The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Italian fruit gardens

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130. The modern Italian fruits are nearly the same as those of the ancient Romans, with but few additions, if we except the orange and the pine-apple. The orange is supposed to have been introduced between the time of Pliny and that of Palladius; and it is the fruit in which the Italians excel, more from climate and soil than science. From several passages in the works of Pontano, who lived in the fourteenth century, we may discover that this author devoted himself to the practical study of nature; and his poem, in two books, on the cultivation of the lemon, orange, and citron, entitled De Hortis Hesperidum, sufficiently demonstrates that he was acquainted with some of the most curious operations in horticulture. Among other observations, there is one which particularly deserves the attention of the practical gardener. He asserts, on his own experience, that if a graft be cut from the extremity of a fruit-bearing branch, it will itself bear fruit the first year of its being engrafted; but that, if it be taken from a sucker, or unripe part of the tree, it will be many years before it bear fruit. His words are: � �Quippe ubi e ramo frugifero, atque ad solem exposito, ex ipsoque rami acumine lecta fuerint, etiam primo insitionis anno frugem proferunt.� (Pontan. Opera, p. 18.) This has since been observed by other naturalists; and the reason is explained in Darwin's Phytol., sect. ix. (Roscoe's Leo X., vol. iv. p. 132.) There are supposed to be nearly a hundred varieties of oranges in Italy; but in the orange nurseries at Nervi, it is not easy to make out more than forty or fifty distinct sorts, exclusive of lemons, citrons, and limes. These have mostly been obtained from seeds. The Italians had not till lately either the mandarin orange, or some varieties of shaddock (Citrus decumana), which we have long possessed. The most regular and systematic orange orchards are at Nervi; and the largest trees are around Naples at Sorenta, Amalfi, &c. The more rare sorts are kept in conservatories at Rome; and the largest house, with the best collection, is that of the Borghese. At Florence and Milan, all the sorts require to be housed during winter; but at Hieres and Nice, in France, and at Genoa and Nervi in Italy, they stand the common winters in the open air. Five thousand oranges have been gathered from one tree as far north as Savona. At Elba, the Opuntia and the date palm thrive in the open air, and, it is said, are to be found nowhere else growing without protection in the same latitude. (William's Travels, &c.) It is a remarkable fact, that the Italians give a decided preference to unripe fruit. (Wood's Letters, &c., vol. i. p. 123.) In Sardinia, near Melis, there is an orange forest three miles long and one broad. (Azuni, Hist. &c. de la Sardaigne). The orange trees of the Isola Bella occupy the south and east sides of the island, which sides are formed into terraces; the walls being planted with a great variety of kinds of the genus Citrus; or, as plants of this genus are generally termed in Italy, of Agrumi. �These trees,� Cadell observes, �are covered with houses of boards during six months of the year. The houses are put over the plants in the beginning of November; and now, on the 20th of April, the gardeners are preparing to take them off. The front of the houses has wooden doors on hinges, that are opened in fine weather to give light and air to the plants. In very cold weather, a fire of charcoal is made on the floor within the wooden house. The oranges are inferior to those produced in a warmer climate, as at Genoa. The lemons are succulent, and more acid than those of Genoa, but not so fully ripened.� (Travels in Carniola, &c., vol. ii. p. 144.) The stone fruits in which the Italians excel are the peach and the cherry. There are above twenty varieties of peaches cultivated in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples; and these fruits, grown on standard trees, as apples and pears are in this country, arrive at a very high degree of perfection. They have few sorts of apricots and nectarines, and not many plums; but their Regina Claudia, or greengage, is excellent. Cherries are every where excellent in Italy, especially in Tuscany. The Milan or Morella cherry is noted for its prolific qualities. The olive is every where extensively cultivated. It is propagated by cuttings both of the shoots and roots; and these take root so readily, that sometimes a stake, or a trunk of an olive tree which has been put into the soil to serve as a support to a vine, or any other plant, will grow, and in three or four years bear a tolerable crop of fruit. Luigi Manetti, however (Gard. Mag., vol. viii. p. 68.), says, that the best mode of propagation is by seed; that this method is practised by the olive growers in Tuscany, and that it invariably produces the largest, strongest, and best young trees. The same author informs us that the olive trees on the sides of the hill of Lario, on the Lake of Como, although originally placed in a vertical position, incline, by degrees, towards the horizon, until their trunks become perpendicular to the