Friday, September 04, 2015

Italian Heritage of Summer Bounty

This has been a stay-at-home summer, except for a few train rides into NY, but there was one walk around the block with our dog that left me feeling like I'd just been to Italy. A diminutive, elderly woman with a strong Italian accent was picking peaches from a tree that grows near the street. I commented on the bumper crop, and she gave me a few to take home. Her husband had died a few years earlier, but her son cares for that enduring legacy of food-bearing trees left behind.

The yard is essentially an orchard, reminiscent of backyards I saw years ago from the Dinky-like Circumvesuviana train in Italy, packed with fruit trees and vegetable gardens. In Princeton, such a yard will be ringed by a strip of lawn, in a gesture of conformity to America's curious lawn fetish.

If I were to imagine an ideal yard, it would be filled with gardens and fruit trees, with solar panels (they're free now!) on the roof. Shade trees along street's edge would keep the asphalt cool while somehow not shading the food-bearing plants too much (we're talking ideals here). The Italian tradition, exemplified by a number of yards around town, at least show how the food portion of that ideal can be realized.

It looks to have been a great year for growing apples.

And this yard includes persimmons (not the native species),

and even chestnuts.

Just down the street, a young couple has planted fruit trees in their yard and solar panels on their roof. I hope the wisdom behind all this horticultural success is being documented and passed along. It would be heartening, and fortifying, to see this remarkable tradition in Princeton continue and expand, and see Italy's impact on Princeton's backyards equal the architectural legacy immigrant Italian stonemasons left behind.

Some links about Princeton's Italian heritage:

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