“Pomona's Gardens” botanical conservatory

Luogo : Brindisi, italy, Europe
Sustainable management of natural resources Sustainable management of natural resources
Budget totale: € 1.000.000,00 | Periodo: Da novembre 1993 A


Conservazione della biodiversità delle piante di interesse alimentare con accoglienza turistica negli edifici storici aziendali in pietra a secco recuperati.
Educazione ambientale
Recupero e conservazione delle acque meteoriche ad uso irriguo mediante il ripristino della rete delle cisterne
Uso parsimonioso dell’acqua e ricerca delle piante adatte all’aridocoltura (Fico, melograno, pero, gelso, pomodori regina e pendolino ecc.).
Comunicazione e divulgazione.


Pomona ONLUS - National Association for the Enhancement of Biodiversity - Italia

Candidato guida

Conservation of biodiversity of food plants with the possibility to accommodate tourists in restored dry stone historical buildings situated within the property. The conservatory includes more than 800 varieties of fruit trees, mainly developed before 1950. Among these there are about 350 accessions of the species ficus carica. Collection and storage of rainwater for irrigation purposes through the restoration of the old cistern system. Responsible water use and plant research for dry farming (fig, pomegranate, pear, mulberry, regina and pendolino tomatoes, etc.). Communication and publicizing through: pomological exhibitions, guided tours to the collections, activities to increase awareness around the environmental issue of chemical free soil, air and water. Environmental education for students of every age.

Festival of the Senses - Italia

Partner dell'iniziativa

Special cultural festival three days long in the second half of august, which offers sane and sensible, beautiful and seductive things, in order to refresh our senses, far from the anaesthetic pollution that the information noise forces upon us every day. Ancient manor farms and historical abodes of the Valle d'Itria, Puglia region, will be, in this occasion, exceptionally open to the public: privileged places where to listen for three days rare and creative reflections on the world of senses. Well-known Italian and foreign scholars will give interesting talks on the theme chosen for this year. There will be itinerant lectures, slow-moving excursions, tactile exhibitions, bio-diversity, re-design of the traditions, delicious food and occasions for seeing in a new perspective and enjoying the sensuality of Puglia.

Association Nationale des Croqueurs de Pommes - Francia

Partner dell'iniziativa

Our Association promotes the preservation of threatened regional fruit varieties. It includes 63 local associations, for a total of approximately 8000 members in France and neighbouring countries. Our main activities are pomology (knowledge of fruit varieties) and arboriculture (pruning, grafting, orchard care).

Territorialists Society - Italia

Partner dell'iniziativa

Founded in 2010, the Territorialists Society is made up of Italian and foreign academics, researchers and experts in different disciplines which all deal with the environment. The association aims at developing the fundamental role of the environment and its resources in the context of future local and global socio-economical organizations. With these objectives the Society carries out multidisciplinary research for the integration of the environmental sciences in cognitive and practical contexts; it has an Observatory of good practice for the innovatory development of the environmental heritage and publishes with Firenze University Press “Scienze del territorio”, a scientific magazine, whose issues result from previous international meetings.

Local Action Group Valle d'Itria - Italia

Partner dell'iniziativa

The Valle d’Itria G.A.L. , Local Action Group, is a privately owned limited liability consortium which was founded on the 4.12.09 by the public administration of Cisternino, Martina Franca and Locorotondo and private shareholders with both individual and collective interests. The G.A.L was originally set up to manage the interests of the PSL (Local Development Plan) , a regional project worth more than 11 million euros which is allocated to professionals in rural areas to help increase the potential for development. The mission of the GAL Valle d’Itria is to plan and implement local activities which are in line with the developmental strategies of the region by using social economic stakeholders. The GAL will, through the PSL "Create a local developmental strategy based on the exploration of the inherent potential of the Valle d’Itria using existing businesses, and the creation of new production resources, the growth of the multifunctional role of business and the integration of different economic sectors and the social –cultural partnership between all these".

Center for Research, Experimentation and Training in Agriculture "Basile Caramia" - Italia

Partner dell'iniziativa

Re. Ge. Fru. P is a European funded project for the recovery of the Apulian fruit germplasm. It aims at protecting the biodiversity heritage of traditional Apulian fruit trees cvs, which are threatened by extinction. The coordination of this regional activity is managed by CRSA and the Botanical Conservatory participates in the project as second most important Apulian curator, after the University of Bari. CRSA is a non-profit research organization which promotes rural development and carries out certifications for varieties of grapevines, citrus and stone fruits, as well as various types of analyses for soil, food products and wines. The organization offers technical assistance in agriculture, experiments with the most advanced production technologies and it has also collections of vitis vinifera and other local fruit tree cvs. CRSA cooperates in a large network of international scientific institutions from 18 different European countries, North Africa and China.

