It’s a well-earned named.
Flowers, fruits, and vegetables grow like gangbusters in this westernmost stretch of the Ligurian coast called the Riviera dei Fiori. Now, I understand why the hills are densely populated with greenhouses, both small and gargantuan. This area is well-known for providing flowers, plants and produce for much of Italy and parts of Europe. The Riviera dei Fiori boasts having one of the highest percentages of sunny days in all of Italy, which makes growing easy.
“The Riviera dei Fiori ( Rivêa d’e Sciûe in Ligurian ) is that stretch of coast of Liguria , part of the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente which, exactly, extends, from East to West, from the brow point of Capo Mimosa , in the municipal territory of Cervo ( IM ), up to the mouth of the Rio San Luigi , in the municipality of Ventimiglia (IM), on the border with the hamlet of Garavan, in the municipality of Menton ( France ), coinciding with the coast of the coastal municipalities administered by the Province of Imperia.“
—Wikipedia (read more here)
I’m in the middle of a harvest that keeps on giving.
Aside from the flowers (Hydrangea, Jasmine, Wisteria, Geranium, etc.) and fruit trees (cherry, lemon, grapefruit, plum, orange, peach) in our yard, I’ve cultivated a fairly large vegetable garden. I planted seventeen tomato plants (mostly heirloom and cherry), and the tidal wave of ripe tomatoes just keeps on coming. Yes, the Riviera dei Fiori has been incredibly generous with me.
The tomatoes and cucumbers have been keeping me on my toes.
In fact, I’m just finishing two dozen jars of tomato sauce for late fall and the winter ahead. And I’m far from done. Next up is a batch “upgraded” with an energizing boost of peperoncino (Italian hot pepper). My next task is to hunker down in the garden and re-stake the tomato plants so they can host yet another wave of bounty. I’m sure this crop will keep on giving well through September. Here in the Riviera dei Fiori, the growing season is long and robust!
Cucumbers the size of my forearm.
Blink, and my cucumbers seem to double and triple in size. Two in particular were so large that I thought they’d be inedible. Much to my surprise and delight, they were still tender (no chewy seed experience) and incredibly sweet. Never before have I tasted cukes so yummy. In order to not let them go to waste (really how many cucumbers can you eat in a couple of sittings?) I made a nice batch of gazpacho. Talk about a dish that cools you down in the midst of summer’s most intense heat, which is pretty much NOW!
Finally, I’ve achieved success with okra!
Mention okra to an Italian and they’ll look perplexed. Even here in the bounty of the Riviera dei Fiori, okra is pretty much unknown. And many Italians aren’t super adventurous when it comes to venturing outside the known ingredients in Italian cuisine. Add to that okra’s famous and sometimes off-putting viscosity for thickening stews and gumbos, and it can be an uphill challenge. Still, maybe I’ll make a few converts.
When I say “finally,” I’m referring to two summer of dismal success trying to grow okra in the hills of Umbria. My harvest? Two measly okra pods and plants that never took off. I attribute the failed efforts to the rather cool and rainy May and early Junes in both of those years. Plus, finding full sun for enough hours in the day became almost impossible. If you don’t know and understand okra, it thrives in super-hot climates, which is why you’ll find it a mainstay in Indian and many African cuisines. Yours truly grew up in the deep south of the States, and one of my favorite dishes growing up was okra rolled in cornmeal and fried. My mouth waters thinking about it. Then I discovered it in Low Country dishes (with origins in African cooking) stewed with tomatoes and grits and sprinkled with bacon, and in numerous Creole dishes.
So, I was bound and determined to reverse my previous failures and I did my studies on how to achieve success growing okra. After all, if a guy can’t grow okra in the Riviera dei Fiori, it can’t be grown in Italy. The crucial piece of information that I gathered was not attempting to grow okra until the soil remains warm enough at night. Otherwise, the seeds just won’t take off. I tried a batch of seeds in late April. Too early. My second batch was in late May and the seedlings were in the ground mid-June. Sure enough, when the heat really set in, the plants started responding. Several of my okra plants (nine in total) are flowering and putting out pods. Woohoo! Now, comes the vigilance of keeping them watered (they’re thirsty plants) and, like the cukes, harvesting the pods at the right moment before they become too long and fibery.
The okra harvest is now picking up stride. I’ve had enough to make a nice medley of sautéed veggies from my garden, thanks to the climate here in the Riviera dei Fiori.
Lettuce was easy-peasy.
Too easy, in fact. I planted four varietals in mid-April, and boy did they take off. I overestimated how many I would need to be able to have big salads on a daily basis. I planted almost twenty. Need I say more? I couldn’t keep up, and many of the plants quickly went to seed before I could even touch them.
Lesson learned. When I plant my late summer/early fall crop, I’ll knock the ranks back a good 50%.
Yummy variegated green beans.
They kept me on my toes for three weeks, with daily harvests so big that I was giving some of them away. Oscar, our male cat, loves anything that smells of the garden so I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of him parking himself in their midst. The bean bushes are flowering again so I’m anticipating another wave in a week or two.
The beans cook up easily and deliciously. I sauté them in a tiny bit of olive oil, then add a bit of water and cover them. After a few minutes I add butter and a bit of salt. Nothing more is needed unless you like them spicy, and my peperoncino is always close by!
I’ve planted two zucchini plants. I’ve enjoyed a couple zucchini thus far. Several more or in their infancy. I’m having to contend, however, with a couple of pesky doves who have been making a habit of scrounging around my garden. For some reason, they’ve been spending more time pecking at the zucchini. Maybe they like the blossoms. Whatever the case, they seem to be impeding the plants’ output. Grrrrrr.
The Riviera dei Fiori has been generous with me.
So, apart from the dove/zucchini situation, my garden is producing more than I could’ve imagined. If the crop was any bigger, I’m not sure I could handle it! I’ll consider this first growing season as an important teacher for fine-tuning my efforts next year! For now, I’m a happy Mr. Green Jeans and I look forward to enjoying our preserved bounty all through the colder months!
Your new apartment looks stunning!!
Really enjoyed watching the video.
We are hoping to go back to Italy next May.
Mel & John
Gorgeous blog, Jed! Your design background has been put to very good use once again; the apartments are beautiful. And love your gardening and cooking comments, and Oscar of the green eyes amid the beans!
I always love hearing from you, my dear friend. Thanks for the compliments on the site and apartments. As you know, it’s all hard work, but when it’s creative work, it’s also a ton of fun. Isn’t Oscar amazing in the green beans. I’m amazed at how the smells of anything from the garden are so intoxicating for him! Come visit when you can. We’re waiting with open arms! xoxoxo
This is one of my favorite posts of yours! Your apartment is fantastic, and I loved seeing your photos displayed! I love that you have the gardening bug too. My garden brings me so much happiness. Try potatoes! Eat them when they’re small because they don’t need anything and just melt in your mouth. Love and miss you dear friend!
I’m so pleased you like what we’ve done, Stephanie! The transformation has been pretty amazing. I’ve found a great company in Germany that does excellent reproductions of my photo on large canvases. Ambience, as you know only too well, is so incredibly important to creating a warm and memorable space. As for the garden, I sure could use an extra pair of hands on many days. But I’m learning and growing myself (in know-how). I’ve been particularly excited about putting up my tomato sauce for winter. The okra is now demanding my attention. I play to whip up some gumbo soon. Love you and miss you more than you can imagine, my radiant friend!