Friday, June 30, 2017

Wait, where is the Pope??

After visiting the Pope’s garden in Castel Gandolfo I seem to have a new view on the different styles of gardens that there are. The garden that we visited features three main styles throughout as well as an incorporated 25 hectares of farmland. The Villa Pontificia features English, French and Italian characteristics. The designs of these styles help to set the mood of the garden and guide your eye to either the main feature or through the picture that the plants are creating.
                 The entrance of the garden started as Italian, it was filled with strategically placed Italian cypress, stone pines, blue Atlas cedar, hydrangeas, ponds and fountains. The trees, hydrangeas, and the pathways accent the water features and help to tie everything together. In the Italian garden there are also ruins from Ancient Rome when the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) resided in this area. While these ruins are well preserved there is also an obvious acceptance of the natural plant life that grows amongst it. The tree roots that are emerging from the stones are allowed and accepted as part of the ruins; they are not cut away and hidden, instead it shows that what was once built by man is being overcome by nature.
                 In the English garden there was less structure. While the trees and the plant life that was growing looked to be a naturally wooded area it was planted with purpose. This part of the garden seemed to have brought me back to my roots; I understood how the Pope enjoyed this area. In my hometown I am comforted by the cedar and pecan trees that crowd my yard and the live oak that supports the tree swing my dad hung. This part of the garden reminded me of home because of the simplicity that it delivered.

                 The French garden was my favorite. The garden was covered with boxwood, hedges, cypress trees, wax begonias, and many other attention seeking shrubs and flowers. These plants are pruned and maintained in these extravagant and elegant patterns that seems so perfect that it must be attended to daily. This garden style is my favorite because of the extensive design and care that is required to create and maintain a garden of this magnitude. The shrubs must be in pristine condition in order to continue the flow and deliberation that is being portrayed in this form of artwork. The Pope’s garden demonstrates that even though this piece does not involve paper and paint or ink, that designing a garden is still a form of artwork.
-Erika Johnson 

Cappuccino and Espresso and Crema Caffe, OH MY!

Before coming to Italy for this study abroad program I was told over and over that the espresso and cappuccino I would have would never compare to that which is made in America. The people who told me that were right. I am not a coffee drinker, I will only rarely get an iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks but the coffee served at Sandy Caffe in Arezzo has changed my tastebuds forever. 
In class we learned that coffee is native to Ethiopia. 
The blend offered to us at the roaster was a combination of nine different beans originating from all over the world. Upon arrival to the caffe we were served fresh cappuccinos. The sweet, frothiness of the milk perfectly matched the rich flavor of the beans and left me wanting another cup, even with the knowledge I would be wired from the caffeine for hours to come. 
The tour we took of the roaster showed us each of the steps we had learned about in class. There were giant burlap sacks of raw, pre-roasted beans that were odorless and green-gray in color. These beans were poured into a vat that would make its way into a machine that would steam roast them to the perfect degree. We watched as the worker checked the beans’ color every few seconds to ensure they reached the correct level of roasting required before being blended together. Each variety of bean from varying locations around the world were first roasted separately and then blended to ensure that the varying sizes and shapes of the beans received the correct amount of roasting necessary before entering the blend. Once the correct coloring was achieved they would fall from the vat into an area where they would be turned and aeration would occur to being cooling the beans and prevent further roasting. Once cool the beans would fall onto a conveyor belt where they would be added together to create the perfect blend to be sold. 

- Kait Richter 

Barrels of Fun

Located in Southern Tuscany is the Medieval town of Montepulciano famous for its wine. Previous to visiting Montepulciano for our tasting at Cantina de’ Ricci I had never had a taste for wine, but the four types of vino rosso we were served were each better than the last. 
Prior to our tasting we were able to go into the vineyard where the grapes are grown. We met the owner and he explained the differences in his grapes and a bit about his organic production system. Interesting, even though the grapes grown are organic, the wine is not. The owner explained that he chose to switch from conventional to organic production for environmental preservation and water conservation. He also utilizes a method of fermentation where the grapes are left whole to reduce the amount of added sulfates needed. We were shown the graft union between the scion and rootstock of his vines and he explained his pruning methods. 
While in the field the owner explained that each of the wines we would be trying at the tasting are aged to different degrees. The first, and my favorite, was not aged at all but the third and fourth wines were aged for years. The same or similar blend of grapes tasted completely different after spending time in the large oak barrels kept below the winery. 
After leaving the vineyard we went to the winery where the wine is kept to age. The winery is located partially underground where the temperature and humidity are ideal for the massive oak barrels used to age the wine. Although the vineyard tour and walk through the maze of barrels was amazing,  the best part of the experience was the tasting. After being offered an initial three glasses to taste we were served the best lasagna we'd had this entire trip and a fourth glass that had been aged the longest and bottled in 2005. To finish off the meal a sweet dessert wine from 1995 was served. Although not my favorite, after learning about the production systems and aging process of the wine, I felt an appreciation for all that had gone into that small glass I was offered.

