4 August 2011

In general, I’m a big fan of www.meteoblue.com which uses Swiss numerical data for its weather forecasts and gets them almost uncannily right. It does give itself some leeway: it’ll tell you that rain is 15 percent possible, or 55 percent, or 95 percent. But if it’s over 50 percent, you can be pretty damn sure it’s going to rain.

Norcia

Yet our weird summer seems to have foiled even MeteoBlue. Last night, there was a zero percent chance of rain. And it rained. This morning before six I was awoken by a strange thrumming from outside: driving rain, with a little fine hail in it, driven along by a gale-force wind… this on a morning when MeteoBlue promised a huge sun. After a gorgeous late spring and early summer, another huge storm hit mid-July and temperatures plummetted: we got drenched when we visited Norcia two weekends ago; and one memorable afternoon I got into the car at 3.30pm to see that the thermometer said 15.5 degrees. In mid-afternoon. At the end of July. It should have been 35.5!

Enough weather. Of course the fall-out from all of this is a countryside of unbelievable spring-like green-ness. And a sea of weeds as far as the eye can see, especially as I have barely set foot in the garden for weeks.

I go up to check my backwards vegetables from time to time: it’s proving to be a great year for courgettes which usually just dissolve in a cloud of dry mould when they’re subjected to too much heat and drought. And I think I’m about to have a runner bean mountain. But my tomato plants are still way behind: it’s most strange to have a summer which doesn’t involve an almost daily boiling up of excess tomatoes for passata. And it’s ironic of course that the dearth comes in the only summer in living memory when it’s actually cool enough to have pots boiling in the kitchen.

Besides that, I’ve been chained to my computer. L took on the rewriting/ translation of a website for a huge (though rather fine) Sicilian wine producer… with a huge website to match the company’s output. (This is part of our new drive to stop earning so much in worthless pounds and get some euros into our bank account: the exchange rate is shocking.) Then Conde Nast Traveller started clamouring for him to go to Switzerland for a story and guess who was left holding the translation-baby? Now, if there’s one thing I hate it’s translating. But put that together with an August of abundant weeds and the presence – here in the house and up the road at Maria’s agriturismo – of lots of friends whom you’d rather like to be spending some relaxed catching-up time with and hey presto… summer frustration. Mind you, I can’t complain too much (though I do): I don’t think L had any desire to be banished to the Alps either…

Oddly, despite the doodlysquat pound, I have found myself being contacted  recently by citizens of the British Isles seeking garden help. And even more strangely, it’s through a site called AngloInfo which I vaguely remember having put my details on years ago but which had since slipped my mind entirely. Has the site re-positioned and re-launched? Just as well someone is out there working for me because my own site is a disaster. Of course, if this post ever makes it on to www.laverzura.com, it means that my problems have been overcome. But as it is, the site is down, homepage-less until I complete the complex task of shifting the whole thing from useless Telecom Italian Network which, I found when I struggled in vain to reload my homepage after tweaking something, only gives me a tiny amount of web space… and I have exceeded it – hence no way of reloading the page which allows people into my site in the first place. It’s all so confusing. And a classic example of Anne biting off more than she can chew.

I built my site in some down-time, many years ago, and thought at the time I understood more or less what I was doing. Since when I’ve only had to do the extremely simple business of creating and uploading the occasional new page. I have no recollection whatsoever of the nuts and bolts of setting up a site. In fact, as I ponder the rage-provokingly inscrutable way in which my defunct site refuses to yield up any of its technical secrets to me, I wonder how I did at all in the first place.

So, where was I? Oh yes, Brits who have at least (I hope) sufficient money, even when converted into euros, to feel able to ask me to come take a look at their gardens – a smallish one in Fabro, no distance at all away from here, and a larger one across on the Tyrrhenian coast at Marina Velca, near Tarquinia. It would be good to have a couple of new projects to see me through the autumn. And it would be interesting to work with British people.

When I started this landscaping thing, I presumed that it would be all ex-pats clamouring for my services. Since when I have worked almost exclusively with Italians. I suppose there are more Italians who don’t feel at all confident with DIY garden design; in fact Italians seem largely – with a few notable exceptions – to have given up garden design as a national sport some centuries ago. They don’t have round-the-clock garden makeover programmes clogging up their airwaves; and they haven’t had their tastes and fashions dictated to them safely by TV pundits. They really do need my guidance.

Not so the Brits, who have seen how to do it so many times that they really can’t work out what I could possibly do that they can’t.

This is not to say that I don’t think many people are perfectly capable of making their own gardens: anyone who knows what they want in their garden and why, what purpose their garden must serve and how best it will be a place of delight to them should indeed do their own. If they feel confident about that; and if they have the technical wherewithal to build a real garden around their dreams. A designer in that mix would probably mean grief.

But there are just as many people who kind of intuit what they want (I shall not go into those who don’t have a clue here…) but can’t quite make it come together, like the words which just won’t materialise to express a fleeting image of rare beauty. That, for me, is the most interesting client. If I can listen and grasp and make someone’s greatest desires concrete – mixing in an improvement or two of my own, naturally, otherwise I wouldn’t feel that I have had my own important share in the garden – then that makes me happy.

As for my garden? A disaster; a miasma of rain-fuelled weeds and utter neglect. I’m going to take a few days off now to beat it into shape. Come mid-August and L’s birthday party, it should be looking good.

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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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