OASIS OF COLOUR AND SCENTS
‘Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was an enchanted wood where many animals lived. Everything was pervaded by an atmosphere of harmony, peace and serenity, and everything went according to natural codes.’
taken from “The Sly Fox” by Bruno Bossa – 2014 – Fusta Ed. Saluzzo
In order to accommodate guests of the ‘Enchanted Wood’ a botanical garden was planted with species from the Po Valley. We wanted to create a garden using and therefore valuing the fflowers that surround us every day, species from the Piedmont Alps and in particular those that grow wild in the Po Valley.
From the 800 plant species of the Po Valley were chosen those with more showy inflorescences which last for at least a week; species interesting from the culinary aspect or folk medicine.
The plants can be seen both in planters on the steps and in open fields to recreate some mountain or Alpine environments; easily observable when walking.
THE PLANTS IN THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
Over 200 species are in the garden, and were planted taking into consideration the need to be easily seen by the public. Herbaceous species are mainly in the foreground, with trees and shrubs as a background.
The plants chosen for the construction of the garden each have specific ecological requirements.
The rocks in the area of Ostana are gneiss, siliceous rocks, which do not release calcium and thus favour the growth of acid-loving plants,. Most of the species are acidophilus.
Some areas of the garden were treated with lime in order to produce a slightly alkaline reaction which would favour the planting and growth of slightly chalk-loving species (eg the bearberry that we can see in the Po Valley in the area between Crissolo and Pian Melze, where there is limestone and dolomite which release calcium into the soil.)
The arrangement of the plants was based on how much light there is in the various zones.
Edible species and herbs which do best in plenty of sunshine were placed at the entrance, along with some species of shrubs, currants and gooseberries which bear edible fruit.
Among the herbs there is plenty of Achillea, a medicinal plant present in the garden with various species. Other edible species have higher nutritional requirements, like wild spinach, dock and nettles. Soecies from different environments such as salsify are planted at the entrance where we have also sown some cultivated species typical of mountain areas such as buckwheat.
In the central part of the garden both on the steps and among the rocks, the chosen species are mostly those that we admire along the rocky slopes of the mountains, characterized by very sunny, open spaces where water finds it difficult to lie..
The last part of the garden is in the shade Here we planted species which need a cooler environment. In the lowest part there is the ericaceous area, where we have put some common herbs that we see in the mountains among the rhododendrons and blueberries.
Higher up, on top of the wooden staircase under the big maple trees, typical undergrowth species were planted. Many of these have inflorescences or at least leaves visible during the warm months. There are some bulbs (campanula, dog tooth) and small herbaceous species which have focused their growth and flowering before the leaves on the overhanging trees come out (thus fully exploiting the first spring sunshine). We can only see them during their flowering period in the months of April and May. They immediately become dormant in the form of rhizomes and bulbs, and nothing remains above ground.
The last part of the garden showcases a collection of different species of the campanula family. It is a plant which is often found in areas of undergrowth or where it is fresh and not too sunny. Finally, a wetland appears along the way; at the end of which grow species like golden buttons, sedges and cotton grass.
THE PLANT OF THE WOOD
Common name: SILVER BIRCH
Scientific name: Betula pendula Roth
Tree of the third size up to 15-20 m. with deciduous foliage and a more or less weeping habit. It has smooth thin bark, reddish when young, that develops into a white toffee colour which peels off in transverse stripes. The light green leaves are a triangular rhombic shape, becoming golden yellow in autumn.
The male flowers (catkins) are a purple -brown colour, elongated and pendulous. The female are smaller, ovoid and green.
The pendulous fruits remain on the tree all winter and then fragment into tiny scales and winged seeds which fly off on the wind.
It is a sun-loving species, a pioneer, colonizing plant with considerable resistance to cold and frost. It grows very fast, but is short-lived.
It can be used to re-plant poor soils and prepare for reforestation. It is valued as an ornamental plant for its graceful foliage which makes it suitable for planting in groups in confined spaces. It does not tolerate much pruning as the wood rots easily.
The wood can be sliced or peeled or used for the construction of toys, tools, utensils and brushes. It burns reasonably well.
In Herbal Medicine the main use of birch is to stimulate diuresis in cases of fluid retention without irritating the kidneys. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. People allergic to aspirin may show signs of intolerance.