- Kait Richter 

Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

The Boboli Gardens of Florence are a beautiful blend of Italian and French garden features with a wide variety of plants throughout. Renaissance gardens, an example of an Italian garden, are characterized by having shaded paths bordered by hedges, fountains, sculptures, and grottos. The most notable Italian garden features within Boboli Gardens are the Neptune Fountain, the Statue of Abundance, the shaded path known as Viottolone, and Buontalenti Grotto. 
Neptune Fountain is located in the Basin of Neptune and offers the most scenic views of the Boboli Gardens. The fountain itself was created in 1565 by sculptor Stoldo Lorenzi but it wasn't until the 18th century when the basin was installed to collect irrigation water. The Statue of Abundance is a marble statue holding a bronze bouquet of wheat situated further up the hill from Neptune Fountain. Viottolone is a long path that leads through a series of terraces and water features. Rows of Italian cypress trees line the path, providing shade and greenery to visitors. The Buontalenti Grotto was commissioned by the Medici family in the 1500’s meant to provide a cool space to rest out of the sun. Decorative grottos are reconstructions of natural caves, often adorned with fountains, sculptures, and frescoes. 
The main French garden feature within the Boboli Gardens is the orangery filled with countless varieties of citrus fruit trees including ancient trees belonging to the Medici family. The orangery also featured two small ponds that contain fish and water lilies. Water lilies are common in the ponds we have seen, not just in the Boboli Gardens, this is likely because they are native to temperate and tropical climates which includes the Mediterranean. 

- Kait Richter 

“No good, maybe just start over.”- Gabriele Menci

Just outside of Castiglion Fiorentino lives an artist, gardener, and new friend, Gabriele Menci. Visiting Mr. Menci and touring his kitchen garden has been one of my favorite experiences while abroad. We had the opportunity to walk through the entirety of his backyard garden, which took up every inch of usable ground space, and produced yields greater than he could ever consume on his own. During our tour we ate fresh beans and strawberries and saw countless different varieties that Mr. Menci grows annually. Most notable was his mini vineyard in the back portion of the garden. He utilizes soil and water conservation methods that require less input but produce beautiful, healthy crops. Mr. Menci’s garden is a prime example of my interests combined into one. He is able to grow all that he needs and do so in a sustainable, environmentally conscious way! 
He also had beautiful ornamentals around his driveway and outdoor seating area. These include  species that I learned about in one of my first class lectures while abroad. There are poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that grow wild and are native to the Mediterranean and bloom from late spring to early summer which means we arrived just in time to see them. Poppies range from red to white with black stamens but I have primarily seen bright red ones. Mr. Menci also had zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) in pots and a rose (Rosa) shrub. Like the poppy, the geraniums were bright red and bloom from spring into summer. This herbaceous perennial is native to South Africa. The rose shrub had a single yellow rose when we first visited Mr. Menci but a week or so later when we returned it was gone. The rose bush is a perennial shrub and will therefore bloom annually. 

- Kait Richter 

Informative Beauty

Informative Beauty

         The second garden that we went to in Florence was The Bardini Garden.Pic1 from google maps
         Here there was an organic design, English, to the path that allowed one to meander slowly through the different elevations to the spaces created at the bends of the garden path. Ultimately, each space was its own filled with sculptures, plants and or unique environmental additions to take advantage of its location. A serpent slithering type of wiggling path allowed for different borrowed scenery and perspectives for one to explore, learn and observe. Picture1 shows the direction that the Bardini Gardens borrowed views from within the garden. The first space that we chose to analyze was a Renascence design, very symmetrical and informative, boxy. The design of the beds were not specifically for vertical height or yearlong enjoyment but for informing the viewer of plants that are summer, autumn, spring and winter bloomers. Each bed was a specific seasons. The charts that are in the main path name and show the placement of all the plants shown, their botanical and common name as well as their season, as shown in my personal pictures 2,3,and 4. 

