16 March 2011

This post first appeared on my website.
Yesterday evening I looked out as I was closing the shutters, and sauntering up the field were six boars of a size you wouldn’t want to run into when you weren’t expecting it. I had been feeling almost sorry for our local piggy friends, after this winter of hunting when dozens of them were blasted away down in the valley below our house. But as we stood on the terrace upstairs looking down on them, and they turned coolly to look at us (I swear, if they’d had eyebrows, they would have been raising one of them in our general direction with smirks on their faces) my sympathy vanished, whoosh. Ugly-looking beasts. And so ungainly. And with no right to stroll about our fields. They looked as if they thought they owned the place.

These are scirocco days, with a slightly yellow glow to the leaden skies, and rain – lots and lots of rain – thick with Sahara dust. Sitting inside here, in our house which tends to be delightfully cool, summer and (unfortunately) winter, it looks so murky out there that your winter-tuned mind is telling you that it must be as cold as it is miserable. Yet the thermometre on the terrace has shown highs of 19-20 degrees, a difficult concept to get into my head.

Things are sprouting: there are lots of daffodils being battered by the rain, and my pea plants are finally poking through – real peas, not sweet ones. But this spring (as I say most springs, for one reason or another) is an odd one. Last week I was driven to watering the vegetable garden: the beds were bone dry. This week, there are pools of water lying in the beds, despite my perfect free-draining compost up there, and I’m wondering whether those little broad bean and onion plants – all looking wonderfully larger in the heat – are simply going to keel over from root rot or something horrid like that. As for the seeds I have up on the terrace (I gave up on my first lot of tomatoes and chillis: nothing ever came up) I don’t know whether to keep them covered or allow them to be waterlogged each day. All very confusing.

I know we’re not officially in spring yet – still five days to go until the equinox – but I feel it’s now really upon us. This is amusing in its way, in that I’ve been issuing dire warnings against complacency and gun-jumping to anyone who cares to listen, warning them not to rush to plant because I was sure nature had some surprises still to chuck at us. Clearly the shock of last year’s 9 March blizzard has stuck. But spring has very clear, irrefutable, tell-tale signs for me, and I’m not talking about nature. Well, not the outside kind. And all of them have now presented themselves.

First of all, my nose starts dripping. I don’t suffer from allergies. I don’t sneeze (much) and my eyes don’t stream. But my nose is always damp, like a healthy puppy.

Secondly, my sense of smell becomes so acute that I spend quite a lot of my time feeling ill. The other evening we went to a presentation of Arnaldo Capraia’s newly released vintages in one of our favourite restaurants in Orvieto, Il Saltapicchio. The wine was… well, full of potential but way too young to taste properly, and my tongue was stiff and sore with the tannins in it. And the food, as always, was prepared with passion and wonderfully fresh. But the smell of frying meat from the kitchen (delicate little pork balls) was making my stomach churn for much of the evening – nothing to do with the chef, Valentina: this was probably a nicer-than-normal cooking smell, but for some reason it was having a very strange effect on me.

And lastly, I’m always dog tired. So much for the joys of spring; I’m just wiped out. Well, not quite true because there are joys a-plenty (I’ve just wandered outside and noticed that my alliums are now ten centimetres high – proper plants already, so satisfying). But it’s a real effort to get out of bed in the morning, and to keep my eyes open much after nine in the evening. Which for me, night owl that I am, is unheard of.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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