A Burst of Color for the September Garden

Amalfi Coast Flowers

Life has been busy, a little too busy, the last few weeks. But I’m intent on not letting September and October slip away as they are my favorite months of the year on the Amalfi Coast. I love the close of summer, when the sun is still strong and the sky a brilliant blue. Yet, at night there is that cool breeze winding its way down the mountain valleys that is one of the first signs the season is changing. I haven’t had a chance to enjoy being in the garden much this summer, but my seeming lack of concern isn’t a representation of how much it is in my thoughts. After poking around and looking after a rather dismal garden for just about five years now, I am finally ready to make some major changes. But it is work that will come in its own time, and most of which must be done early next spring.

But, for the moment, the empty pots in the garden needed a little burst of color. I set out bright and early one morning last week to the market in Ravello, and came back with a rather large load of plants and a bag of dirt on my scooter. I’m sure the ride home wasn’t ladylike, but it was a heck of a lot of fun!

Autumn Flowers Amalfi Coast

I don’t know the names of either of the plants I brought home, but I liked how their color mimicked the bougainvillea blooming in the garden. I filled one pot with these purple flowers above, which make me think of what would happen if a thistle met a mum in a field of sage and fell in love. I open the front gate when I come home to this floral romance, and it makes me smile, even if it’s been a long day.

Mystery Plant

These are the other plants I bought, and no idea on the name either. No romances here, but I do love the tiny bright purple flowers. Right now the plant is about 10 inches tall, and the flowers should bloom up to about December. I’m hoping they’ll live through the winter, and if so they’ll be rewarded by being transplated to another spot in the garden next spring so I can fill the vases along the walkway with summer flowers.

And, in the meantime, I will keep squeezing in moments each week to work in the garden. It’s a good exercise in breaking the negative habit I have to wait until I have plenty of time to tackle a project. “Plenty of time” rarely comes along, and I know I need to work in small pieces. I’ve discovered that gardening is a wonderful exercise in practicing this new habit, as the rewards are so sweet!

If you have an idea on the names of either of these plants, I’d love to hear! The last two times I’ve shared mystery flowers on Ciao Amalfi, someone has always been able to answer. Here are the latest mysteries to solve!

Lavender Harvest on the Amalfi Coast 2011

Lavender on the Amalfi Coast

Out of the way bees ... that lavender is mine!

Two and a half years after planting, my three lavender plants in the garden have produced a bounty of wonderfully scented flowers this summer. I’ve been keeping a close eye on them for the past few weeks, waiting for the right moment to harvest them before the weather turns cool and windy. We’ve had a hot August with very little rain, and I noticed that the lavender flowers had already dried quite a bit on the plants. I was worried that a wind storm or heavy rain would scatter most of the flowers on the ground like last year. Fortunately, the temperatures cooled off just enough last weekend that I could harvest the lavender early Sunday morning before the sun was too strong.

Harvesting Lavender on the Amalfi Coast

Lavender ready to be harvested at the end of summer

Although many people might find the task a tedious one, I do love the slow process of harvesting the lavender flower stalks from the plant. This is the time of year to just cut the flower stalks off, as the full pruning happens in the spring. While I cut the lavender, I make piles that will be easy to tie together with twine when finished. The neighbor’s tiny white puppy kept me company, occasionally bounding over and snatching a piece before running off!

Lavender on the Amalfi Coast

What happens when a Type A personality harvests lavender ...

Once the bundles are tied up, I hang them to dry for at least a few weeks in our outdoor storage room, which is called a sgabuzzino in Italian. (Isn’t that a fun word to say?)

Lavender Harvest 2011

Ready to be hung in the storage room to dry

I gathered the small bits and pieces of lavender in a basket to add their scent to the rooms of the house as they dry. It’s such a warm and comforting smell!

Basket of Lavender

Bits and Pieces

This year I have exciting plans for the lavender once it dries … but you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out!

Liberty … At Last!

For those of you who have been following this blog for the past two years, you’ve read about the many … many … many walks I go on. While I do love walking and exploring the Amalfi Coast on foot, there are times when it is inconvenient—or downright exhausting—having my own two feet and the public SITA buses as my only sources of transportation. I really don’t like (and that’s putting it politely) driving manual transmission cars, and my driving lessons on the Amalfi Coast have been less than successful. My life changed dramatically a week ago when we bought … a motorino! (That’s Italian for scooter.) And could it have a more appropriate name than a Piaggio Liberty? I love it!

Shopping for Plants on the Amalfi Coast

I’m still getting used to riding it, especially in all the curves on the Amalfi Coast. Even though I haven’t ventured very far yet, I am slowing starting to realize just how much this little motorino is going to change my life here. Yesterday was a beautiful day, and I have been wanting to get the summer herbs planted on the terrace for the past week. There is a truck that sets up every Sunday morning during the warm weather months at the crossroads of Ravello and Scala that sells plants, flowers and herbs. While I could have walked there and back like I did last year, it was such an amazing feeling to just hop on the scooter and be there in a few minutes. I just needed basilico (basil) and prezzemolo (parsley), and the men selling plants were nice enough to bag them up so that I could easily get them home on the scooter.