The name comes from the Latin bitumen, the tar which the Gauls extracted from its bark. In North-Central Europe the linguistic root refers instead to the word meaning light. In Northern European tradition, the birch tree symbolises the cosmic beginning, present in the rites of spring rebirth. The bright girl of the North is linked to the influence of Venus and Saturn in that the female tree combines strength and delicacy, light and shade, heat and cold, fragility and reliability. It is graceful, light, supple and diaphanous, the force of new life, spring and rebirth. In fact the birch is the first tree to re-colonize a land devastated by a natural disaster.
Common name: LABURNUM
Scientific name: Laburnum anagyroides
Tree of the fourth magnitude no taller than 12-15m. Its bark is a smooth greenish-brown with noticeable lenticels and irregular fissures in older specimens.
The leaves are trifoliate, varying in colour from green on the upper surface to an immature bluish on the underside. The edges are unbroken.
The flowers have butterfly-shaped corollas joining long slack yellow racemes.
The green leguminous pods blacken on drying.
It is a sun-loving species, a pioneer which colonizes poor, dry stony soils.
It is used in environmental recovery projects and in the mountains as a species which is used to prepare for woodlands. It can also be used for hedging.
It is valued as an ornamental tree for its beautiful flowers.
It must be noted that this tree is very poisonous, therefore, above all we need to watch children to make sure they do not eat the fruit or other parts of it.
The wood was once used to make small items or sculptures on the lathe and the heartwood was prized as a substitute for ebony. Goats’ collars were often made from the laburnum tree. In herbal medicine, like many other toxic plants, its properties are utilized for their purgative and laxative action.
The fruit is toxic to humans but enjoyed by many birds, and bees collect nectar from the fragrant flowers. Some wild animals such as hares, rabbits and deer can eat the fruit without problems and therefore the laburnum is considered magic.
At one time the fibrous bark was used like cane for peg fastenings and also as poles because it lasts a long time when in contact with the ground.
Common name: WALNUT
Scientific name: Juglans regia L.
Occitanian name: Nouxìëro
Deciduous tree up to 15 m high. with a straight trunk and rounded crown. The bark is ash white and young branches are smooth, while the trunk is darker and fissured.
The leaves are large, alternate, composed of an odd number of leaflets (5,7 or 9), oval-oblong.
Male flowers are pendulous catkins; female ones are isolated or grouped in twos or threes and are formed from the ovary.
Fruits, called walnuts, are formed from an outer fleshy husk and an internal woody shell that contains the nut itself.
Produces a hard wood, nicely veined and characteristically coloured used for the production of furniture, commercially known in Italy as National Walnut. The fruit is mostly eaten dried. The nuts can be crushed to produce an edible oil with a special taste, but it tends to go rancid very quickly-
Walnut leaves are used in herbal medicine for their acidic, digestive, purgative, hypotensive, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
The name derives from ancient Rome, where it was called “Jove’s glans” or “Juglans”, the “acorn of Jupiter”, father of the gods. In the Middle Ages it was believed that the plant was linked to the devil and that around it witches held their Sabbath because certain substances produced by the tree restrict vegetation under its shadow. Since ancient times walnuts have been used as staple food by the poor, because they keep for a long time and could be eaten even on the days when the Church prescribed fasting. It is traditional to gather the unripe nuts on St. John’s day (June 24) to make walnut liqueur at home. (nocino)
Scientific name: Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Liebl.
Occitanian name: Roure
A large tree up to 30-35 m. high, deciduous, long-lived and slow-growing. It prefers stony well-drained soil as damp ground can cause the roots to rot.
Bark gray-brown, smooth when young then finely fissured.
Leaves simple, alternate, with maximum width in the middle third, lobed, smooth on both sides.
Male flowers are yellow pendulous catkins, the female small and sessile. They appear at the same time as the leaves bud.
The fruits are achenes, called acorns, ovate-oblong, sessile, often in groups.
The wood is completely similar to that of the English oak (Quercus robur L.) being dense and durable, highly prized for making furniture and flooring. Used in building construction, for beams, the construction of barrel staves for aging wine and the production of charcoal. It is also an excellent fuel.
In herbal medicine the bark is used for its properties of being astringent, anti-inflammatory and slightly antiseptic.
The genus name according to some is formed from two Celtic words, “Kaer” “quer” = fine tree; i.e. the most excellent tree. According to other sources it derives from the greek Ruvido and describes the rough bark of trees belonging to this genus. The specific name (petraea) indicates that the plant likes well-drained stony places.