Pictures 2, 3 and 4

        I love the informative signs such as these that were found throughout the garden so that I could then look back and know what I saw. Prior to leaving for Italy I went to the Arboretum in Dallas and was blown away by the consistent labeling of the plants, finding new species and having the ability to clarify the types I like and would like to use in the future for Landscapes around the buildings I will be building as a future architect. 
        When continuing through the path we took to arrive at the charming Renascence garden we then observed roses and hydrangeas of varying colors that lead up to a few more labeled plants for the curious mind to find which turned toward a gorgeous pergola that basically allowed for more gorgeous hydrangeas on the ground to form the base of the walls and thick bougainvillea to fill the frame that is the pergola, making a barrel vault of colors for people to be shaded and make their way up to the villa and coffee shop/café. There one could enjoy a coffee and a view of Florence’s many famous churches, buildings and river and or take great panoramas and pictures. An example of this view is picture 5 and 6. The varietal movement of the entire garden allows for a very beautiful and unique view to the city of Florence, making the walk and all too likely heat very much worth it. I loved this garden because it was so informative and it really made a person feel like they were in one of the tourist free oasis locations of Florence. I do not know if this was due to the time of day or year that we went but it was quite, calm, beautiful and a place that I suggest everyone should visit when in Florence or wanting to design a garden of their own.



Ode to Coffee.

Blog: Ode to Coffee.
Between the field trips, classes, lack of sleep and non-stop adventures there has only been a “common” thing that has kept me going and that is coffee and lots of it. Arguably, a good or bad thing but Italy has exacerbated my caffeine habit and addiction. I can definitely get behind the Italian way of starting the day with a few espressos or maybe a cappuccino. I have always been a coffee drinker and my love for this liquid has only grown while staying here.
There are two species, coffee arabica (Coffea arabica) and coffee robusta (Coffea canephora). Depending on the species, coffee can be grown at high (arabica) or low altitudes (robusta). Processing for this plant can take two routes, wet or dry. The normally handpicked coffee cherries are either soaked in water so that the skin can be removed or dried in the sun and the skin naturally crumbles. The beans are then shipped all over the world to large roasting facilities.
I was able to witness this last step in the processing during our last field trip. We toured a coffee roasting facility called, Sandy S. p. A. There, we were able to see how coffee beans were roasted and packaged. How they carefully sourced their arabica coffee beans from South America and gently roasted them for different time-periods resulting in what is known as roasts, i.e., dark, medium, and light. We were able to sample a selection of their blends and learned how different handling and procurement can have a huge impact on the flavor. Overall, my coffee addiction and my experiences going to a processing facility have officially made me a “coffee connoisseur”!

I have always wanted to expand my knowledge on this magical bean. The tour of this processing plant and how they handle the coffee beans made me realize of how much work goes to deliver a product that we as the general-public, are not aware. I have become a smart consumer and as with the wine, have a better appreciation of what happens to a crop after it is harvested.

-Rebecca Lascano

Wine Tour Frascati.

Wine Tour Frascati.
Before coming to Italy, I had read a book titled, History of the World in Six Glasses. The main point of this book was to convince the reader of how the major drinks throughout the world, i.e., wine, beer, tea, coffee, distilled spirits, and Coca-Cola helped pioneer and shape the world socially, historically and economically. Being able to take tours of some of the wineries while in Italy has given me a more personal connection to this specific industry and art. Specifically, the wine tour of the Frascati region was an experience of a lifetime and really resonated with me.
Discovering their “irrigation techniques” as 'dry' was shocking! The terms “irrigation” and “dry” are not what you expect when it comes to watering a crop. For me, growing up in a family where my father’s career is based on irrigation and water conservation and commonly talks about such practices, I am relatively well versed in this subject and the different techniques or irrigation; however, I had never heard or talked about “dry irrigation”. It is quite rare to hear that an agricultural zone does not irrigate at all especially in an area where access to irrigation-water is readily available. However, after learning the effects of water stress on the sugar content of the grape and how it influences the quality of the wine, I know understand the practice of dry irrigation. To concentrate the flavors in the sugars of the grapes it results in a more full-bodied flavor and luxurious wine. The quality of the grape is the important factor.
Another bit of knowledge I gained from these outing deals with grafting of grape vines. All varieties must be grafted in order to survive and be cultivated. It is important that the root system is strong enough to handle varying levels of soil pH, disease, and pests. The rootstock is the hidden half of the grape plant and the selection of the proper root is essential for the production of grapes in orchards that will be in production for many years.

Learning about the wine-making process, i.e., oenology, and the amount of labor that goes into making this drink has been absolutely fascinating and was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. In the future any time that I enjoy a glass of wine, it will bring back the memories of this visit and of Italy!
-Rebecca Lascano

It’s Milan Darling.

