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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

The Gardener's Eye - A walk on the outskirts of Melilli

While we work on writing up the rest of the story of how we bought our house in Sicily, we wanted to share more about the magic we're finding here in Melilli, each and every day.

Two Fathers, Two Gardens

On the surface, Marco and I have very different family backgrounds.

Marco is from a working-class, first-generation immigrant family. His father moved from Sicily to the United States at age 29, and speaks little English. As a boy, Marco's father experienced the Allied invasion of Sicily first-hand, and those experiences haunted him so deeply he couldn't help but share bits and pieces with his children.

Marco's childhood was ensconced in a tight-knit Sicilian immigrant community, surrounded by a large extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents.

I'm the child of two American hippies whose primary connection to our extended lineage is a box of black and white photos filled with unsmiling faces (and a rumor of some horse thieves in Texas). My dad grew up in Longview, Washington, where his father worked as a manager in the local paper mill.

The Second World War affected my family very differently than Marco's. My paternal grandfather was a veteran haunted by his experiences in Europe among the Allied forces. My grandfather never spoke about the war, holding those stories close as ghosts. My dad and I have watched the film Fury a couple times together, picturing my grandfather who drove those tanks, which seem as fragile as paper.

Later, my dad's family got into King Crab fishing on the Bering Sea in Alaska—a surprisingly common activity where I grew up in Washington. Many folks would spend summers working in Alaskan canneries. When I was young, my dad would spend a few months a year risking his life for the precious catch.

Our fathers are so different, and yet something unites them.

They are both gardeners, both men who hold a deep reverence for the land. A connection that can't be broken by time or distance. They are happiest with their hands in the soil.

Growing up, Marco's father taught him to grow vegetables in the back yard and harvest wild dandelion greens from other people's yards (a story for another day!). Mine taught me to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and harvest the fruit trees he planted when we finally moved into our own house. Marco's father taught him to how to kill and clean rabbits. Mine taught me to gut fish. (I enjoyed the experience much more than Marco did.)

And even when we cringed at the lessons (yes, I complained endlessly about how boring fishing was), we learned to get our hands dirty nonetheless. And we learned to love it.

How We Became Gardeners in Our Own Right

When Marco and I bought our Brooklyn apartment, we promptly turned the roof into a container vegetable garden. My dad came yearly, his suitcase fully of tools and cedar planks, and together we built planters and trellises. Marco's father couldn't travel, but he always asked Marco for garden updates.

During the hot New York summers, Marco would haul jugs of water to the roof two, sometimes three times a day to keep our precious plants alive.

So one of the things we were especially excited about for our house in Sicily is our roof terrace—which has actual plumbed water! And, of course, we were instantly on the lookout for the wild prickly pears and figs we knew grew in the area.

In our first couple of weeks in Sicily, we mostly noticed the wild and cultivated fruits we were expecting: orange trees, lemon trees, prickly pears, figs.

But the other day, we went on a walk near our house and all of a sudden everywhere we looked we saw fruit springing up.

Gardens of Sicily, Wild and Otherwise

It started on our small little street—which turns into a set of twisting, magical stairs at the end. As per usual, I checked out the fig tree. I squeezed the larger figs and did a quick google search of how to tell they were ripe (spoiler, not yet).

Then I noticed a pomegranate tree beside the figs. The tree I'd imagined was simply full of pretty flowers, was so much more!

A bit further on, beside a flowering prickly pear, we found an almond tree. "It's just like in your book," I said to Marco—one of my most common refrains in Melilli.

We headed up a winding hillside path and peeked our heads into a cave, before spotting a carob tree. A carob tree!!

In that moment, we began to see the world through our fathers' gardeners eyes. Along our route, we spotted olives...

and grapes...

and apricots...

and plums...

And flowers blooming from stone.

The bounty seemed endless. The fruit of local gardeners, and the land itself, intent on growing.

Walking With Our Fathers

Back on our little street, we stood and watched the sunset over the village, listened to the peel of church bells nearby.

I couldn't help but think how much our fathers would love this. And how much all of what they'd taught us had brought us to this place, this adventure, this moment.

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Jul 03, 2022

Love that closing video! Amazing


N Poindexter
N Poindexter
Jul 03, 2022

I have questions about "horse thieves in Texas" but love the description of the two dads. A bit curious if it is always sunset?? LOVE the photos....

Camellia Phillips
Camellia Phillips
Jul 04, 2022
Replying to

Ha. It's hot during the day, so we love taking an evening stroll. Thus all the sunset photos!

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