Vegetables in the garden? Let’s visit Castel Ruggero

30 August 2016

Vegetables in the garden could be very effective, as in Castel Ruggero in the surroundings of Florence,which opened to visitors in the Tomato Day.

Vegetables in the garden of Castel Ruggero

A vegetable garden that is both beautiful and useful, in the breathtaking landscape of the Tuscany countryside. The manor displays an Italian garden on the facade, and next to that, on the same side of the building, the garden becomes a vegetable garden. Margot D’afflitto narrates us that for her family vegetables in the garden are a treasure of rarities. Every time they travel they bring back flowers and seeds of rare plants; then they grow them, taste them, and they learn something new with every plant. And every years their garden becomes surprisingly different, and it’s renewed. A walk among flowers surrounding the paths of the garden gives us the primordial feeling of a walk in the Garden of Eden. And there’s always a question, while we a resurrounded by bizarre colours, shapes, and flowers: “That fruit is really a strange one! Can we eat it?”

Biodiversity in Castel Ruggero’s vegetable garden

Traditional kitchen gardens

In Italy, the way vegetable garden and kitchen garden were built has its roots in the medieval Hortus conclusus tradition. In the “closed garden”, where the monks produced food, medicinal herbs, and flowers for religious reasons, vegetables were grown all together with flowers and fruit trees. Those gardens, which were fairly small,were protected by a wall, while their internal design presented precise geometries. And usually this remains true also today. The vegetable garden is, at best, just lightly touched by some flowers, and we almost never get to see vegetables in the flowering garden. In the garden the space reserved to vegetables is often very distinct from the flowering garden.

Tomatoes in vegetable gardens

When we met Nicolò D’afflitto (enologist working for Frescobaldi and for some other renowned wine-makingTuscan farms), he brought us to one of the pergolas, where some of the 450 varieties of tomatoes were on display. Golden yellow, orange, red, almost black, small, big, round, long, ribbed, smooth. The “pomo d’oro” (goldenpome, the word for tomatoes in Italian), got its Italian name from the colour of the first specie introduced in Italyduring the first half of the 1500, that was, as the name suggests, a yellow fruited specie.
Every tomato has its own use Some are best used in sauces, some for salads, and some for traditional recipes like the “pappa col pomodoro” (a tuscan thick bread-and-tomatoes soup). Nowadays we also see for sale black tomatoes, abundantin antioxidants, but about 20 years ago Nicolò already attempted to sell some great flavoured small black tomatoes,without success. Housewives weren’t interested in them because they didn’t accept a black tomato preserve!

Tomato varieties in the vegetable garden of Castel Ruggero
Shaded paths in the vegetable garden of Castel Ruggero

Design similarities

In this undefined space, being lost among tomatoes, bindweed, strange pumpkins, as the “spaghetti pumpkin”, we are at ease. On the vegetable garden’s path the pergolas that come in succession one after another allow you to rest in the shadows. There’s some kind of similarity with the design of the Kew Botanical Garden, where the vegetable beds are intertwined with elegant pergolas with climbing roses. It’s a magical place, unique,pleasantly chaotic, and
rich in biodiversity. It reminds us our style of design, which always attempts to join awell thought plan, to a mixed composition. Progressive flowerings, and shifting colours as the seasons pass. The vegetables in the garden create a more diverse garden, with higher biodiversity, and less susceptible topests and diseases, when compared to a simpler garden. If a plant incurs in some difficulty, other species compensate for it.

The tour of Ruggero Manor’s vegetable garden has been organized by the Tuscan Horticulture Society.