The Botanical Conservatory I giardini di Pomona pursues the goal of matching the conservation of the biodiversity with a new model of low-impact rural tourism, promoting the traditional landscape through new activities. Among them: conservation of the biodiversity created and now endangered by humans, helping visitors to become more familiar with nature and thus enabling them to discover its complexity, richness and beauty; recovery of the system once used for the collection and storage of rainwater for irrigation purposes through the restoration and renewed use of the cistern system, the clearing of the cisterns from debris and the repair of leaks; educational activities; sustainable accommodation in restored historical buildings; protection of the rural landscape through the preservation of the traditional plantation layout (planting in rows) and the restoration of the dry-stone walls of existing historical buildings; promotion of traditional cultivars in the gastronomy sector.

This project aims at proposing a small-scale model fit for being replicated at will and suitable to enable – after an initial investment – the conservation of the biodiversity of edible plants thanks to tourism. I wanted to verify what I had already ascertained in the ten years before organizing pomological exhibitions meant for the public: the biodiversity of edible plants has a big appeal.
People move to see the common heritage of varieties selected by hundreds of generations of farmers in the past 12/14 thousand years. Looking at the different fruits one can imagine their rich tastes. This is a reassuring element of the collective imaginary because it chases away the spectre of hunger that has always haunted humans. Thus, an orchard is a long-lasting fruit bank. But if it attracts tourism that creates wealth, we can say that tourism can support the conservation of biodiversity!

1. Collections Different growing methods have been tried, always on grass-covered soil. Initially, we would lightly plough the soil around the trees. Today we tend to eliminate that, too. The root systems of trees and herbs take up different levels and spaces, but the grass-covered soil better retains moisture and promotes processes that favour the soil’s health, its fertility and the growth of trees.
2. Renovated trullo The picture shows the façade of the trullo whose renovation was completed in 2013 and which is now meant to accommodate tourists. The restoration works, 50% of which were financed with EU funds, now enable the renting of three small flats, whose earnings contribute to meeting the costs for good agricultural practices and the self-contained maintenance of the collections of the Botanical Conservatory.
3. The Italian stand in Limoges In November 2013 Pomona took part in the European Pomological Exhibition of Croqueurs de Pommes in Limoges presenting the fruits supplied by: Botanical Garden of Palermo, ARRSA - Regione Calabria, Parco Otranto Leuca, Centro di Ricerca CRSFA in Locorotondo, the fruits of the Conservatory, of the towns of Garfagnana, of the nurseries Omezzolli in Trentino Alto Adige and of the Vecchio Melo in Piedmont. With its Mediterranean colours and fragrances, the Italian stand aroused a lot of interest.

The Conservatory is known for its international fig tree collection including 350 accessions. A fig is a rustic and flexible plant. Unlike the apples, pears, cherries and hazels that grow in regions further north and don’t grow well in Apulia, all the varieties of northern figs find a perfect habitat down here. So, I am recovering this species still as crucial to the future of human nutrition as in the past. Suitable for dryland farming, it can withstand salty air and brackish water, it needs no bees or other pollinators for pollination and produces – in some varieties – different fruits at different times on the same tree.
Undemanding plants with a generous yield, figs are rarely attacked by diseases and can endure the worst pruning mistakes by beginners or even the total lack of pruning without stopping producing fruit. They don’t require phytosanitary treatments and provide an always wholesome, tasty and energy-giving food. Easy to dry, figs can thus be preserved for a long time.

1. Citrulara and Lunga d’agosto Two “fioroni” (early figs) that are quite widespread both in Italy and abroad with many synonyms. The plants enter the Conservatory under various names. Up to the first fructification we don’t know whether it’s is a new variety or not. But the opposite case is also true: homonymies concern totally different fruits bearing the same name. For example, the name San Pietro for many fioroni figs that are ripe on June 29th and Melanzana for many purplish figs.
2. Stuffed dried figs The dried figs are stuffed with almonds, lemon zest and wild fennel. The almonds are pressed into the two halves of the dried fig, which are then sprinkled with bits of lemon zest and possibly wild fennel seeds. Then, another fig of a similar size is picked, placed on the former and pressed well so that it sticks to the bottom fig. Thus, the fichi maritati (‘married figs’) are obtained, which are subsequently sterilized in the oven and pressed, still warm, with bay leaves into a glass jar.
3. Dried figs Figs are picked and dried from mid-August till the end of September. The small ones are dried whole, the bigger ones are opened from the side of the ostium towards the peduncle with a small portion of skin that keeps the two parts together. Then, they are laid out on cane trays and exposed to the summer sun with the inner part turned upwards. When the inside has dried, they are turned upside down. Once stuffed, they will hold – wrapped inside them – the warm fragrance of summer.

