How to Garden the Italian Way
We took it to the experts for tips on how to plan your idyllic Italian garden!
Spring is just around the corner, and for the gardeners out there, that means just one thing: planning this year’s plantings! One of the most satisfying parts of the annual growing season—second to the harvest, of course—this is the time to start daydreaming about what kind of garden you want to grow. Whether you’ve got a massive backyard plot or just a few window containers, you can create a little patch of Italian sunshine this summer.
For tips on growing the most delicious Italian garden, we turned to Shannie McCabe, a horticulturist and garden educator with Baker Creek Seeds. Based in Missouri, Baker Creek sells the largest assortment of heirloom and specialty seeds in the country with the goal of preserving seed diversity and food security. They offer an enormous selection of Italian vegetables, from pepperoncini and parsley to garlic, basil, and the ever-important tomato. Be sure to check them out when planning your garden!
Using whatever space is available to them to grow fresh foods is one of the things McCabe appreciates most about Italian home cooks. “I love the way that Italian gardeners economize space by growing vertically with vining plants and growing potted herbs to save space!” she says. “Going vertical to maximize yield from even the smallest space is the spirit of sustainable gardening.”
There are so many incredible Italian plants, but if you’re just starting out or working with limited space, tomatoes and basil deliver the most versatility and satisfaction. Both taste better homegrown than anything you’ll get at the grocery store, and can be enjoyed in so many ways. And good news! “Tomatoes and basil should be planted together,” says McCabe. “They don't just belong together on the dinner plate, but they also thrive growing next to one another.” Another plant that helps support tomato growth by attracting beneficial insects and keeping away pests, nasturtium, is more than just a pretty flower. Those colorful petals are edible and can liven up a simple salad, and the buds can be pickled to enjoy as a faux caper.
“Another often overlooked Italian delicacy is squash blossoms,” says McCabe. “These cost a fortune in the grocery store and are very hard to find, but they couldn't be easier to grow! Simply pluck a few unopened blossoms from your squash plants and follow your favorite recipe.” Stuff them with ricotta, fresh mozzarella, or another gooey cheese for the perfect crispy contrast in your fiori di zucca fritti.
And if you’re really pressed for space, even apartment dwellers can create a vibrant kitchen garden on their windowsill. It’s the Italian way, says McCabe. “You'll often find quintessential Italian herbs like sage, basil, and oregano tucked into pots on the patio to save even more space and bring bright, fresh flavors to dishes!”
Fill Your Garden With These Favorites:
Florence Fennel: “I love to keep a bulb fennel like Florence Fennel in my raised beds for salads and grilling.”
Zucchino Rampicante: A climbing gourd that can be enjoyed as a summer or winter variety, this slender squash is mild and sweet.
Cucuzzi: “Found in most vegetable gardens in Sicily, it’s used much like a zucchini (even the young shoots are eaten like leafy greens).”
Mammolo Basil: There are many varieties of basil, but this is the quintessential Italian type, perfect in pesto Genovese. Tidy and compact, it’s great for container growing.
Marina di Chioggia: "This beautiful squash is still served on the canals of Venice, where bargemen grill them with olive oil and serve them as whole wedges. Its meaty and sweet texture has also made this pumpkin popular for making gnocchi and as a filling for ravioli. "