A Seedy Italian Saturday

A couple of Saturdays ago Threadspider and I sought inspiration on a cold, grey wintry day amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford and the warmth of Italy. Our destination was Oxford Botanic Garden for a workshop given by Paolo Arrigo from Seeds of Italy.

We were greeted with good wholesome bread still warm from the oven, drizzled with a peppery olive oil from Tuscany and a squeeze of lemon. We quickly learnt that seeds, plants and food are one continuous thread in the Italian way of life: most refreshing! With this in mind our workshop was not only learning about seeds, but also seeing how pesto and passata are made, then tasting the results :)

Paolo took us through a number of seeds in the range, using his display stand as illustration. We learnt which tomato is best for passata (San Marzano because it's a juicy not fleshy variety), whilst another (Principe Borghese da Appendere) can be hung up to ripen at the end of the season and fresh fruit plucked off the vine well into November, even December. Soon it seemed to be quite reasonable to be sowing 2, 5, even 10 different tomato varieties.

Basil Genovese is best for pesto (and I've vowed never to buy shop bought again having tasted the real thing), but the large 'lettuce' leaved variety is used for wrapping around mozarella. We quickly learnt about the regionality of Italy's seeds and how this is tied up with the culture, language and individual recipes of the region. Eager questions from the audience bought even more examples of different seeds to try, including a pepper more suitable for outside rather than greenhouse growing (Dolce di Bergamo).

We may think of Italy as a mainly hot country, but the temperatures of their mountain regions show there are varieties from there which are also suited to our climate. Paolo also emphasised the importance of reading the sowing and harvest times on the seed packet as some of the varieties sold have different requirements to others we may be used to growing. Their Alpine fennel for instance is more suited to later sowing and harvest times.

That's why I've chosen to show the back of a seed packet to illustrate my post: the UK is shaded blue, so we follow the blue dots shown lower down to gauge when to sow our seeds and harvest our crops.

It was a most inspiring day and the perfect antidote to winter. I'm now itching to get started and sow the seeds I bought on the day and try the recipes from Paolo's cookbook :)


  1. Paolo is great isn't he. Very inspiring & the cookbook is a great read whether or not you decide to follow all the recipes.

    I have always found Seeds of Italy to be a superb co. to deal with. Very efficient & helpful (& no I don't work for them :-) ).

    I hope you're going to try agretti again this year (did Paolo mention it ?)


  2. I'm feeling a bit pathetic. I went into a shop yesterday and bought seed from what they had on their racks.

    Big leaved basil - are the leaves less attractive to slugs than the more familiar kind?

    I grew miniature basil last year and it did well in pots until there was a miniature hiatus in watering - and they died.

    (Not the pots.)



  3. i wish all seed packet backs looked like this one! how informative & readable.

  4. Sounds as if it was a most enjoyable and informative workshop VP. Have bought seeds from SOI for some time now, including the lettuce leaved basil. The germination rates are excellent and the quantity of seeds per packet is most generous. Funnily enough I am about to put in an order to them for a few packets of seeds to send to my Italian cousin, who is just starting out growing veg/ fruit on a small plot in Rome. The equivalent of coals to Newcastle methinks :)

  5. That sounds like a fab day. I do like the seed packet instructions - will investigate Seeds of Italy next year as got all my seeds for this year - honest!!

  6. Great post - I can almost taste the basil.. very jealous! We grow about 15 to 20 varieties of tomatoes every year, but you've given me a new one to try - Principe Borghese da Appendere - so thank you!


  7. Simon - yes indeed. I see you're a fan :) Sadly there's been an agretti seed crop failure, so will be difficult to source this year :(

    Esther - I'll be testing basil leaf slug attractiveness later this year. I do like the small leafed basil - I've grown it as an edging mini hedge before

    Petoskystone - they're well known for their seed packets!

    Anna - coals to Newcastle for sure ;)

    PG - I thought I had too, but I found a few to share with Threadspider ;)

    YRVG - welcome! We're trying that one out too and looking forward to it :)


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