Collecting germplasm up north was becoming increasingly difficult (the cultivars had either been saved in heritage orchards or had disappeared). Thus, I moved with my wife to Apulia, where there is such an abundance of traditional varieties that genetic erosion still seems to be no issue. Looked at with suspicion (I was planting figs while local farmers were uprooting them), when I opened the Garden this initial distrust turned into curiosity.
Upon my arrival I began my work to locate, propagate, plant in heritage orchards, grow and evaluate varieties, planting out in 10 years approximately 800 cultivars of fruit-bearing trees. Now, considering the constant growth in the number of visitors (894 guided tours from 01.01 to 06.07.2014 when the tourist season has just begun), curiosity has turned into interest. Press and schools have been those most eagerly welcoming the initiative, while institutions have been the most reluctant.

1. Martine and Paolo in Rome My wife Martine with me at the garden show of Villa Borghese in Rome, where Martine sells her Apulian terracotta and ceramic flower pots and I sell the little saplings of my fig varieties. Events of this kind, in which qualified nurseries take part, are always an interesting place where to find and trade varieties to enrich one’s collections.
2. The Gentil Rosso A field sown with a wheat variety, the Gentil rosso, which was very popular up to the mid-1900s, as was the Senatore Cappelli, a variety selected in 1915 in Foggia by breeder Nazareno Strampelli, who dedicated it to the then minister of agriculture Senator Cappelli. Two wheat varieties with considerable taste and nutritional properties, with a low gluten content, but also a small yield.
3. Workshop with children A workshop to learn stuffing dried figs during the Festival dei Sensi della Valle d'Itria. Teaching children how to stuff dried figs means having them test their skills in one of those traditional chores that used to be performed at home involving the participation of all family members. Useful to prepare supplies for the winter, but also an occasion to exchange information, a pastime full of enjoyable moments, it was a significant element of socialization and full cooperation within families.

Who is going to benefit from our work are – in a broad sense – the future generations. We are well aware of our work. Today the loss of a variety is forever, because the factors that generated it cannot be reproduced. We don’t know what might prove useful tomorrow, therefore we preserve. Our work, rooted in the past, is all oriented towards the future, though. For this reason we are an educational farm. Humankind needs to get back to ecology, thinking of the home we share and respecting all the elements that form it in their chaotic complexity. A well-tested system that has made life possible on our planet for hundreds of millions of years.
Other people who may benefit from our project are the farmers with whom we share our research on the drying of fruit (kaki, feijoa), which enables a speculation in time and/or selling to wholesalers under better conditions. A last group benefiting from all this are the other custodians. Sharing the same goal supports us in times of discouragement.

1. Mulberry still life Some of the early varieties of mulberries we grow. The small fruits range from white to black across many hues of pink, red and purple. Missing on the picture is the variety Regina nero che macchia, the tastiest, which ripens later than the others. The part of the name that reads “che macchia” (literally meaning ‘which stains’) is a warning for all. Forewarned is forearmed, and you protect your shirt! Now I am hunting for a local variety that produces light blue mulberries I saw a few years ago.
2. Pomegranate still life Biodiversity in pomegranates. There are varieties grown just for their flowers, with large double flowers coming in various colours, from white to vermilion to yellow. There are dwarf varieties and ornamental varieties with purple fruits and black fruits that stay on the plant for a long time. The larger-sized fruits can have a sweet or sour juice. Obviously, sizes vary a lot depending on the variety. Now varieties with small edible seeds start appearing on the market.
3. Educational farm games This is a game for the pupils that visit the Conservatory. The children are divided into teams. Each team leader is handed a leaf of a tree standing in the field which the members of his team will have to examine carefully. Upon the starting signal all the participants begin searching for the tree the leaf belonged to. The team finding it first gains more points.

Francesco Minonne, a friend, co-author of the book “Fichi di Puglia”, biologist, like me a passionate “ancient” fruit researcher and collaborator with the Botanical Garden of the University of Salento (with which we cooperate). On-farm collaborators Nderek Hila, at first, and Francesco Salamina, later, without whose care and work the Conservatory wouldn’t exist. Pasquale Venerito and the friends of the Association Passoditerra for their efforts in recovering biodiversity in Ceglie Messapica (BR). The contributions of neighbours and all those who have offered voluntary support in setting up the collections through their own varieties: the milk-woman, the carpenter, the plumber, the nurse, other farmers, etc. The towns of Diso and San Michele Salentino hosting each year pomological exhibitions focusing on figs. GAL Valle d’Itria and the University of Bari with the project REGEFRUP that includes Pomona as the second most important conservatory regarding Apulian varieties.

