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Gardening tips gathered froma trip to the Old Country | THE COMPLEAT HOME …

The end of November is the beginning of the winter planning season. Winter evenings are made for garden scheming and dreaming and here are a few ideas to steal from our recent tour of Sicily, a sun- drenched island sitting off the south toe of Italy.

Our small group visited Sicily “off the beaten path” and discovered a people rich in history, wine, olive oil and a slower pace of life based on outdoor living and dining.

Use overhead timbers and wisteria vines to create quick shade in outdoor living areas.

It may not be practical to add shade trees to your own patio area close to the house or to wait years for young trees to cast a shadow.

Villas in Sicily grow almost instant shade by using the foliage of robust vines such as wisteria over pergolas made from wood, stone or even metal pipe. The north or east side of a building becomes the preferred spot for an outdoor living room in a hot climate while back home in rainy Washington the sun drenched west or south side of a home would be a more practical location for an outdoor living room.

Wisteria not only drips with fragrant clusters of flowers in spring and sun-blocking foliage in summer but this vine has the good sense to lose its leaves during the winter months allowing much needed sunlight into the home.

Add color with paint, tile and garden art.

Gardeners in warm climates have always looked for ways to add color that does not require a watering can.

Sicilian gardens are rich with ceramic tiles, painted pots and garden statuary. Stucco walls are painted peach or pink and native stone mellows to gold to create a lovely back drops for plants. In one pool side garden at a resort in Taormina we admired colorful square pots that were made from five 12-inch by 12-inch ceramic floor tiles.

A simple do-it-yourself project, each brightly painted tile was glued to the edge of a 12 inch bottom base tile and secured with construction adhesive. The result is a tile cube open at the top that can be filled with potting soil and heat loving plants such as palms, plumbago, thungbergia, sedums and citrus fruits.

Turn your balcony into a hanging garden.

Traveling the world should always make one appreciate home and visiting a country like Sicily with high taxes and higher unemployment made us very aware of our status as ‘rich Americans.’

All over Europe, fewer citizens own property and can afford the luxury of a large garden. Renting a small apartment does not keep Italians from creating roof top, balcony and even alley gardens. Geraniums spill from terra cotta pots over wrought iron railings, potted palm and orange trees cast needed shade on roof top gardens and vegetable lovers harvest eggplant, tomatoes and basil from narrow alleys where containers may be as economical as recycled olive oil tins or plastic water jugs.

Visiting Sicily showed us there is no excuse not to make the world a more beautiful place by growing plants. Lack of water and money in this country did not mean a lack of gardens or passion for living.

For more information on visiting the ancient Greek ruins, active volcanoes and mountain villages of Sicily contact our excellent guide Rosa Rizza or view excursion options through the website

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from WSU, is the author of a dozen garden book and the host of Dig In Seattle as TV show about gardening and cooking. She can be reached at

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