The Tuscan nomenclature is very pretty . Oleanders are “mazzi di San Giuseppe”, so called because they are generally in flowers by that saint’s day in June; Guelder roses are known as “Pallone di Maggio”; syringe is called “Pazienza”; and balsams are “bei uomini di Parigi”. There is a little white annual, of which I do not remember the English name, but it is here called “mughetti di Parigi”, i.e. French lilies of the valley, and the white snowberry is “Job’s tears.” Rhus Catrinus is called “nebbia” (cloud).
Till I lived in Tuscany I never realized how very essential air is to plants. Looking back to my English gardening days, I don’t seem to remember ever having heard success or failure so much attributed to this matter of air, both as to quality and quantity, as it is here. Tuscans are most critical as to the quality of air; you constantly hear the expression aria fine. i.e. rare, fine, as we should say. As I get older myself, I am sensible of being much more dependent on air, in fact I sometimes think the feeling of want of air to breathe amounts to a disease. We are rarely indoors without our windows open all the twenty-four hours, but that amount does not satisfy my necessities, and I am conscious all the time of the wish to be in the open air, and I constantly hear the same thing of the plants. Carnations in particular will simply not thrive, except at a certain elevation. I was one day in a Florence nursery, belonging to a gardener whose specialty is raising creepers of all sorts, and seeing some very fine carnations, I said to him, “S., did you grow these?”“Oh dear no, Signora, I could not grow them down here; a contadino from up above brings them to me every week.”
The regulation plan in Tuscany for pots of carnations (they are always grown in pots, never in the ground, and treated as annuals) is on the top of a wall. Two years ago, Eugenio pointed out to me that our only chance with these, was to keep them during the summer and autumn months on the northwest side of the garden, but that the wall there being rounded, was useless as a shelf for the pots. Accordingly, I had iron stanchions driven in, so as to support a moveable wooden staging, capable of taking sixty pots along the top of the wall; and this year the plants look thriving enough, though far inferior to those of some of my friends who live in higher and more breezy situations.Pecorino is the standard manure for these in Tuscany. It is sheeps’ droppings brought down from the mountains, and administered as liquid manure every second or third day, before the flowering season. This year there has been a disease among the carnations, and many growers have lost their entire stock of young plants. They never propagate them here by layers as we do, but either by cuttings or from seed. The cuttings are taken off from the old plants in early spring, and grown on till June, when they should be nice, strong, well-established young plants, ready to be put in their big flowering pots, four or five to a pot. They begin to flower in October, and if you are fortunate enough to have sunny and sheltered situation for them, you may count on flowers all through the winter. But at their best, carnations grown in Tuscany can never compare with those from Nice, or Genoa, or Venice – thee last are superb. Coffee grounds are an excellent stimulant for carnations. An artist friend of mine at Venice, who was a very successful raiser of them, told me he attributed their fine flowering to the share they had of his morning cup of coffee! I always enjoin the men who sweep our chimneys to save the small quantity of soot afforded by the wood fires, and give it to the gardener; but it is very difficult to persuade a Tuscan gardener that soot is a desirable adjunct to carnation comfort.