15 July 2018

Down here in our valley we don’t have mains gas. We have a thousand litre LPG tank buried in the garden which is filled at great expense when necessary – though I have to say that since having the solar panels installed for heating water, it’s necessary less and less often. When the gas is getting low, I rummage about in the chicken house and pull out the dusty red and white plastic stakes – one with an ugly sign attached – which must, by law, show where the tank is buried. I hammer them into place around the tank’s inspection cap… then try not to be at home when the delivery man comes, to avoid any comment on my perfectly obvious ruse.
Every three years or so the company sends an inspector to fill forms and tick boxes and re-register our tank with the local fire service. This morning he showed up unannounced.
“I just have to check it’s intact and take some photos,” he said as I pointed out the inspection cap to him. I was wittering on about how I’d just removed the stakes temporarily because the garden needed weeding, when he cut me short.
“Do you have them? Because if you haven’t it doesn’t matter. I’ll get some from my car. We can just stick them in for a moment while I take a photo. You don’t want to have those ugly things right by your drive like that.”
The health and safety inspector who brings his own props and worries about clients’ aesthetics. Another reason to love Italy.

Last week I watched a funny little bulbous green-white spider (I’m going to stick my neck out and guess from the depths of my ignorance that it was some kind of  Thomisidae crab spider) suspended from one of my buddleias on an almost invisible strand of silk as it hooked, stunned and subdued a butterfly about four times larger than itself in a matter of minutes.
When I happened across the scene, the butterfly had clearly only just fallen prey to the angling spider because it was putting up a magnificent fight, flapping and contorting and generally doing all in its quite considerable power to escape the spider’s grip. But gradually the fluttering became less frantic, then stopped. The spider began wheeling itself in.
It wasn’t so much the spider-butterfly interaction that held me mesmerised, though, as the silk at the end of which the drama was playing out. It rocked and swayed and – to my eye – seemed to extend and contract in time with the paroxysms at the far end. I found it hard to believe that it could stand up to the strain. How strong can such a gossamer strand be?
The answer, I find, is that its strength is about the same as a high-grade steel alloy, ie phenomenal. But it’s the toughness (ie strength plus extensibility of up to about five times without snapping) that make it truly amazing… that and the hard-to-conceive-of fact that a strand long enough to encircle our whole planet would weigh about half a kilo. Clever things, spiders.

0715F0715GI had stopped in via Borgo di Giano (the street where my Pieve Suites is located) to snap a picture of our third consecutive ‘floweriest street of CdP’ prize plaque when a French acquaintance with a house in town wandered by.
“We’re the most beautiful street!” I said to her.
She turned to give the alleyway a look, and with true Gallic disdain said “it is not the most beautiful!”
“Well,” I said, trying to be conciliatory. “It’s definitely the floweriest.”
“Yes,” she admitted, sounding rather bored, “there are flowers. But it’s not the most beautiful.”
“So where is the most beautiful?” I asked, at which she stared at me as if I were completely stupid.
“Have you never been to Paris?” she said.
It’s hard to please some people.

I realise that the advent of a new compost bin might not seem like the acme of achievement to many, but for me, my long day’s sawing and drilling last Sunday was one of immense fulfilment. For years, that overflow compost heap round the back of the chicken house was precisely that: a heap. Sprawling, messy, spread about the place by burrowing animals –hedgehogs mostly I’d say, looking for a quiet hole to retire to.
Then I took the big decision to fix it up, went and bought the necessary lumber, stacked it in the chicken house and. Did nothing. For months. While grass grew between the stakes and planks and every time I passed by it nagged at my conscience.
But now (with some help from my garden assistant Indi, who drove the stakes into the ground and then was quickly bundled away before he tried to bring his questionable aesthetic sense to the project) I’ve done it – give or take some stakes to be sawed down to the right height and a couple of bits of rebar that need to be hacked off because they’re driven far too far into the ground to be hauled out. I’m rather pleased with myself. Now I just need to tidy the rest of the horribly neglected place.