side of the mountain, instead of being perpendicular to the horizon. Manetti attributes this inclination of the trees to their want of tap roots, a deficiency, he says, occasioned by their being raised from cuttings. This may be the case; but we are more inclined to attribute it to the natural character of the tree, which even in level situations is seldom found with a well balanced top. The chief berry of Italy is the grape: but the varieties are not so numerous as in France or Spain; and are, for the most part, the result of long growth in one soil and situation. Vineyard grapes are seldom good to eat in Lombardy, and in the best districts are equalled, if not excelled, by the muscats, sweet-waters, muscadines, and other sorts grown in hothouses in this country. The vines are not kept low, as in France; but elevated on rude trellises near houses and in gardens (fig. 29.), and trained to long poles, or on trees in the fields. Collections of gooseberries from Lancashire have been introduced at Leghorn, Genoa, and Monza; and, grown in the shade, they thrive moderately in the gardens of the latter place. The currant, the raspberry, and the strawberry, though natives of the Alps and Apennines, do not thrive in the gardens, but are brought to market from the woods; and so is the red mulberry, which is there cultivated for the leaves, as hardier than the white. It does not appear that the berries of the A'rbutus are much used, though they are occasionally brought to market. Cadell saw them exposed for sale at Trieste together with pods of the carob tree; but notwithstanding that he found the pods of the carob eatable, and even sweet, he thought the berries of the A'rbutus unpalatable. (Travels, &c., p. 17.) Mr. Wood (Letters of an Architect, &c., vol. ii. p. 223.) informs us that at Santa Maura, in Sicily, he made a meal of the berries of the A'rbutus without inconvenience, though the natives told him they would occasion madness. The fruit of the Sorbus domestica is abundant about Genoa, Milan, and Trieste; and those of the Azarole thorn, Lazzeroni, Lazarini, or Azzerola (Crat�'gus Axardlus) are not uncommon. Kernel fruits in general, especially pears, are excellent in the north of Italy, but indifferent in the warmer regions. Services, in considerable variety, abound in Piedmont, and part of Lombardy. In Sardinia the quince attains a very large size; many have been gathered more than two pounds, and some more than three pounds in weight. The kernels of the Pinus Pinea are produced generally at the dessert throughout Italy. They are much esteemed, and bear a high price. Nuts. The chestnut is wild on the Apennines, and cultivated throughout the central and northern hilly regions of Italy. The best varieties in Tuscany and about Genoa and Savona are propagated by budding. Chabrol de Volvic informs us that the varieties of the sweet chestnut are between fifty and sixty in number; and that the fruit about Savona, as in different parts of the Apennines, forms a principal source of nourishment for the mountain population. The people eat the chestnuts either with milk o r water, fresh in autumn, or kilndried in winter and spring (Statistiques des Provinces de Savona, &c.) In many parts of Italy flour is made from chestnuts; and in the coffee-houses of Lucca, pates, muffins, tarts, and other articles are made of this flour, and considered delicate. The walnut is cultivated extensively in Savoy, where, as Bakewell informs us, in his very instructive Travels, it is crushed for oil, which is much used by landscape painters. The pine-apple is cultivated in a few places in Italy, but with little success, except at Florence and Monza. In 1819 there were; a few in the royal gardens at Portici, but weak, yellow-leaved, and covered, with insects. The few grown in the Pope's garden, and in one or two other villas near Rome, were little better. By far the best and greatest quantity we found in the viceroyal gardens of Monza. A former king of Sardinia sent his gardener, Brochieri, to England, to study the culture of pine-apples. He returned, and in 1777 published a tract on them, with a plan of a pit for their reception; and in this way they are universally grown in Italy. Such, however, is the exhalation produced in this dry climate from leaves so full of pores as are those of the pine, and such the want of attention to supplying large pots and plenty of water, that the plants are generally of a pale sickly hue, and the fruit of a very small size. Of the melon tribe the variety in Italy is endless, of every degree of flavour, from the richness of the cantaloupe, to the cool, icy, sub-acid taste of the citrouille, or water-melon. Too little care is bestowed in selecting good fruits for seeds, and preventing hybridism from the promiscuous intercourse with surrounding varieties; and hence, seeds sent from Italy to this country are little to be depended on, and �generally produce varieties inferior to those of British growth. There are few sorts of cucumbers; and though there is a great number of gourds and pompions cultivated, the sorts, or conspicuous varieties, of both are less numerous than in this country. Italian cucumbers are never so succulent as those grown in our humid frames by dung heat.