Classically the oak symbolised fertility during the summer months, but above all it symbolized strong protection, primordial force and the ability to survive even in difficult times. Also longevity, power, strength, immortality and pride. The Greeks considered acorns a symbol of the fertilization of the Earth Goddess by Zeus. According to popular belief it is essential to burn a log of oak on Christmas Eve, because it is a symbol of rebirth, Advent, light returning after dark.
Shrub or small tree that can exceed 5 m. height, deciduous, with untidy foliage which tends to widen into an umbrella. Young branches are green, older ones ash-brown. It grows rapidly and tends to spread into the undergrowth when it finds suitable conditions. Leaves are opposite, pinnate, with oval leaflets, pointed and tooth-edged. Flowers are very showy and fragrant, gathered in large white flat corymbs. The fruits are small round berries varying from black to purple.
The wood is tender with a very soft central pith and is used to make small items, including toys, blow pipes, spoons, combs. It can be used for field hedging and as an ornamental plant. The berry is used in herbal medicine for its diuretic, sudorific, laxative, catarrh, expectorant, antirheumatic and antineuralgic properties. Traditionally the flowers were used as a remedy against colds, flu and cough. Its bark can be used as an ointment to heal burns. The fruit can be used in cooking provided it is perfectly ripe, in the preparation of preserves, jellies, syrups, and as a natural colorant. Unripe fruit can cause vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. The flowers can be fried in batter.
It is considered the tree of joy and has always enjoyed a reputation as the “pharmacy of the gods”. It was considered able to exorcise the devil; providing protection against serpents, evil and malefactors. According to tradition, Northern European fairy wands were made of elder. It is also linked to Water and the Moon.
Common Name: Rowan or Mountain Ash
Scientific name: Sorbus aucuparia L.
Occitanian name: Apùiç
Grows up to 10-15 m., most often shrub-like, deciduous with straggly sparse foliage. A pioneer shade-loving species requiring high atmospheric humidity.
The bark is gray, smooth with conspicuous lenticels.
Leaves are compound, pennate, formed by 13-15 lanceolate leaves, with sharp serrated edges. In autumn the leaves turn a pretty red color.
Flowers are small, white, fragrant, in corymbs that bloom in May-June after the leaves have formed.
The fruits are small round sour-tasting red berries
Especially useful for regenerating the environment grown as hedges, in rows and as ornamental trees although away from the mountain environment it struggles to grow. Its wood was used for making tool handles. The fruit is used in herbal medicine as an astringent, anti-inflammatory and for its soothing properties.
The genus name derives from two Celtic words meaning sour and apple; the Occitanian name derives from Latin “aucupium” = trapping, indicating that its fruits are particularly attractive to small migratory birds and for this reason it was traditionally planted close to bird nets used to hunt and trap them.
The sparse foliage allows grass to grow on the ground below, thus the Rowan symbolizes the return of light after winter’s dark. Considered by the Celts as the tree of the year’s Dawn, the rowan was also sacred because its fruits were food of the gods. It was planted next to houses and stables to protect them from lightning as well as from evil spirits and witches.
Common name: SYCAMORE
scientific name: Acer pseudoplatanus L
Occitanian name: Piàie
Can grow up to 30 m., deciduous, with dome-shaped dense foliage, rapid growth. It prefers temperate, humid conditions.
The bark is gray-brown, smooth when young breaking up in scales on older specimens.
The leaves are opposite and palmate, with 5 ovate lobes and toothed edges; dark green with lighter undersides.
Greenish-yellow flowers grow in pendulous panicles and appear after the leaves. Its seeds are paired in curved V-shaped samaras.
The ivory colored wood is easy to work and is sliced for parquet, used in cabinet-making and for the manufacture of musical instruments, particularly bows.
Useful for regenerating woodland habitats and arboriculture.
Very attractive to bees.
The generic name is derived from Latin “acer”, meaning “sharp”, probably referring to the curly-lobed leaves with conspicuous sharp teeth; the specific epithet is derived from the Greek “pseudos” ( false) confused with “plátanos”, and that with “platys” (broad, wide) due both to the shape of the leaves and the flaky plaqued bark of the mature tree, confusingly similar to the willow.
In classical symbolism the sycamore represents the cosmos and the seasons and provides a link between earth and sky.
Common name: WILD CHERRY
Scientific name: Prunus avium L.
Occitanian name: Charëzìëro
Can grow up to 20-25 m., deciduous, straight and slender trunked; fast growing and short-lived. It prefers temperate, shady conditions.
