23 December 2011

I’ve just been sowing tomato and pepper seeds. It always feels strange, when we’re blue with cold, to be sticking those vulnerable little things into damp compost. But they’re in my unspeakably inelegant greenhouse now, along with various cuttings… not to mention (over-optimistic?) pots sown with basil and coriander seeds which are, against all the odds, sprouting.

I expect they’re doing so because during the day, it’s like an oven in there. It may suddenly have grown impossibly freezing (by which I mean proper winter temps and exactly right for the time of year) but after a two-day rainy hiatus, it has gone back to azure skies without a cloud in them, so when the sun beats down on that ripped and crumpled plastic, the air inside gets seriously hot.

Sowing tomato seeds gives you hope. Yes, all right. We’ve had such an exceptional winter so far that we’re not really all that much in need of hope. But it does have that ‘spring will come’ glimmer-of-light feeling. As does the fact that I’ve noticed – since well before the solstice, oddly – a slight lengthening of the days. I used to batten down the hatches shortly after 4.30pm. But for the past ten days or so, there has been light until well after five. Small comfort, but still satisfying nonetheless. We’re moving in the right direction.

My mouselike Manuela has left me, suddenly announcing that she was back off to Germany. I’m glad she did it now, when everything’s at a standstill for a month or two: it would be dreadful to see fields of weeds rampaging the moment she turned her back. But there I was, revelling in having someone competent to do the boring bits and off she goes. Maybe I was getting too blasé. Now the dreadful search begins again.

Our friend Tom – another person who will miss Manuela dreadfully – suggests getting enough people around here to commit to sufficient hours to bring someone over from England who knows what they’re doing and who would amble from one house to another keeping them in order. It’s a good idea. Kind of. But getting a large number of people to agree then stick to an arrangement of the sort might prove tricky in the end. And also, it brings us back to the eternal question: why aren’t there any gardeners around here worth their salt? Is it so difficult to weed and tidy? Is it really such terrible work that no one wants to do it? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t moan about their gardener, who are mostly of the retired bloke who really only likes wielding power tools ilk. No one has ever found anyone prepared to stoop down just a little to pull out a weed, much less take a trowel to the soil to dig a weed up by its roots. If you can’t strim it, it can stay. Oh dear.

24 December 2011

Abrupt change of scenery. It’s a drizzly white-out out there. I was sure I saw a tiny snowflake or two when I walked up to town this morning, but it didn’t come to anything. Just English-style dampness.  Now thick mist has settled across the valley and, mid-afternoon, the house is dark as evening inside.

It’s good digging-in-for-Christmas weather I guess. And it makes me even more glad that I have no more rounds to do. The approach of the year seemed to bring on a sudden desire on the part of clients – and maybe on my part too – to make it seem like something was being done, despite the fact that at this time of year more or less nothing is being done, anywhere. So Peter and I had to comb the northern Lazio countryside for sample bits of wall-building tufa to take to the garden we’re doing in Rome; and I had to shoot across to Tarquinia to meet up with my client to get an immense pile of papers signed and off to the relevant authorities in order to obtain the necessary permits to make impossibly minimal improvements (plus pool) to a very small garden; and I had to slog up into the hills near here with Giuseppe, my dear bulldozer boy, to find out just how far out I was in my initial cost estimate for this odd little project (quite a bit – and underestimating, of course).

Now, I suppose, people have other things to think about other than their soggy patches and so do I. Quite a lot of what I have to do is outside, but I’m not going out there in this, so that’s not going to get done. And the rest is in here… but somehow I’m having trouble forcing myself to write Christmas cards this year. I sent eight this morning. Not very impressive. And I have many more on my list to do. New Year cards now. Or maybe happy Easter. Still, I like to think it prolongs to joys of the festive season. That’s my excuse anyway.

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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