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The Gardens of Pomona

It’s no accident that Adam and Eve are shown in many images as “covering” themselves with fig leaves. The fig is an ancient plant: remains have been found of plants that lived around 23,000 years ago! Furthermore, humans have always prized the fruit of the fig tree. Today it is gaining renewed attention, because every part of the fig tree can be used: leaves, sap, bark, shoots, and of course the fruit, both fresh and dried.

In the municipality of Cisternino (province of Brindisi), in the centre of Valley of Itria (best known as the home of the unique Puglian houses known as “trulli”), can be found the “Gardens of Pomona”. This botanical garden combines the conservation of biodiversity with research and scientific education programmes aimed at schools of every type and level, as well as professionals, amateurs and tourists.  This living genetic bank was born out of the desire and duty to pass on to future generations the precious inheritance selected over millennia by countless generations of farmers. In pursuit of this aim, the existing drystone walls, terraces and water tanks, as well as the buildings, have been restored in keeping with local  building traditions, and the place has been transformed into a park-garden, which is open to the public all year round.

Over the past 15 years the Gardens, which have been managed organically following the best farming practices, have become home to more than 1000 varieties of fruit-bearing trees, mostly bred before 1950. The Gardens are home to collections of pear, apricot, plum, pomegranate, almond, mulberry, quince, jujube, medlar, service, dogwood and citrus trees of various types, as well as different herbs and rare plants.

Both the fig and pomegranate trees faced the ever-growing problems caused by lack of water and by soil impoverishment. In recent years a project undertaken with permaculture experts led to the creation of three experimental dry-farmed food forests of Mediterranean trees: soil regeneration and water conservation techniques are combined with the preservation of agricultural biodiversity in the form of fig and pomegranate trees. These two ancient plants have been cultivated since time immemorial because of their extraordinary culinary and medicinal properties. In the Gardens of Pomona their conservation takes pride of place. There are around 100 varieties of pomegranate; while the fig tree – which will play a strategic role in the future feeding of people living in areas with Mediterranean-type climates across five continents – represents the core research focus of the Gardens: over 600 varieties from many different countries are under cultivation, making this one of the most important collections of Ficus carica in the world.

This plant was chosen above all others for its high energy, nutritional and pharmacological value, its good resistance to different soil and climate conditions as well as to disease, to the speed with which it becomes productive, its productivity (which is doubled in the biannually bearing varieties), and its multiple uses in the fields of health, gastronomy, beauty, etc.

The Gardens collaborate with national and international universities and research centres; host Erasmus and Informagiovani projects with work experience camps; take part in the national Community Service system; organize work-related learning activities; and maintain relationships with other voluntary organizations. But words are no substitute for the experience of a guided visit of the gardens and their collections while staying in the farmhouse. In the course of these visits it is possible to touch a specimen of the Nagasaki persimmon, a symbol of world peace (www.kakitreeproject.com).  The tree grows in the heart of the Gardens and is surrounded by a maze of 596 lavender plants which symbolize the long and necessary journey to achieve peace.

For further information, contact Dr. Paolo Belloni: igiardinidipomona@gmail.com