Last year at this time we were shrivelling up in the relentless heat, dreaming of unsweaty nights and spending our days in darkened interiors. This year, I’m still hard at work. After the spring work-washout, we garden people have been granted a long long planting period right into July to catch up with projects which have been pushed back and back and back.
It’s hot, certainly. But it’s not too hot. Which is good. And not good. My hoped-for summer lull is taking far too long to materialise. I pound up and down motorways and spend days heaving plants about in the sun… satisfying (mostly), gratifying (in many cases). But now I’m ready to stop, just for a bit. That moment too will come.
What was really missing this year was our pre-season sea. There’s generally one weekend in June when we (well, L, if truth be told, for what he calls work) get/s invited somewhere exotic – a luxury resort, a spectacular yacht – from which we launch ourselves into a chilly Med. This year? Well, at the appropriate time it was raining, mostly.
So this year we made up for it with a night in Orbetello. It’s a funny place Orbetello: picturesquely perched on its strand of land poking out towards the presque-ile (is that the correct term?) of Argentario; workaday and lived in in some ways but very much a seaside holiday town in others; not sophisticated enough to be chic but quietly elegant in parts, interspersed with some reconstruction nightmares after heavy WW2 bombings.
We took our bikes with us and pedalled along to the Tombolo della Feniglia, riding through the reserve beneath umbrella pines to a white-sand beach littered with hippy-shelters cobbled together with white-bleached driftwood. The Feniglia was one of our summer daytrip venues through many years when we lived in Rome. During the week, it was acceptably empty though I suspect that those most inaccessible areas where even on high-season weekends we used to find unpeopled stretches are now heaving on summer Saturdays and Sundays. After weeks of rushing and stressing, some salt water and salt air was welcome.

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Homemade yogurt

In my latest battle in the war against single-use plastics, I have banned shop-bought yogurt. As I rarely eat yogurt (I really only like it with curry or baked potato, ie with savoury foods) this is very unfair on poor L who consumes litres of it weekly. I’ve never really seen the point of the flavoured kind, which has cloying amounts of sugar and ‘fruity’ flavours which rarely resemble fruit in any way.

To compensate, I’ve become very serious in my yogurt making.

Milk – 750ml
Plain yogurt – 3-4 tbsp

There’s no end of advice to be found about what milk to use for your yogurt. In my experience, almost anything will do. I use semi-skimmed fresh milk (1.55% fat content) from the supermarket and the end result is thick and creamy and just fine. Different types alter the consistency and the flavour slightly. Whatever you opt for, the fresher the milk, the better the end result.

More important, I think, is the culture that you start off with. You can begin your yogurt-making career with powdered cultures bought in speciality shops, but this is, in my opinion, an unnecessary gimmick. What you really need is plain yogurt, and to get the culture ball rolling it pays to get a really good one. I started my process with a few tablespoonfuls of excellent cow- and sheep-milk yogurt from Pianporcino in the Val d’Orcia. Of course you can’t gauge from labelling just how many active helpful, milk-thickening, live active bacteria are swirling about in any given yogurt pot but you can bet that the food-industry giants skimp on those like they do on anything that is truly natural and beneficial.

As soon as you’ve made your first successful batch, remember to hold back a little of your yogurt to get the next one going.

Lastly, you need something to make your yogurt in. You can buy dedicated yogurt-making equipment but again – it’s not at all necessary. A glass jar, a towel and a shelf in a warm airing cupboard will do. I’ve opted for a vacuum flask – not the kind for drinks but the kind you can carry hot food about in. Mine holds 3/4 litre of liquid, hence the quantities given above. The important thing is that you create the conditions to keep the fermenting yogurt warm for six hours or more, to give the bacteria time to do their thing.

Heat the milk slowly, preferably in a fairly wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, until bubbles start forming around the edge. At this point it’s pretty hot but not boiling, and you’ve killed some of the not-so-good bacteria that might fight off the thickening bacteria that you’re about to add (thermometre-obsessives will tell you this is about 82°C.) Then leave it to cool down, until you can rest your little finger in it without feeling scorched (about 45°C).

(My instructions now presume that you’re using a vacuum flask like me. You’ll need to adapt if you’re opting for some other method.)

Remove any skin that may have formed on the warm milk, then ladle out a small amount into the container and beat the starter yogurt into it. Add the rest of the milk and mix it all well. Close the lid, set the flask aside and don’t peek again for another six hours at least. Overnight or 12 hours is better. If conditions are right, the longer you leave it, the more of a bite the yogurt will have.

You should now have beautifully set, creamy yogurt which you can flavour with jam, honey, fresh or cooked fruit… anything really. You can keep your yogurt in the fridge for a week or more, though if you’re using a thermos you’ll need to pour it into another container before transferring it or it may not get cold enough to block the fermentation process properly.

