Think of Tuscany and the kinds of images likely to come to mind are of red tiled roofs, medieval hill-top villages, olive groves and vineyards. But how about trees; hectare after hectare of young trees of every size, shape and variety? This is exactly what you will find around the town of Pistoia, which is located approximately half-way along the hour and a half train ride from Florence to the walled city of Lucca.
The geographical position of Pistoia is particularly suitable for the quick growth of trees: the Apennine Mountains protect it from cold winds from the north and at the same time provide a source of abundant water. Pistoia is situated in a floodplain whose soil is unique: clay and loose at the same time, perfect for vigorous root growth.
Spread over five separate sites covering tens of hectares, the nurseries of “Piante Mati” grow many varieties of tree. Broadleaves include: maples, birch, hornbeam, ash, poplars, linden and oaks whilst coniferous species include firs, cedars, redwoods, pines, and “Tuscan” cypresses – the slender, pointy variety so characteristic of the area.
Casimiro Mati founded this family-run business in the early 1900’s. It was originally a horticultural establishment but subsequently was transformed into a tree nursery. The company has as its symbol a red oak; something of a specialty at the nursery. Oaks have a tendency to hybridize and, having started with about 4,500 acorns of various types and over many years whittled the resulting plants down to first 20 then 8, two unique varieties were eventually selected and their own variety of Quercus rubra, with its elegant form and strikingly coloured leaves was ‘born’.
Whilst a visit to a nursery may not be among the more obvious contenders on your ‘must see’ list, such as the tower in Pisa, the magnificent duomo in Florence and the all-round splendour of Siena, if you feel the need to get a bit of time away from the hordes, then it is well worth consideration. And, having walked all around, you will then be fully justified in seeking refreshment at one of the local trattoria!