30 March 2012


The clocks have gone forward, the nightingales have come back. What better signs can there be that spring is here? Actually, another pretty good indication would be my peas coming up but they’re showing no sign of doing so.

Experts seem to agree that the maximum pea germination time is 36 days. When did I plant mine? January 21. How many days from then to now? Hmmm. I make that about 67. Too many, clearly. Of course, for about 21 of those days the poor little seeds were under a metre of snow. Even so. I think I may have to start again, fast. Last year I had so many peas that we were eating them for three meals a day. Processing them is so dull. Then again, each time I open the freezer and haul out another bag full of beans or courgettes, I do kind of wish that I had frozen rather than eaten my peas. At the time, though, they were very good.

My germination dilemma extends into my greenhouse. I don’t know why I sow tomatoes in December/January. They never come up until now. Why did I get it into my head that that was a good idea? It was an especially bad idea this year, with snow plunging through the disintegrated top of my plastic greenhouse and coming to rest in a thick, smooth layer on top of the poor little seed beds. Now most of those seeds are coming up. Most. Not all. And now. I might have had more success had I started the whole process off a week ago.

I have taken the plunge in my new vegetable patch and planted my potatoes (Monalisa whites and Draga reds) and my onions (again, half white and half red). The quantities won’t be immense: I divided that 10m x 1.5m strip into three equal parts, so the potatoes and onions each have just under three and a half metres to themselves; the far third is divided between cabbages and parsnips. That should relieve the pressure in my old orto. At least for a bit.

I’ve been rather too calm, I think, in my search for someone to help me in the garden. With no rain at all (still), the weeds have been slow and I have been complacent. For all that we desperately need rain, I dread the moment when everything bursts into rampant life. And it will, I know. There’s rain forecast for much of next week, and though forecasts have come to signify little or nothing in our drought-pocket, one day it has to happen. Our friends T&A sent their Sri Lankan gardener down – a sweet boy who left Galle when the tsunami swept his house away. But he’s too busy so he sent his friend. It’s funny how gardening seems to bring out national characteristics, reinforcing our silly stereotypes. Manuela was the ‘archetypal’ German, methodical and thorough but slow and unimaginative. Most Italians refuse to allow gardening to represent an affront to their manhood and will do anything you want as long as it can be done with a loud power tool in hand. Sri Lankans on the other hand say they will do anything you want, and say it with their lovely smiles; but they hate the idea of disappointing anyone and will never say “no” if they can help it. It’s taking me a while to work out when “yes” means “yes”, when it means “maybe” and when it means “not a hope in hell”. Also, the idea of timetables seems to be beyond them: they turn up whenever they feel like it, and can’t seem to get their heads around the idea of X hours a week.

I’ve been trying to work out what gardening brings out in Brits – not that I think of myself as particularly representative of that nation. My salient gardening features are frantic bursts of activity – so frantic that they’re often pretty slap-dash – interspersed with long periods of terribly good intentions but little action as everything goes to seed around me. Luckily, I accompany this with a happy capacity for not seeing what is there but framing in my mind’s eye what should be… or, as I tell myself, what will be, very soon.


Sciatica seems to be the affliction of the moment: several of our friends are suffering from it, including lovely Maria in the agriturismo up the road who is limping between house and olive trees and chickens in the most painful way. “In the olden days,” she told L yesterday, “the contadini (peasants) use to…” At this point, obviously, L was waiting for some arcane recipe involving poultices of boiled herbs, plucked under a full moon in certain bewitched woods. “… go down to Rome,” she continued, “to a German doctor who punched a hole in their heel and drew off cupfuls of some horrible black liquid.” What a disappointment! Though with delightful overtones of complete quackery. How strange to think of the local yokels taking their back problems off to the big city. They must have been quite a sight, blinking in the bright lights as they hobbled off in their Sunday best to be drained.


My article on the papal farm has appeared in Gourmet magazine. Thanks heavens no one say fit to use the headline “Holy Cows”. It’s always a nail-biter, this not knowing whether someone is going to take your respectable, respectful prose and turn it into a tabloid-style shocker. But no, Gourmet did me proud. Now, maybe, they’ll let me back into the gardens for pure pleasure, taking with me all those friends who have been making jealous noises ever since I went.


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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