1. Ndereke Hila The collaborator with whom we planted the first fruit-bearing trees and with whose help “I giardini di Pomona “ changed look, turning from pastures and fallow farmland into an orchard. Ndereke used the hoe with such precision and skill that it looked like an extension of his hand. His arms were as strong as his heart was sweet. He tended the plants with loving care. When his son and family moved to Versilia for work, he followed them to keep the family together.
2. Francesco Salamina Francesco Salamina, another exceptional collaborator. Always cheerful, ironic, ingenious and willing to experiment. Often, before seeing him, we would hear his singing. The picture shows him busy preparing tomatoes to be hung in bunches. The tomato variety used for this storage method is watered only twice: at the time of transplanting and the week after. No more watering is necessary before harvesting. The hung tomatoes can be enjoyed raw until May of the following year.
3. With Vandana Shiva When prominent Indian scientist Vandana Shiva came to visit the Botanical Conservatory in 2010, we set up a big pomological exhibition in her honour, to which I invited all those who had collaborated over the years with Pomona in the collection of germplasm. In the picture, Francesco Minonne next to Vandana Shiva, while Anna Ferro is glimpsed from behind. Luigia Iuliano is in the background, while Pasquale Venerito, Nello Biscotti and other collectors and custodians don’t appear in this photo.

Financial difficulties caused me sleepless nights. We moved to Apulia in 2004, sure that there would be EU funds for biodiversity in the 2007-2013 programme. I sold my property in Milan and bought some trulli with annexes and 3 ha of pastureland, then 6 ha of adjacent land. I had enough funds to get – making a sparing use of resources – to 2008. I started preparing the soil and planting out the collections with the cultivars grown in pots in Milan, aware of the fact that for the following 4/5 years there would be nothing to see nor fruit to sell.
In 2008 begin the difficulties. Operating costs swallow up hundreds of Euros each day. I can neither go forward nor backward. We are desperate. I am positive about the quality of the project, but I’m afraid I can’t go on for the necessary time to start seeing the results. My sister supports me generously, then I obtain a loan to refurbish the trulli which I mean to rent. The EU funds needed to increase the cistern capacity arrive only in 2014!

1. First figs planted out Planting out the first fig trees grown in pots in Milan. The earth layer on top of the rock, which on average did not exceed 10 cm, was crushed to a depth of 50 cm, thus obtaining a compound made up of 20% earth and 80% stones. Today I would no longer make such an expensive mistake which also involves the risk of disrupting the groundwater system. At worst I would recommend to crush strips no wider than 2 metres along the rows where the trees are meant to be planted.
2. Planted figs The same field a few years later. A small tree can be seen in the foreground, grafted with 13 different varieties, while a branch of the original variety was left. A small compendium of the collection for those who are too lazy to walk across the whole orchard. I need it to find out if and when the stronger varieties prevail over the weaker ones.
3. My sister Anna My sister Anna who believed in the project and supported me through hard times, when the institutions – despite having benefited in various ways from the activities performed by “I giardini di Pomona” – turned their back on me. Along with collaborators Ndereke and Francesco, she is the person to be credited for the existence of “I giardini di Pomona”.

Where there used to be collapsed dry-stone walls and bramble thickets now thrive the gardens of Pomona – the goddess  of fruit. The austere Apulian landscape, with its neat pattern of fields and orchards, its dry-stone buildings and walls and its system of cisterns and vats for the collection and storage of rainwater has guided our choices. 
Our focus on water and the increasing salinization of the water table induced us to repair leaking cisterns, use drip irrigation systems for young plants, search for old hardy plant species suitable for dryland farming (figs, pomegranates, almonds, pears, mulberries). It also contributed to our decision to grow plants on grassy fields, use compost as fertilizer, eliminate chemicals for a poison-free soil, keep patches of Mediterranean scrub to preserve the complexity of nature and favour the reproduction of beneficial insects, aware of the fact that only  a healthy and vital soil can generate healthy and vital plants. 