For thicker Greek-style yogurt, line a sieve with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin, pour your fresh yogurt into it and leave it to strain: the longer you leave it, the thicker it will become. (The whey that drips out is rich in proteins and vitamins but low in fat – great for baking and very good, some say, for your skin and hair.)

Now that you have your own yogurt to use as a culture, you’ll need to save a few tablespoons to get your next batch going, so don’t be tempted to eat the lot. Tales of yogurt cultures handed down through generations abound. I’m told that you can freeze yogurt for emergencies (such as some uninformed person polishing off the whole jar while you’re not looking), and unfreeze it to get your culture going again. I have squireled a small pot away in the back of the freezer but have yet to test the theory.



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14 June 2018

Leaning against my car the other evening on the road from Monteleone, waiting for the tow-away vehicle to arrive, I mused on what might have happened had my clutch pedal detached itself from whatever links it to the transmission 24 hours previously, when I was pounding along the motorway, rocked by thunderous trucking. The thought made me nauseous. It wouldn’t have gone well.

I had to cling to that sense of relief – of having been let off lightly by Fate – later that evening as the second scary hailstorm in the space of a week shredded what was left of my roses; the next morning when the mechanic phoned to tell me that repairing the hail damage to my clutch-less car would probably cost more than the car was worth; and later that day when the washing machine – not wanting to be left out of the action – gave up the ghost.

Throughout this I had L stuck in Puglia when he was meant to be in Turin (thank you air traffic controllers) and in need of logistical assistance. And C in Kazakhstan pestering me about the extent of hail damage (none, luckily) to the paintwork of the unsightly camper van abandoned here by her beau as they traipse round central Asia. All in all, it wasn’t a good 24 hours.

In the end, I found other reasons to be cheerful – and I mean reasons other than the clouds of fireflies that accompanied me soothingly as I walked back home down the lane in the dark after I had dumped the car outside the mechanic’s front gate.

My roses are looking pretty shredded, but my vegetable garden escaped relatively unscathed.

I discovered that – very uncharacteristically for stingy me – I had allowed myself to be cajoled into paying to extend the guarantee on the washing machine for three years beyond the statutory two, so it’s still covered.

And as for our dented and scratched car paintwork… I asked the mechanic “how bad does it really look?” (I was too much of a coward to go and look myself.)

“Well,” he said, “you don’t really notice it now because the car’s so dirty…”

“Stop right there,” I said. “I don’t want to know anything else. From this day forward, that car never gets washed. Problem solved.” And so it will be. Dented, scratched and filthy. But functioning without impinging too much more on the bank account.

The two hailstorms were the (bitter) cherries on the cake of this impossibly damp spring. May ended up chucking 214mm of rain into my gauge. Depending on which average you consult, what we should get in May is somewhere between 55mm and 60mm. So we had a lot.

For both hailstorms I was in the house by myself. For both I couldn’t work out what was being thrown on the roof by whom. Golf ball-sized things pummelled us for about 30 minutes in the first, followed by blanketing rain. I made the mistake of thinking that, well wrapped in waterproof cape and boots, I could make an appointment up in town. Three steps out of the car and somehow I was drenched inside my protective layers. I still don’t understand how. As I scurried back round the final bend towards home, a lightning bolt streaked down into the valley in front of me, presumably seeking out the water in the little lake down there. For an hour afterwards, I had to keep blinking to get rid of the blazing zig-zig across my vision. When I checked my little greenhouse the following morning, the roof was full of holes.

When the second hit, I thought that branches were falling off the big oak tree – resounding thuds, far apart. Protected on our slope of the hill, we were spared the worst of it. The repair place where I had left my car – also a car showroom – was towing dozens of new vehicles off to be panel-beaten and resprayed the following morning. Looking at security camera footage, they told me, they saw missiles the size of tennis balls. I know people with broken windows in their houses, and others with no garden left at all.

The effects of this rain and hail and unseasonable cold (it isn’t, in fact, cold now: between precipitations it’s generally a rather lovely sunny high 20s) are manifold, and I’m sure I’ve moaned sufficiently about them elsewhere.

My work is a spirit-dampening procession of disgruntled clients, many of whom just can’t imagine why things can’t be done sooner. Pulled this way and that, I’ve barely had a moment to dedicate to my garden and what I have had, I’ve tended to use in the orto: we have to eat, and the peas – ordinary and mangetout – and broad beans and lovely lettuce that I’m harvesting (almost) make me feel that all is not lost.

