8 September 2011

I should go back to my old gardens more often. And perhaps more pre-arranged. I was on the coast near Tarquinia yesterday, and took a trip up to town to see the garden I did there some years ago. I may have heard noises coming from inside the house. But it was lunch time and I didn’t want to interrupt. So I just peered through the high gates and enjoyed seeing that it was all being looked after.

It didn’t look horribly manicured: it looked lived-in. The grass between the paving stones was lush. The little olive tree I planted at the entrance to the lawn seemed far bigger than it should be. I could see healthy fruit trees beyond and the now-droopy heads of the Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle around the little fountain were huge and had clearly been glorious. But mostly it’s nice to see that the garden is loved. I can even forgive them the children’s slide in horrendous plastic colours – it means that grandchildren or beings of that ilk are being allowed to run wild. Good good good.

I was in the area to take a look at another garden – or rather a large expanse of very bumpy 1970s paving slabs: bumpy because (now defunct) pine trees had tried to push their roots up through them, and because time had taken its toll. The house is a late-seventies extravaganza of asymmetrical diagonals and pointy edges. The garden, as is, is a mess. It will, I hope, be a fun project.

Since when I have been elbow deep in my maslin pan. The peach tsumani keeps on coming, almost washing me away. So much peach jam. So much peach chutney. Unthinkable quantities in fact. I shall be playing Lady Bountiful all year. And probably wondering – as I give it all away and fail to consume much of the stuff myself at all – what on earth possessed me. But I can’t just let them rot. Well, I can’t just let them all rot, because many are doing just that, among my vegetables and squashed on the drive, and lying in wait to turn my ankle as I slip on the mess all over the carpark. The only thing they haven’t done yet is ripen properly on the tree. I ate one today: delicious but crispy. I guess the next stage will be preserving the fruit in syrup. Or maybe I could just freeze it. Mind you, there’s really not much room left in the freezer. Far too much goodness around.

In the midst of peach concoctions, I also whipped up our winter’s supply of rose hip syrup. I like to think that this is the magic elixir which keeps us (relatively) healthy all winter. If I’m being more realistic, I’m forced to admit that our not coming regularly into contact with hordes of sneezing germ-ridden humanity is what really does that.The moment I go to Rome or seat myself in a crowded train, I succumb to some nasty lurgy. But there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that my rugosa roses may have helped to stave disease off for a little bit. And that they may be laying in a stock of benefits for the future.

Apparently apart from the high vitamin C levels (far higher than citrus fruits), they have vitamins A, D and E. They have anti-inflammatory properties and so keep arthritis at bay; they have all kinds of things which stave off cardiovascular disease, and others which deal with cancer, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections… you name it. Pliny the Elder, I’ve read, named 32 conditions which could be alleviated by rose hips. Well, my syrup is all ready in the pantry to keep us healthy. If we remember to swig it.

And of course I’ve been making passata. It’s odd having tomatoes so late in the season. Vittorio popped down today (I’m not sure what for… it was one of his more inexplicable visits) and I thought he was about to go up and squeeze the plants to make sure they were real. “Mine are all dried up,” he moaned. “I’m about to pull them out.” Mine, on the other hand, are dipping and bowing under the weight of the ripening fruit. Of course, Vittorio will have had tomatoes all summer, when the closest I got to one was the fantastic smell left on my fingers as I tied in branches which seemed determined to grow as slowly as possible. But now the ripe fruits are piling up on my big tray in the projection room, to be fished out and bubbled down as soon as they’re a good deep red.

Slowly but surely – in fact, not so slowly really – the empty jar pile in the pantry is shrinking and the shelves are filling up with bottled edibles. Were it not so hot and dry around here, you’d almost think that winter was on its way. But the sky continues blue and there’s not a drop of rain forecast for the next week at least. The thermometre goes on hitting thirty day after day. What a very strange September.

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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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