the Holy Roman Emperors and the Normans to the Nazis have used this road as the main thoroughfare leading to southern Italy.

When people think of a vegetable garden, the image that first comes to mind is a nice, big, flat area with rows and rows of vegetable plants. But in truth, a whole lot of gardening is accomplished in other types of spaces. Little corners, tiny community garden plots, pots on terraces and narrow urban strips probably make up as much as half of the garden locations around the world. People garden where they can, not where they wish they could.

I’ve always felt pleasure in seeing the many ways in which gardeners have adapted non-optimal spaces for cultivation. I remember my shock at seeing Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden in Virginia — 50 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. It was almost too good! Any fool could grow a garden there.

On the other hand, one of the most impressive gardens I’ve ever seen was an abandoned lot behind a tire garage in Chicago, where a group of homeless people was growing a few zucchini and beans. Here in Liguria, Italy, I’ve even seen a few gardens that are 4 feet square and right on the edge of a cliff that drops 200 feet into the ocean. I do like all the vegetables that we get from our own garden, but I’m most proud of the improbability of the steep cliff site.

To have wrestled a wonderfully blooming garden from that hostile chunk of rock was an act of horticultural machismo, and I’m just dorky enough to appreciate that fact.

I’d love to see your gardens. Please join me on the Urban Farm forum, where you can post your garden photos!

Give us your opinion on Garden Where You Can.
Submit Comment »
There is nothing wrong with horticultural machismo. I say "Go for it!" Any place that can be transformed into productive gardening area is that much area removed from the asphalt, developed, paved and built environment. You can grow a lot of food in a little plot.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 6/20/2011 10:17:32 AM
Jim, it is so true that we Americans always have an idea of how a garden should look and be worked. Many think that because there's no space for a traditional garden that they can't have one. I've learned over that last couple years that creative spaces can make the best places for small gardens. You are truly fortunate to be living in a place that has grasped ahold of that concept and readily displays it. The midwest, of course, has history, but nothing that goes back as far as where you live. It must be quite enjoyable to contemplate what might have happened on the different properties and roads.

Have a great Italian day in the garden.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 6/14/2011 5:01:01 AM
When I lived in the Boston area, I saw Italian and Greek women cutting wild greens out of median strips and highway ramp burms. They also planted in tiny side and front yards and came up with amazing winter coats to protect their fig trees.
Judy, South Salem, NY
Posted: 6/12/2011 12:15:29 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush Blogger

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

Read more Urban Farm blogs »

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