In a little corner of Puglia, Italy one man is attempting to find solutions for water shortages, world hunger and crop diversity. Paolo Belloni started Il Giardino Pomona in 1994 as an experiment in permaculture and as a way to save heritage varieties of fruit trees. Along the way he created an ingenious method of pulling water from the earth, has been fighting pests without pesticides and has discovered the incredible adaptability of figs.
As I bumped my way down the country lanes of the Valle d’Itria, past the little pointed houses known as “trulli”, I was dreaming of fig trees. They grow everywhere in this part of Italy, as do olive trees and grapevines, but I was hoping to find the gorgeous, delicious Panache variety at the Giardino Pomona. What I found was way beyond my wildest imaginings.
The gregarious, engaging Belloni can’t wait to take us on a walk around his 10 hectare conservatorio. His English isn’t great and neither is my Italian but a fellow French visitor did a three way translation so we all could understand what was being said.
He lead us through different levels of apple orchards, past pomegranate bushes bursting with unripe fruit and citrus trees glowing with good health. Buddha’s Hand is a rarity that is happily growing under the care of Belloni and his team.
We crossed a dirt track and suddenly as far as the eye could see there were fig trees.
We stopped and sampled many, many different types.
And found my favorite kind – Panache!
When asked why figs were the main crop at Giardino Pomona, Paolo Belloni explained that they are found in all corners of the world and can thrive under the most adverse conditions. According to the garden’s website, varieties from Afghanistan, Bosnia, France, Portugal, Albania, Israel and Italy all grow “peacefully” next to each other. And they do, in this tranquil spot that is a classroom for teaching as much as it is a botanical garden.
At the very top of the hilly property, Belloni and a friend created a water gathering and pumping device using moisture generated by the stacked stone walls that checker the land. This inventive method brings irrigation to young plants as they get established. It’s just another clever way that Belloni and his team work with nature and the land to nurture all life.
At the heart of the property is a special symbol of peace: a descendant of a persimmon tree found in the wreckage after the bombing of Nagasaki. It’s enfolded in a swirling labyrinth of aromatic lavender and serves as a reminder of the timeless message of hope that a garden can offer. The symbolism is relevant and tangible and the perfect ending to my visit at Il Giardino Pomona.
To visit Il Giardino Pomona or stay there, go to igiardinipomona.it
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. De-stem 3 figs then cut in half lengthwise and arrange in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Push a knob of goat cheese into the center of each fig then drizzle with good balsamic vinegar or glaze. Heat in the oven until the figs are jammy and the cheese is melted, about 15 – 20 minutes. Take out of the oven and finish with a drizzle of honey. Serve with crusty bread or alongside roast chicken, pork or duck.
Further thoughts –
If you have too many apples right now, try this recipe for some absolutely killer muffins.
Photo credits: @juliajacksonclarkdesign