As someone interested in edible landscaping and urban horticulture I was overjoyed walking along the roads of Castiglion Fiorentino where all sorts of herbs, vegetables, fruit and nut trees could be spotted in people's yards and along the roads. Even in the city there were plenty of window boxes and container plants. Looking back, I am astounded by how close the people of Italy are to agriculture and how long agriculture has been a part of Italian culture. One of the most common and recognizable plants we saw were grapes. Grapes have been one of the two most important players in Italian agriculture for hundreds of years. The Greeks brought grapes to Europe in 1600 BC and the Etruscans established wine production in the 9th century BC. On our walk we could see the remains of ancient vineyards and of the Etruscan practices still in use today. We came across an abandoned field which had a row of field maples (Acer campestre) which had been planted in order to facilitate the Etruscan practice of vite maritata or ‘married grapevine’ in English. In vite maritata, the grape vine is trained to grow up a living tree which supports its growth. Field maples were often used because of their ability to withstand heavy pruning along with their strong wood and long lifespan. Even though that row of field maples had been abandoned we did see a couple examples of grapes still being trained and maintained in this ancient style. The sight of such ancient agricultural practices still in use by everyday people really struck me as we got some of our first glimpses of where we would be staying for the the next six weeks.
-Lisa C. Maciques