The only other thing I do regularly outside is mow the lawn. It is – unusually for my grass, for which I have to say thank you rain: credit where credit’s due – thick and lush, and the sight of it in its magnificent fresh-cut state distracts the eye from the mess that reigns elsewhere… a simple sleight of gardening hand but one I find foolproof.

My fruit trees are fruitless, save of course for the resilient quince which produces whatever happens. I don’t have a single cherry, sweet or sour; neither do I have peaches. What we do have are raspberries, great juicy ones in considerable numbers, and the strawberries are plump. Oh, I was forgetting the mulberries by the gate which this year are more impressive than their usual measly selves. I only pick them to eat en route to the vegetable garden. But maybe I should think of a harvest. It’s a battle, however, between me and the clouds of noisy birds that lift out of the trees each time I pass. I suspect in the end they may win.

I was almost forgetting: an era has ended. The landscape-blighting, nerve-wracking, neighbour-infuriating crane has gone from Mario’s field. It had been there for 13 years, dismantled and abandoned at the end of the reconstruction of our home because it no longer met health and safety requirements. The final struggle was fraught.

I announced to the builder that he would receive the last very small chunk of his payment for the house in town the day he had his rusty old crane towed away. He laughed. I told him I meant it. He looked panicky.

“Go on,” he said, “you pay me, and I’ll make sure it’s gone by June.”

I asked him why on earth he thought I would think it would be gone by June when he’d been telling me for 13 years he’d remove it.

“So you don’t trust me any more,” he said stamping and huffing. Naturally I pointed out that that was the most childish thing I’d ever heard him say. Then I told him that after 13 years of requesting, pleading, threatening and many other modes, I knew that his good intentions were so many paving stones along the road to nowhere. (I didn’t exactly put it like that.)

“But I mean it this time! I didn’t really mean it all those other times. I wasn’t really planning to take it away!”

“So for 13 years you’ve been telling me lies. And now you’re surprised I don’t trust you to do it?” I asked. The argument continued off and on for a couple of weeks.

But now it’s gone and he has his money, though now we scowl when we bump into each other. The monstrosity is no longer looming over my vegetable garden. All I have to do now is get rid of the camper van.

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15 May 2018

0515AGaps have opened up in the garden beds along the terrace outside the kitchen: Ceanothus have inexplicably withered; even well mulched Agapanthus liquified in super-cold weather over the winter. I’ve bought these beauties to fill the voids, but when oh when am I going to get them into the ground? I really can’t remember a more dreadful May.

I’m not sure we quite appreciated what a marvellous April we were having: the hottest, I’ve read, on record in these parts. For two whole weeks there was not a drop of rain, and I was reaching for the sun hats and factor 50+. I had even dusted off my water timers, and purchased new batteries to replace the ones I’ve been recharging for who knows how many seasons.

No need now.

Since 1 May we have had just one day without rain. It’s like being in the tropics. Mornings can be sunny – warm too. But by mid-afternoon at the very latest the occasional fierce water-laden gust of wind nearly blows you off balance, signalling that someone, very close by, is getting drenched. And chances are it’s going to hit you next. Though not necessarily.

Driving up from Po’ Bandino down in the valley the other day, the amount of water cutting in diagonal runnels across the road in front of me was almost frightening, especially as at 20kph – which was about as fast as I could go and still see anything at all – you have all the time you need to appreciate them. This was the situation as far as town. On our side of the hill, 500 metres away, not a drop had fallen. Nothing. Things were looking as dry as they could do given the general swampiness of the area at the moment. But a few hours later, the next bomba d’acqua (water bomb) caught us full on. So far this month we’ve had 139mm of rain. (The May average in Umbria is around 77mm – depending where you look.) The forecast for the foreseeable future is more of the same.

The result of all this on my work is dramatic.

On the one hand I have (understandably) frustrated clients moaning “but it’s just a bit of rain, surely you can work in the rain?” Yes, you can work in the rain, of course. But the rain isn’t the problem. What you can’t do is dig and weed and move earth and build walls and lay pipes in ground which is clinging, filthy, unmanageable mud down to a depth of about a metre.