Shopping with the Scooter

I put the bag of parsley plants on the hook at the front of the motorino, and the bag of little basil plants fit perfectly inside the bauletto … the little storage container behind the seat. This is the best use I’ve made of the bauletto so far!

Basil in the Bauletto

The best part was that by taking the scooter I had plenty of energy left when I got home to get all the herbs planted for the summer on the terrace. The parsley and basil plants are new, and along with them I also have a rosemarino (rosemary) plant that is a few years old, a timo (thyme) plant from two years ago and a wild strawberry plant that was a gift last summer that I hope survived the winter. (The empty pot below has cilantro seeds!) I can already imagine the taste of the fresh basilico and prezzemolo on the summer pastas and fresh tomatoes. I’m hoping for a great summer like last year when we fabulous basil all summer long.

Herbs on the Terrace

The photos of the motorino were taken on my phone, but they’re the first pictures I’ve taken of my new Liberty. Well, new to me! It’s quite old, but it runs well and the price was perfect. It’s a bit dirty at the moment from the rain at the end of last week, but I’ll get some proper pictures soon when it is all clean. I just couldn’t wait to share my first taste of liberty  … and it tastes like summer on the Amalfi Coast!

A Happy Birthday Bougainvillea!

On Monday, I mentioned that the bougainvillea in Positano was already blooming and shared a photo of a bright pink variety that I love. It so happens that this is also the Tour Guide’s favorite color of bougainvillea, and he was the one who first pointed out to me how beautiful it is on Capri and in Positano. Well, here’s the story of what happens if you leave me alone for awhile in Positano. You end up with a bougainvillea plant! While the Tour Guide was working, I wandered up the streets of Positano just enjoying the warm weather and being in Positano in the evening for the first time. I noticed a little florist shop across the street and crossed over just to have a look at the flowers.

Bougainvillea from Positano

And there it was! There was a tall bougainvillea plant that was exactly the color the Tour Guide had commented on while we were walking down to Positano earlier that evening. It was a very reasonable price, so within a matter of minutes I was walking up the street carrying a bougainvillea plant that was taller than me. If you ever so happen to need a way to get attention, I highly recommend walking through the streets of Positano carrying a brightly colored plant twice taller than yourself. It was hilarious! I met the Tour Guide (thankfully without his group) around the corner and said, “Buon compleanno!” (“Happy Birthday!”) We both laughed hysterically, and he was so surprised that I had shown up with exactly the color bougainvillea that he wanted in the garden. After laughing all the way to the car, we decided it was a beautiful … and memorable  … birthday present. (His birthday is coming up this weekend!)

Pink Bougainvillea

Now we just had to decide where to put it. Two years ago we bought a bougainvillea plant that ended up being a big disappointment. The color of the flowers ended up being this weird orange color that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and I’ve learned since that I didn’t make the best decision in where I planted it. So this time after a bit more research, we decided to place it in this old stone well in the garden.

Garden Well

I can’t plant it in the central area of the well, because it actually still holds water. I learned that a few winters ago when the lavender I planted in there drowned during an especially rainy season. So now I just fill the well area with colorful annuals that I don’t have to worry about over the winter. There’s a ledge above the well at the back where I’m going to place the bougainvillea once I find a terra cotta pot to plant it in. There’s plenty of sun in this spot, and the other bougainvillea we have in the garden is very happy potted rather than in the soil. I think it will look lovely with its pink flowers filling the area around the well as it grows.

I have a lot of work to do cleaning the weeds that have grown on the walls around the well over the winter, but now I have a very good reason. And I hope to find some pretty pink and white flowers to fill the well this summer, too. I’ll share a photo when the redesigning of the stone well is complete. I hope we’ll have bright blooms each May to celebrate the Tour Guide’s birthday with a smile!

Ready for Spring in the Garden!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update in my adventures of an amateur gardener. This winter has been a busy one with work, and the garden is just now starting to come back to life. Just before I left Italy, the tour guide and I spent a long morning out in the garden cleaning, pruning, cutting and clipping away. I’m not sure if everything that got pruned was supposed to get pruned, but I guess that’s where the adventures come in, right? The last two years I’ve been in charge of pruning the hydrangeas, which had been growing too tall. While we were happier with the size, we were not so happy that they produced significantly fewer flowers each summer. So this year the tour guide took his amateur hand at pruning, and hopefully leaving them longer means we might get more flowers this year. I love cutting them and bringing them inside since they are so colorful and keep for so long.

The lavender plants don’t seem to have liked all the rain this winter, and as I pruned I found some dark areas underneath. I hope they recover with some nice spring weather and sunshine! The pot is ready for flowers as soon as I return to Italy. But I see I still have work to do cleaning off that wall. (That’s a thankless and never ending task this amateur gardener doesn’t particularly care for…)

We have an old well in the garden, which we learned still holds water two years ago during a particularly rainy winter. I can’t plant any perennials in there because they drown. (RIP lavender plants from two years ago…) The last two summers I’ve filled the well the coleus, which is very colorful, happy and easy to take care of. Not sure if I’ll do the same again this year, or try something new. Any ideas?

I was very happy to see that the gardenia plant that I bought for myself last year seems to have done well over the winter. I gave it a little prune, and I look forward to smelling its sweet scent as I walk through our gate this summer!

Now I’m itching for the warm spring days to plant our herb garden on the terrace. It won’t be long now!