In 1984 I took a group of Italian friends to the United States, a first-time visit for most of them. They were amazed by our suburban homes. "Everyone has so much land," they observed, "but not a vegetable garden in sight!" It was my duty as native guide to explain that we Americans have always preferred mown lawns to neat rows of celery and carrots. "Why is that?" they asked. Good question.
I've been living in Italy for nearly 20 years, and I'm somewhat Italianized by now. If I had only the smallest yard in the sun, wherever that might be, I'd grow my own vegetables. But with five acres of formal gardens surrounding my 16th-century hunting lodge here in the Tuscan province of Lucca, my gardening hours are spent clipping hedges and tending those curious, hard-to-find species of ornamental Mediterranean plants that just might kill you if you ate them.
Ugo, the good-humored farmer and custodian who works for my partner, Gil, and me in our wine and olive oil business, grows the vegetables. Most of the year, there's an abundance of everything a non-meat-eater like me might want; even in the coldest months of January and February, when the temperature dips to 30 degrees, there's still broccoli rabe, spinach, cauliflower and cabbages to enjoy.