ASBA’s Show–Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field

ASBA’s Show–Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field

Jimmy Nardello Sweet Italian Peppers (Capsicum annuum ‘Jimmy Nardello’) in watercolor on Fabriano Artistico paper by Janene Walkky

Sometimes when you start something, you have no idea where it will take you. I began this painting in 2017 because these beautiful peppers caught my eye at the Farmers’ Market one day. They started me on a journey of discovery, not only about how to depict their three dimensional twisting shape, glossy texture and vibrant color onto the two dimensions of paper using watercolors, but the poignant family story behind the peppers arrival in the USA.

These are some of the Jimmy Nardello Sweet Italian Peppers that I purchased at the Farmers’ Market. Don’t they look like calligraphy strokes from some exotic language??

My painting was accepted into the American Society of Botanical Artists exhibition, Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field, which The New York Botanical Garden is featuring in a virtual show from November 21, 2020 to March 26, 2021. The purpose of the show is to highlight the diversity and history of cultivated plants, and the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in cultivated crops in order to insure disease and pest resistance and resilience in the face of climate change. As I researched the history of Jimmy Nardello peppers, the charming and touching family story of the hopes and fears of this immigrant family began to unfold.

Angeline and Giuseppe Nardello, with their family after they settled in Connecticut. Jimmy, who later followed in his mother’s footsteps as an avid gardener, is on the middle left side. Used by permission from Tricia Schulz.

These delicious sweet peppers were brought to the US in 1887 by Giuseppe and Angeline Nardello. I have been privileged to be in contact with their descendants who have generously shared many family stories and photos with me. The couple emigrated from the poor, remote village of Ruoti in the mountainous region of southern Italy. Among the few possessions they brought with them were the seeds of their favorite pepper, stitched into the hem of Angeline’s skirt lest the precious seeds be confiscated upon entering their new country.

Jimmy Nardello in 1982, in his garden in Connecticut. Even as an elderly man, he continued to grow vegetables in his extensive garden for his family. Used by permission from Tricia Schulz.

Many years and eleven children later, their middle son, Jimmy, became an avid gardener like his mother. He grew vegetables in a terraced garden similar to those his mother knew in Italy. He continued the tradition of growing his favorite Italian sweet peppers, along with many other vegetables, to serve at family meals. Before he passed away in 1983, he donated seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange, and the seeds were named Jimmy Nardello peppers in his honor. Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit organization that conserves and promotes the rich, diverse heritage of America’s garden and food crops. They collect, grow and share heirloom seeds and plants.

This sweet pepper matures in 80-90 days from transplanting. The fruit is six to ten inches long and bright red at maturity. The plants grow approximately two feet tall and wide. They need full sun and are prolific as long as they are not over-watered. Traditionally, the peppers were strung on a string and dried. The string was run through the stem of the pepper with a needle, and the fruit hung near a window or on a porch. Dried peppers were then sliced or chopped and sautéed in olive oil for use in traditional Italian recipes. The peppers have a fruity flavor and a light, creamy texture when sautéed. I agree with Jimmy Nardello—they are the best!

I hope you visit the virtual Abundant Future show at the New York Botanical Garden website. Artists from around the world have contributed paintings of a tremendous variety of heirloom cultivated crop plants, depicted in many different styles and media. I am honored to have my work among them.


  1. Lovely painting and lovely post! Congratulations Janene!

  2. Such an interesting story, thank you Janene!
    I wonder how many other seeds made the passage across the ocean sewn in hems?

  3. Janet Parker says

    Thanks for sharing this Janene. I love the story and I love your beautiful painting!

  4. Михаил says

    The Fourth New York Botanical Garden Triennial: Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field Venue: The New York Botanical Garden 2900 Southern Blvd. Bronx, NY 10458-5126 USA Dates: November 25, 2020 April 18, 2021

  5. Margot Cole says

    Hello Janene – I’m just now getting around to reading this thanks to Tina. I have a friend who is an avid peppers fan, so will pass it on to her and to my sister, who is an Italiofile. Thank You for the wonderful story. Can’t wait to grow these.

    • Hi Margo, I am glad you enjoyed the post, and heartily recommend Jimmy Nardello peppers–they are the best! No wonder the Nardello’s smuggled them in from Italy!

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