When I arrived in Italy the weather was quite cold, and I had to wear all my available layers of clothing. The deciduous trees were all still bare. Once we arrived in Reggio, Calabria, all was still quite cold and the trees were bare. We made an expedition to Aspromonte, a very steep and precipitous area, where I wondered how people settled and scratched a living. We did not get as far as expected, as there had been some heavy snowfalls, and the road was blocked. The driver had to reverse along the road until it was possible to turn, the road being very narrow. I think we all felt rather anxious for a while.
On the way we had stopped to look at the view and I was amazed to find grape hyacinths (muscari, and, in Italian pandicucco) growing wild, as well as alyssum, and I tried to identify the various trees. This is not easy when the trees are bare, but of the evergreens, I identified various pines, and also the holm oak. The holm oak appears to be extensively spread throughout Italy. I had seen it in Tuscany, and it does not resemble most oaks, and is an evergreen tree, but it certainly has acorns. In Australia I have seen it used as a street tree in Adelaide, but don't think I have seen it elsewhere. It grows to be a large tree, and is most beautiful, and presumably is very tough.
Most of the group, the leader and the various guides seemed relatively indifferent to the vegetation and quite ignorant, which, to my mind, was a pity. I saw borage growing wild, and also parsley, and various bulbs. There was only one other person who was interested in plants, and I was evidently the group expert. Very under-utilised, though.
As the trip progressed, the trees and shrubs started coming into leaf and into blossom. Lots of fruit trees, peaches and apricots, mainly. Each day the landscape seemed more and more transformed. Eventually I caught glimpses of the red poppies starting to bloom - they are, to me, one of the great joys of Italy. By the end of the trip most trees had produced their leaves, and were flowering. In the space of only few weeks the whole landscape seemed to be transformed.
Initially I had disliked the pines and the European habit of pruning away all the lower branches of so many trees, but I came to love them, and how beautiful they made the landscape. We saw them at a war cemetery and also along an avenue close to one of the Roman aqueducts, and finally at Ostia Antica, which we visited on the morning of our departure from Rome Airport.
Many Australian shrubs and trees are now grown extensively in Italy, and we were told eucalyptus trees are somewhat of a pest. This somehow seemed only right and proper, given the number of non-indigenous species imported into Australia which have become absolute infestations, the gorse, the blackberry, the willow, the thistles and numerous other weeds. I was fascinated by the European habit of pollarding the trees , which does seem to me to be something of an unnatural act.
Since my return home I have been looking in various gardening books to identify some of the plants.