1. Cistern in the field This cistern with drinking troughs is placed a few metres below ground level. It was cleared of the debris accumulated in decades of neglect, and made watertight again. The same work was done on another old reservoir, whereas a new cistern was built in 2014 by enlarging an older, smaller one. Cisterns for the storage and conservation of rainwater are always located at the lowest point of a certain area.
2. Poison-free land Partial view of the fields of the Conservatory. In the foreground, the sign of the committee Terra libera dai Veleni. On the right-hand side, the lavender labyrinth with the Nagasaki Kaki Tree, a descendant of the little sapling found still alive under the rubble after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on the 9th of August 1945. This tree, which has become a symbol for world peace and the rebirth of time, has been planted on the most fertile soil of the Conservatory.
3. Honey bee swarm Bees swarming in the blossoming cherry orchard. While we are witnessing to the widespread death of honey bees due to diseases, the competition with races imported from other countries and the abuse of nicotinoids in soil amenders, at the Botanical Conservatory Andreas Facius’s bees are multiplying and forming new colonies every year.

To locally publicize our experience we decided at the very beginning to run a column on the local monthly paper in which to report on the activities of the Conservatory. Then we created the Green Sundays: a cycle of highly attended lectures on topics concerning nature and ranging from seeds, to bees, to historical Italian citrus fruits.
We organized meeting days on roses and graminaceous plants and workshops on permaculture, aromatherapy and the distillation from aromatic herbs held by external experts. Even if the world of farming is conservative by nature, since the setting up of Ficusnet – the Mediterranean network of the towns of figs, which we contributed to promote and spread – many things have changed and figs and pomegranates are becoming more popular once again if compared to their sales in the more recent past. Small farmers here and elsewhere in southern Italy are beginning to associate for the distribution of their products and new business opportunities are taking shape.

1. Green Sundays A talk on beekeeping within our series of lectures Green Sundays held by Andreas Facius, our friend apiarist who owns the beehives located above our cherry orchard.
2. Collections of the Conservatory Shown here are part of our drupaceae and rosaceae collections and the fig collection. On the left side of the picture is the collection of pomegranates and the olive grove. Behind, the collections of local pears, apples, almonds, cherries, and the fields where we grow old wheat varieties (Senatore Cappelli and Gentil rosso). On the right-hand side, the Secret Garden with the plants I like to keep near the house, the cherry orchard and the orchard of minor fruits.
3. Pomological exhibition Pomological exhibition organized by Pomona at Milan’s Società Umanitaria - Chiostro dei Pesci within the food education project of Regione Lombardia “Ortocircuito – frutta e verdura – altro giro, altro gusto”. Section Italian historic citrus fruits. The fruits were supplied by our friend Paolo Galeotti, curator of the collections of citrus fruits of Giardino di Boboli, Villa Castello and Villa della Petraia in Florence. The collections date from the days of Cosimo III De Medici.

Several channels were used for communication: locally, through lectures, meetings, presentations of the book Fichi di Puglia but above all by word of mouth following to our guided tours; in these tours we always stress the importance of involving all our senses and try to convey our love for fruits, flowers, branches and share our discoveries with those who think figs are just green or black while they come in thousand colours. Crucial are the social networks my wife Martine takes care of every day: our face book page I giardini di Pomona and the blog on “La repubblica di Bari”  Nei giardini di Pomona as well as the positive comments of Tripadvisor.
Among the broader media, the following have written about us: in the national press – Gardenia, Interni and Vogue Italia; abroad – the Telegraph Magazine, New York Times and Officiel Voyage; among radio and TV  programmes - Geo and the regional news. An essential role has been played by the guides Dumont, La Guide du Routard and Petit Futé.

1. Still life with figs Some of the varieties grown at Giardini di Pomona : Abate, Sutane, Faraone, Fico del Fiorone Petrelli, Paradiso, Barile. They feature extremely diverse shapes, sizes and colours, but they also differ in taste, which ranges from sweet to pungent across the whole span of aromatic and fruity. Besides being enjoyed fresh, they can be used in several recipes and to make jams, while those with a thicker and more resistant skin are dried.
2. Education at the Conservatory Our guided tours offer the opportunity of discussing various issues with visitors: from the complexity nature needs to maintain its balance to the consequences of climate change, from the salinization of the Apulian water table to the wholesomeness of food produced without the use of chemicals, up to the systems adopted in permaculture for the better harvesting of rainwater and the collection of night humidity produced by the changes in temperature between day and night.
3. Ali del Levante Article by Katia Brinkmann published on Ali del Levante the magazine distributed at Apulian airports. The article reports on the Nagasaki Kaki Tree, descendant of the sapling found under the rubble of the atomic bomb. This tree, symbol of peace, has been planted on our most fertile soil. We surrounded it with a labyrinth of lavender to symbolize that peace is reached after walking a path, and also to express the hope for more justice on Earth to ensure sufficient food and drinking water for all.