On the other hand I’m juggling several garden contractors who are fending off frustrated customers and me, poor things. Double demands and a terrible quandary: do you just head out knowing that you can do next-to-nothing, just to show willing, but end up wasting time and petrol? Or do you sit on your hands, mulling over the work-avalanche that you know is going to leave you gasping for breath the moment this meteorological nightmare gives way to proper spring – even summer? It’s a logistical nightmare, with no end in sight.

Yesterday, at a project way along a bumpy but more or less passable white road in the Mugello, east of Florence, my gardening squad (adopting the ‘let’s just go along and see if there’s anything at all we can do, every if it’s probably pointless’ philosophy) arrived to find that someone in their wisdom had tried to fill in the potholes by tipping a truckload of soil on the road. Overnight rain had then turned this into axle-deep mud. By the time I arrived, they had skidded their truck to a half about a third of the way up and were busy trying to work out how on earth to reverse it back down and run away home.

My client had us ferried up to the garden in four-wheel drives. The forecast downpours held off until late in the evening. The tools left in the abandoned truck would have been useful, but the men managed to make do with the ancient intruments left about the property. On this occasion, we were lucky: we were still at the pruning and clearing stage – not the mud-making activities – and we got in a day’s work. A rare triumph in a time of defeats. For the planting, though, all we can do is wait.

Desperately clutching at straws, I have found a couple of silver linings in this dire situation.


Last September I bewailed the effects of an interminably long dry summer on my totally un-irrigated so-called lawn, wondering whether it would ever come back to life. The answer is finally a resounding yes. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend looking too closely at what makes up that marvellous green sward: it’s a fine counter-argument to those spoilsports who condemn lawns as bio-homogenous water-guzzling horrors. But as my mantra goes, if it’s green and (between downpours) you can mow it, it’s a ‘lawn’. For a few lush weeks at least, I will feel like an English gardener.

Unable to rush home from appointments to throw myself into trying to bring some semblance of order into my own waterlogged garden, I’ve treated myself to a couple of nursery visits – places I’ve known about for some time but never dropped by, both of them rose specialists.

I get so infuriated by major vivai (nurseries), the ones who are so full of themselves that when I ask for a variety of a plant that they don’t happen to have they simply peer down their noses at me, barely concealing their contempt for anyone who doesn’t realise that their selection is the ne plus ultra. There’s no concealment at all when I suggest – usually quite peremptorily – that they contact somewhere with a better selection and procure what I want rather than trying to palm me off with something in stock but totally unsuitable.

Which is why I found myself at La Rosa del Borghetto in a most unlikely bit of unspoilt countryside snaking along a narrow arcane-feeling lane unexpectedly near to the centre of Perugia. On that occasion I was looking for climbers for a client – nothing particularly exotic or recherché… just some things that larger suppliers didn’t deign to stock. A delightful source of wonderful plants sold by people with a passion.

It was en route to my Mugello appointment that I noticed that I was speeding past MondoRose, the well constructed website of which is my go-to place when looking for inspiration and guidance in the choice of roses. It’s a kind of bible. But I don’t think I had ever really looked at the address of the nursery, and if I had, I don’t think I would have been able to say where Sieci was. Now I know.

Ambling up and down the rows of lovingly kept plants (they specialise both in old varieties and in David Austin creations) I just wanted to take them all. Instead I limited myself to another R. Munstead Wood, a few beautifully scented R. Yolande d’Aragon – an old variety I wasn’t familiar with but which is a glorious full musty pink – and some dark blue ornamental sages. Now – as I was saying – all I need is a long enough break in this weather to get them into the ground.

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30 April 2018

The manna ash trees have gone beserk. It took me a while to work out what it was. As I zipped round the countryside – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately – I was mesmerised by great clouds of creamy white all over the hillsides, pushing the bright new foliage of the oak forests out of the limelight. It couldn’t be Prunus spinosa (blackthorn) or any of those other outcrops of wild fruit – they just don’t grow tall enough to crest the oaks.

It took me a while to realise that the answer was staring me in the face, in my own home carpark. My crooked little Fraxinus ornus was swathed in an abundance of flower the like of which I’d never seen before.

It’s a pretty tree – comfortingly familiar rather than showy (usually). And it’s the inconspicuous (usually) co-occurring side-kick to the Quercus pubescens (Downy oak) which dominates forests at our altitudes and latitudes. But this year, as I said, the ashes have exploded, and are making sure they’re noticed. Who knew there were so many of them out there?

What I can’t reconstruct in my head, though, is which of them was in leaf first. I should pay more attention because it is, of course, vital.