The bark which can vary from ash gray to reddish brown, is thin, smooth and shiny with strongly marked horizontal lenticels when young, and peels off in horizontal strips.
The leaves are simple, alternate, oval and pointed with well-developed petiole . In the autumn they turn an intense red-orange colour.
Five-petalled flowers are carried in very showy white pedunculated bundles and bloom before the leaves appear.
The fruit is small red drupes (cherries) which are smaller and more acidic than cultivated varieties.
The wood is yellowish-white with reddish tones, and is hard, easy to work and much appreciated aesthetically for the production of furniture and floors, inlay work and cabinet making. In the past, it was used for fine, hand-made pipes. It has diuretic, anti-uric, anti-gout properties and is a mild laxative.
The bark, leaves and flowers, and especially the stalks of the fruit can be infused in decoctions and used in herbal medicine
The Cherry has been grown in many parts of Europe since the Bronze Age, but according to legend it was responsible for the origin of the city Cerasus (Kerasos), on the Black Sea, site of the battle of the Romans against Mithridates, King of Pontus in 71BC. The cherry was one of the “spoils” of war of General Licinius Lucullus. Prunus and Cerasus are the two species of wild cherry from which originate all cultivated varieties of cherry and numerous ornamental varieties with many-petalled but sterile flowers. It nurtures many species of butterflies and the fruit is greatly appreciated by the birds. In popular tradition, it is related to water and the moon.
Common name: ASH
Scientific name: Fraxinus excelsior L.
Occitanian name: Fraise
Can grow up to 30 m., deciduous, slender straight trunk, well-developed roots, rapid growth and short-lived. Large black opposed buds. A temperate species, growing in sun or shade, usually in fresh soil and rich substrates.
The bark is gray-green with dark spots in young specimens; brown and fissured longitudinally in mature trees.
The leaves are opposite, pinnately compound, consisting of 5-7 pairs of sessile leaves that turn pale yellow in autumn.
Male flowers are globular and blackish, female more elongated and purple.
The fruits are oblong samaras meeting within drooping clusters that hang on the tree in winter and are disseminated by the wind.
The light-colored wood, with beautiful pinkish veins is used for the production of furniture; thanks to its strength and elasticity it is often used in handles for tools. Until the ’50s it was used for skis, oars, masts, tennis racquets and hockey sticks.
It also provides good quality firewood. The ash is used in herbal medicine for its diuretic, analgesic, tonic, febrifuge, laxative and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has external tonic properties. In folk medicine, an infusion of ash leaves is used as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory.
In the past Ash trees were mainly used to demarcate field boundaries. Near villages branches were cut and dried in summer to provide fodder for domestic animals during the long winter months. When these practices were abandoned with depopulation of the mountains and the adoption of more profitable methods of agriculture, Ash became an invasive woodland species.
According to Greek mythology, Achilles used an ash spear polished by the goddess Athena and sharpened by Hephaestus (Vulcan), the god of fire technology and engineering. The Celts in Ireland considered the Ash the symbol of rebirth and attributed to it miraculous healing powers. In the Middle Ages it was believed that the Ash could dispel evil spirits.
Common Name: HAZEL or COB NUT
Scientific name: Corylus avellana L.
Occitanian name: Bouisoun
Big bushy deciduous shrub up to 5 m high. with multi-stemmed trunk. Temperate species, withstanding shade and cold but needing long, hot summers. A plant of the undergrowth, it is an invasive pioneer species.
The bark is gray-brown, thin and smooth in young specimens, flaky after the first few years.
Leaves are oval to round, heart-shaped at the base and pointed at the tip, with finely toothed edges.
Male flowers bloom very early, forming pendulous yellow catkins; female flowers are tiny and gem shaped with red feathery stigmas.
Oval husks enclose the edible seed, hazelnut.
The wood is used for small handmade items and carving, for the manufacture of walking sticks and in the past, produced high-quality charcoal and gunpowder.
The kernel is used in herbal medicine; the leaves as a purgative, tonic and astringent, the bark for its healing properties.
The fruit is much enjoyed by squirrels, dormice and birds. Derived from the wild variety, domestic cultivars widely used in the confectionery industry.
The name avellana derives from the country town of Avella, renowned since Roman times for the production of hazelnuts. Since ancient times the tree and the fruit have symbolized fertility and regeneration. The tree is a symbol of spring, immortality, fertility and is associated with Mercury. At one time it was believed that the branches gave protection from lightning in bad weather, and witchcraft. Traditionally, divining rods used by water dowsers are made from hazel.