Design an Italian garden for making compost, don’t just make compost for your garden!
Compost is still a rather taboo subject in Italian gardens – the sight and the smell of a standard compost lump is something that gardeners in Italy have yet to comprehend. In most countries gardeners have understood the importance of this magical organic substance for many years. Compost essentially feeds the soil organisms that maintain the health and water/nutrient retaining qualities of the soil by forming humus – that magical gardening word. The luxury of having access to barrow loads of cheap compost, made from local organic matter whenever we want has been a perfectly logical gardening method for many years in most countries.
The whole idea of making smelly compost hasn’t yet reached mainstream Italian gardening but the idea of applying organic matter has – in the form of bags and bags of peat, dug from rare peat bogs from Ireland to Finland. Everyone seems to appreciate that applying compost enriches the soil and helps our gardens flourish, even if we don’t all fully understand why. Some of us make our own compost and some of us buy it in bags. However, instead of buying in tons of the stuff or making the compost for our garden, how about making a garden that is designed to provide as much compost as possible? By changing our ideas regarding Italian garden design we can make stylish, ecologically friendly Italian gardens that also provide us with clean, almost odourless compost.
All we have to do is reduce our areas of lawn and areas of wild flower meadow that can be harvested several times a year to provide a perfect organic substance that can then be composted. We can dedicate a large section of our garden to the production of compost where we can store all of the branches, hedge trimmings and larger plant material. During the long winter months these branches etc can then be chipped, using a chipper that can be hired for a few days in most parts of Italy. Even the smallest of gardens can produce a surprising amount of organic material which can all be mixed together to make fantastic compost. Overhanging tree canopies shed masses of leaves that can all be collected and mixed in with compost.
This compost should ideally be stored in large wooden boxes with slats that allow air to pass, this aids decomposition and prevents the compost from smelling. If, like me, you catch the compost-making bug then you could construct three boxes so that the compost can be transferred from one to the next at different stages of its decomposition. This ‘turning’ of the compost will also prevent stagnation and will prevent any of those nasty smells developing. Covering the compost pile with some sacking will allow moisture in, prevent excess evaporation and help keep the heat in the compost – aiding decomposition. Fresh grass clippings can be laid in layers as the pile grows and this will activate decomposition and prevent them from smelling.
After just one winter the compost should be ready to use in the garden and should ideally be applied as a mulch or dug into the ground in the autumn.