Phenology (the study of seasonal change in relation to plant and animal life – a new word for me) tells us that, in the UK at least, the ash used to beat the oak regularly  at getting leaves on until less than 100 years ago. Now with rising spring temperatures (we’ve had the hottest April on record here), the faster-reacting oak gets there first every year.

Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak; oak before ash, just a quick dash. (I’ve found an Irish alterative to this familiar bit of rain-forecasting doggerel which says ‘ash before oak, there’ll be smoke [ie it’ll be hot]; oak before ash, there’ll be a smash [high winds]’ – the Irish varying it, presumably, because persistant drizzle is a given.) I’m pretty sure that oak and ash were edging their way out more or less simultaneously here this year. What does that imply for the summer to come?

The rhyme, I’m reading, isn’t a great crystal ball: for all their folksy wisdom our ancients were probably pretty dire at meteorological predictions. In fact, it tells you more about the weather of the preceeding few months – and squelchy, icy late winter was clearly what the ash needed to produce the glories it’s now regaling us with.

It’s tempting, though, to blame this ash activity for the forecast for the foreseeable future. After a couple of glorious weeks being spoilt by temperatures well above the average and days of piercing blue, our forecast has turned abysmal, with biblical downpours and shivery temperatures from tomorrow. Please, let it be as unreliable as the ancients.


In our tiny supermarket the other day, old ladies were lingering more than usual around the checkout. They were taking it in turns to hug the lovely Madonna-faced girl on the till. She’s going away, they wailed to each other. You will come back and see us, won’t you? You won’t just disappear?

She was all quiet sweetness and put the ladies’ fears to rest with a calm smile and a gentle word – so calm and gentle that a tear or two rolled down old faces.

When they had kissed her and stroked her and toddled off, I asked where she was going. Australia? The ends of the earth?

Siena, she said. I’ve decided to go back to university. Fantastic I said. Yes, she said, I’ll be back every weekend.

It’s 91km from here to there – less than an hour and a half in the car. But if it’s robbing them of their favourite supermarket girl, Siena might as well be the end of the world for the ladies.


I have been trying to be good with my asparagus. I only planted it last spring, and managed to force myself to forget it then in order to spare the spears and strengthen the roots.

This year, the experts say, I can take… well, it depends whom you read. The RHS says none at all, others say 50 percent, others anything in between. I think I was good: I don’t think I took more than half of the first crop.

Moreover I weeded the whole long asparagus bed very thoroughly, and nerve-racking work it is. With each tug at an infestante and each gentle prod with my trowel I fully expected to sever one of the precious concealed snub-nosed sprouts. Tip-toeing about, I don’t think I did too much damage.

My novelty crop for this year is strawberries. Not that I didn’t have strawberries already – some large ones in a totally unsuitable place by the carpark where I rarely even find them until after the lizards and other creatures have nibbled them half away; and innumerable wild ones once planted in small quantities outside the kitchen but since eaten by birds with seeds deposited everywhere imaginable. They pop up all over the garden.

But these new ones, I decided, would be far more scientific: planted near the asparagus through very unbecoming white fleece to keep them clean, I would finally get myself a good crop of large strawberries. I might even make jam.

Well, what I now have seems to be a medium crop of strawberries that really don’t taste of much. Am I going to have to start over yet again?


Some weeks ago at an event organised by the great niece (?) of a famous British novelist, I met the granddaughter of a marvelous Swedish writer. This latter later contacted me and asked me to help restore her utterly lovely garden, which I’m doing with great joy.

At her beautiful home, I met the grandson of a great Italian philosopher.

I find it wonderful, moving and utterly charming that in a very down to earth, close-knit way the shadow of an intellectual social crowd of such a different age lives on in quietly beautiful places through descendents who still recognise something in each other.


The other evening as I watered the orto, a nightingale started his glorious song very very close to me. There he was, perched on one of the straggly little oaks just beyond the orto, along the edge of Mario’s field. I cooed at him and thanked him for his song; he gurgled and trilled and paid no notice of me at all, naturally. I was wrapt and thrilled – and quite glad that no one was there to witness me in my over-emotional state. But I don’t think I’d ever knowingly been serenaded by a very visible nightingale before.

Which, now I come to think of it, rather answers my question about which came first. I could see the bird because the oak’s branches were bare. I’m pretty sure that the manna ash was already in its flowery leafy prime by then. Oh dear.



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