It’s Milan Darling.
During the weekend of June 3rd, a few friends and I made the decision to travel to Milan, the fashion capital of Italy, and arguably the world. The day started painfully early at 5:30 AM having to run down to the station to catch the 6:15 AM train to Florence. From there, we boarded the “fast train” directly to Milan arriving about four hours later, close to 10 AM. First thing on the agenda (besides food and lots of coffee) was to see the Duomo, the famous gothic church of Milano!
Awestruck, was an understatement for its beauty and magnificence. Everything about the Duomo was so finely detailed. It was virtually impossible to fathom and appreciate its magnificence. However, one of the most resonating factors of the trip to Milan was the beauty found of the many surrounding gardens with beautiful flowers and plants. It is clear to me that these gardens are often overlooked in comparison to the many other historical landmarks of this famous city. It is clear that these gardens are taken for granted and blend in with the rest of the scenery.
One plant in particular that really captivated me to my very core was some of the Hydrangeas I discovered while visiting the Leonardo Da Vinci museum. These plants were in the courtyard and were a dazzling view with colorful flowers. They were also the largest Hydrangeas I have ever seen before and each plant easily spanned 4-5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) wide.
This trip brought to my realization the beauty of these ornamental plants and I started to play closer attention to this particular plant species, the Hydrangea. Noticing how it really thrives in this Tuscan area and observed some equally beautiful Hydrangeas in the Boboli Gardens. It was also at the Boboli Gardens that we learned that the color of a Hydrangea flower is directly affected the soil pH. For example if the soil is acidic, pH below 6, flowers turn blue. In alkaline soil, pH above 7 the flowers turns pink or red. Learning about these flowers and how they interact with a soil property has led to a new obsession. So much so, it was my inspiration for my drawing that we did at Menci’s. (As seen below)

Altogether, Hydrangeas have become my new favorite flower.
-Rebecca Lascano

Italy – my new home?

Blog: Italy – my new home? 
As long as I can remember, I have always had an affinity and liking for flowers, and gardening. Growing up in West Texas, I have a distinct memory of helping my parents plant the yearly spring flowers in our front yard. This process was a ceremony that started with a conversation at the dinner table to discuss what we needed to purchase, followed with a trip to either a local nursery or places such as Lowes and Home Depot. We would always prefer to buy from local merchants as Dad explained, these plants were adapted to the west Texas semiarid climate. We would plant different ornamentals and among them, were Marigolds. Marigolds thrived at our house and bloomed longer than the expected period. As Dad pointed out, this beautiful flower was well adapted to our soil and dry climate. It seems that it was a plant bred specifically to thrive in West Texas heat.
On my trip to Italy, I was under the assumption that I would encounter different types of exotic plants and flowers that I had never seen before. However, upon our arrival to Castiglion Fiorentino, I was pleasantly surprised to find a familiar flower, i.e., Marigolds in this beautiful foreign land. This affected me in many ways and immediately reminded me of my experience of planting Marigolds in our home and as such, it was a connection to a pleasant experience of my childhood.
Marigolds or Tagetes Patula comes in a variety of colors, red gold, and yellow. The plant is quite hardy and can be planted in full sun or partial shade locations. They require very little water making it the perfect flower for areas such as Tuscany or Texas. It has desirable traits to heat and water stress and at the same time maintains a beautiful flower.
The connection of this Marigold plant to my childhood and the ability for this particular plant to thrive in both places, Texas and Castiglion Fiorentino helped me to a mindset to adapt and be geared towards my stay in Italy. If this little flower can do it, so can I! The connection to the Marigold plant to the memories that it stirred within will carry on as this adventure in Italy catalyzes my traveling bug and I continue to learn about different cultures.

-Rebecca Lascano

Winery Tools and More

On our ride out to the winery today I saw what appeared to be an old steam driven tractor and I started thinking about the advancements that have been made to farming. I then began to wonder if the winery was still using the traditional methods to harvest the grapes for the wine or if they had moved onto more modern techniques we can see today elsewhere. To my amazement they still use the hand picking method there instead of using a machine. The only machine they use is one that trims the top of the plant to a certain height, but they still trim the side by hand as well. Sadly, we weren’t able to see any of these tools due to situations that were out of our control. After researching some of the traditional tools they use I have noticed that they use a knife similar to that of a pearing knife and shears. Another interesting thing was that they do not treat with herbicides but they did make a natural fungicide out of orange peels. Beyond the agricultural tools used I learned that almost all wine grape plants here in Italy have been grafted onto an American variety and we could actually see the two different types of stems.

-Colton Bausch