17 July 2011

Ladakh was fantastic and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but the net result here is an Umbrian garden over which I should (but in the end don’t) hang my head in shame. The vegetable garden, in particular, is pitiful. L keeps telling me not to be ridiculous: that it was only ten days after all. But of course it was far more than ten days, what with the deck-clearing prior to leaving and the rush to make up for lost time on our return. For about three weeks I didn’t set foot out there. And that, heaven help us, was crucial planting time.

My tomatoes are May-high, with the tiniest of green lumps here and there, and though I keep telling myself that I will have fantastic fruit through to December when everyone elses’ plants are long exhausted, I’m not convincing myself entirely. Everything else is similarly minuscule, though we’ve had some good beans off my few plants, and the ones planted later are whizzing along. But it all just looks so empty up there… my spinach seedlings died on me, my sweet corn never came up at all. The courgettes are limping along. And the peppers have (as usual, I admit) died a death. After our spring bursting with peas and broadbeans, it doesn’t have a very bounteous feel to it.

It doesn’t help, of course, that this is the time when the artichokes die back for a few weeks, so the whole feel of the entrance to the house is desolate and void. The of course there’s the sunset garden… such a sad, old-peoples’-home name that we’ve given up using it and reverted to orchard plain and simple.

First we built the pergola which looks good but still is hollow in the base because we’ve never managed to get around to hauling our excess stones up there to fill it. We have so many in this stoney land of ours, you’d think it was an easy thing. But no – even the idea of gathering our unwanted rocks then heaving them uphill to the orchard makes us break out in a sweat… a very hot one in this sweltering July. So that can stay as is for the time being. But in the mean time, the grass needed to be seeded. And what better time to do it than… July 16. How on earth did I back myself into that particular corner?

The wooden edging to the garden was a devil to get in place, and the tufa sand to smooth out the patch of land took forever to haul (dear Giuseppe kindly dumped it on the far side of the rose hedge). Then we went to Ladakh. But finally I got the sand beautifully in place, burying and concealing the rocks and stones and gravel and all the rest of the builders’ debris dumped up there all those years ago when we were restoring the house. The we went to England for C’s graduation, returning two days after The Storm.

The Storm swept through here like a hurricane, we were told, knocking out our electricity (all my lovely spring vegetables, a pile of mush in the bottom of the freezer!) , skewing one of the little persimmon trees in the carpark to a 45 degree angle and of course washing away huge quantities of my freshly spread tufa, carving deep rivulets in what remained and exposing so many of my carefully concealed rocks. I could have cried. Then again, the hail (which was terrifying, people said) could have done much more damage: I took/take comfort in that. My hunch not to bother planting much more than a few lettuces in the orto had proved right: they were oddly shredded, as if someone had given them a swift whizz in the blender.

Now though, I have redistributed and resmoothed what remains of my battered sand. I have rigged up and put into operation a rather professional-looking water-shooting thing (which is, I have to admit, infuriatingly hampered by the poor little apricot tree in the middle of the space: my sympathy for this plant is limited by the fact that it produced one single pathetic fruit this year, knocked off in The Storm and therefore useless but then again, in years to come it may just perform better). And I have sown grass, with lashings of ant killer (organic credentials out the window) and manure to try to encourage it to take in such a barren wasteland, though I know good soil lurks just below the surface. Now we shall see. If the ants don’t walk away with all the seed, how pleasant it will be to have a mediumly acceptable lawny surface on the only flat bit of land we possess. I’ll just keep my machine squirting.

The little corner of land to the south of the house which for so long languished beneath a fraying old tarpaulin is beginning to look slightly better. I say slightly, because there’s one exasperating corner where I’ve sown grass seed five or six times and still it’s bare. But my currant plants are coming along – we had handfuls of blackcurrants – and finally, finally, we have hacked back through some of the Arundo donax to clear a view down the field and bring some light to that area. The bitter orange tree – positively dripping with incipient fruit now – should be happy with this development. The reed-clearing is no merit of ours. We have found a Useful Boy. A fantastic boy, in fact, a Romanian IT student called Ovidio. He strims and hacks and generally toils in a very determined way of a Saturday morning. And there’s no end of that kind of thing needed around here.

So, despite everything, I keep my gardening spirits up. I won’t be beaten by it, and I won’t allow it to become a weigh hanging over my head. What’s the point of a garden if it doesn’t bring pleasure? I potter and toil and and heave and bash, and in the end it will all come right. When that will be, heaven knows. But in the mean time I shall enjoy myself. Most of the time. And of course lose weight as I swing a pickaxe or a sledge hammer in this sweaty heat. There’s so much that needs doing, so much that is crying out for radical change, But I won’t succumb to garden angst. I enjoy myself far too much out there for that.

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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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