28 May 2012

This back-and-forth, sun and showers (not to mention downpours) weather is getting quite trying. Yesterday, for example, was one of those Sundays when there was a veritable social-event train-crash – lunch, party, drinks, dinner – and the sun shone bright out of a clear sky as I tapped my foot and bit my nails, enjoying myself certainly, but so sorry not to be pulling weeds.

Today, on the other hand, I threw open the shutters, expecting the day to be a battle of wills between the work I desperately need to do inside and the sun-tinged gardening that my soul longs to do. Niente da fa’: rain was dribbling down the windows and a pall of gloom settled over me. At least it solved my dilemma.

I suspect I induced fate to throw today’s glumness at us by doing my cambio di stagione yesterday. Last night at dinner my friend Paola allowed herself a moment’s contented pride – not quite a gloat but definitely a moment’s satisfaction – about this cambio. ‘You don’t really do that in England, do you?’ The implication, of course was: what’s the point in putting away your winter clothes and pulling down your summer ones from their storage place when in that country you don’t know whether you’re going to have anything resembling a summer anyway? She’s right of course.

In Italy, on the other hand, what you wear when is something akin to a religious ritual. You notice it most in spring, when the whole population seems to be awaiting some mysterious sign that the time has come to stop wearing padded jackets and winter boots. It can arrive quite late in the year, usually well into May and definitely after a long long period when the population has been thoroughly convinced that a return to winter conditions is unthinkable. This behaviour still, after all these years, catches me unprepared, pushing me into odd disconnect situations. The week before last in Rome, it was hot. Seriously hot. But until I thought the thing through I was worried that maybe I was running a high fever because all around me were Romans in thick sweaters and jackets and scarves, looking as if that kind of attire were completely suitable.

I have given up trying to bring the summer forward by abandoning tights on hot days: I can’t take the angst it causes any ladies of a certain age I come in bare-legged contact with. And I push my cambio di stagione further back each year. Today, though, I’m wondering whether my friend Paola wasn’t right when she shook her head and said archly ‘a bit early, don’t you think?’

My experiment last winter to see when (and how roughly) roses are best transplanted has gone up in smoke rather, ruined by the fact that I have no recollection of which was moved when or how… though my photos suggest that the ones closer to the house were moved first, with more care, in early December and those are, unquestionably, larger and bushier than those nearer the old vaschetta. The end result of both bouts of rose-shifting, however, is phenomenally happy bloom-covered scarlet roses, making a previously scrubby bank look gratifyingly like it’s a thought-out part of a garden. Mind you, they couldn’t look much more miserable than where they were over on the north side of the house: if you want to feel very good about moving your roses, the moral seems to be, transfer them from where they are struggling to survive to where conditions are just perfect.

The hastily-dug strip where the potatoes are looking verdant now also gives the impression of being part of a ‘plan’. My dear cleaning lady Monica, who was given the job of watering along there when we were in France, was thrilled and delighted with the way I mix vegetables with flowers and jumble them around in unexpected spots of my garden. I’m not sure than most people around here think of it as anything other than stupidity or disorganisation. Monica was a perfect garden-waterer, by the way. If you want your plants to be properly cared for – for short periods at least – choose someone who knows nothing about plants… in fact who is rather terrified at being given the responsibility. They won’t try to ‘improve’ on anything for you, without your approval. And they will do everything, anything, to keep your scary green things alive.

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Our lunch appointment on our busy Sunday was at the house of Australian friends who last year saw the whole hillside around them – not to mention their own beautiful garden – stripped bare by gypsy moth caterpillars (Lymantria dispar). That’s a phenomenon that’s meant to occur once every nine or ten years, tops, around here. But we spent a couple of hours picking absailing caterpillars off each other’s clothes and out of each other’s hair, and viciously squashing the little beasts underfoot (while, of course, enjoying the lunch and the company too). Two years in a row? That’s not fair. We did a thorough inspection of our car before driving off: we last had them in 2002 and we really don’t want them back.

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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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