The Garden Guide

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

Market gardening in Italy

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143.Market gardens, of more or less extent, are to be found in the neighbourhood of all the large cities; and every farm is more or less an orchard. The gardens round Genoa are celebrated for oranges and chestnuts; those round Florence for peaches and cherries; round Naples for figs and tomatoes. There are several market gardens within the walls of ancient Rome; and Galiffe informs us (Italy, &c., p. 294.) that the man who farms the Farnese Gardens, on Mount Palatine, has a yearly crop of 30, 000 artichokes, and other vegetables in proportion. By far the larger portion of the market gardens of Rome, Spence observes (Gard. Mag., vol. viii.), are within the walls of the ancient city, which are twelve or fourteen miles in circuit, without having more than one third of the enclosed space covered with houses. On the Naples road, as within the gates, they present the same general features: industrious though not very neat cultivation, and the soil kept constantly cropped under great breadths of lettuces, endive, leeks, broccoli, superb cauliflowers; and especially two articles which occupy more space than all the rest, viz. gobbo and fennel. Gobbo (hunchback) is the appellation which the Italians, in their well-known love of nicknames, have given to the gibbous footstalks of the first set of leaves, just as they branch from the ground, of a variety of artichoke; which are blanched by hoeing up the earth against them, and of which a far larger quantity is consumed than of the heads of the plants. A kind of fennel called finochio is cultivated to a great extent for precisely the same part of the plant, namely, the blanched footstalks (and roots) of the first set of leaves; and both it and gobbo, when stewed in the Italian method, form excellent dishes. These finochio roots and footstalks are eaten also raw, as a salad, with oil and vinegar. What most distinguish the Roman (and, indeed, Italian) gardens from those of Northern Europe, art the shed, and wheel which it covers for drawing up water, by means of an ass or ox, from the adjoining well, for the purpose of irrigation; and the clumps of fine reeds (Arundo Donax), each fifteen or twenty feet high, and one inch in diameter, and as strong as a bamboo of similar thickness (which they resemble), which are employed as props and trellises for vines, fences, garden-sticks, and various other uses. The vegetable market of Naples, the same accurate observer found, in March, 1832, abounding with the same vegetables which he had found in Rome, with an equal abundance of gobbo and finochio roots, and green peas in greater plenty. Grapes, of several varieties, kept through the winter, were not much shrivelled, and quite free from mouldiness. There were two or three sorts of apples, but only one of winter pears, as is the case also at Florence, Pisa, and Rome, and apparently the same variety, which is good, but hardly so superexcellent as to deserve to exclude all other kinds. Oranges, in glorious profusion (chiefly from Sorrento, fifteen miles distant), and so cheap, as to allow the poorest of the poor to enjoy (what Dr. Johnson complained he had never had of peaches but once) their fill of them, and that daily. The middle-sized ones (which are the best) sell at four for a grano, which is at the rate of ten for a penny English; and the poor get twice as many of those beginning to decay. A brilliant display of flowers at the flowerstalls in the Toledo, consisting of roses, ranunculuses, anemones, carnations, stocks, hyacinths, asphodels, &c. &c.