Every summer visitors to Cape Cod stop in garden centers, wanting to buy blue hydrangeas to take home to Maine, or Wisconsin. “Our nurseries don’t know about them,” they say. There is a reason that they can’t buy them locally, I explain, and it’s not because their garden centers haven’t heard about mophead hydrangeas. “Cape Cod nurseries know all about palm trees,” I offer, “but we don’t sell them because they aren’t hardy here.”
As my husband and I vacation in Umbria, Italy, I think of these tourists and their desire to take blue hydrangeas home. The view from the villa where we are staying is of olive groves and fig trees. The tall, dark green Italian cypress trees punctuate the landscapes and roadsides. Part of me wants to be able to have these in my garden, but I realize that if I could grow them, visiting this lovely region wouldn’t be as extraordinary an experience.
On our first day here I learn that the owner of Villa della Genga, Alisandra, is also a passionate gardener. She has a classic Italian parterre garden complete with potted lemons, a large vegetable garden filled with heirloom varieties that she grows from seed, and flowerbeds tucked throughout the grounds.
As we gaze at the row of Perovskia and Gaura above the pool, Alisandra tells me that she has a hard time finding such plants. Local nurseries stock the usual shrubs, trees, and annuals, but perennials are difficult to locate. She has to drive about 120 miles to Florence to find them.
I think of my Cape Cod garden, knowing that I can drive less than 20 miles in several directions and find hundreds of varieties of perennials. If I want to grow a plant that’s not available locally, I make a few clicks on my keyboard and it’s likely that this plant will arrive on my doorstep within ten days.
I’m grateful that I can visit places where the local flora is unavailable to me, and cherish the new perspective these trips provide.
When traveling to foreign gardens we can appreciate their singularity as well as our own.