1 July 2012

I’m feeling kind of hard done by. This should be the time of the year when being outside is a joy – that fantastic springy opportunity to catch up, finally, with all the things you’ve been meaning to do but have been stymied by rain. But these temperatures in the 30s just go on and on with no end in sight. Yesterday it was 39.5°. And it was June.

I’ve grudgingly agreed to sleep downstairs – that’s how hot it is. I’m terribly attached to my own bed. It’s a very comfortable bed, and I feel right sleeping there. Naturally, I’m generally willing to surrender it for a substitute in some luxurious hotel. But when I’m at home, I like sleeping in the proper place. But for all my temperature control strategies, it’s hot up there.  Downstairs on the other hand, the situation is much cooler: east-facing and built into the side of the hill, the ground floor is spared all the sun of the long, drowsy afternoons. There’s a more-than-five degree difference in temperature.

It’s odd, really, spending your hottest days of summer in a dark house, windows and shutters firmly closed, but it’s the only way.  The light is hot. The air is hot. The windows I can open are dictated by the sun’s course. There’s still some cooler night air lingering around the west-facing side of the house in the morning: the bathroom windows on that side can stay open, to be shut about lunch time when the air there begins heating up. On the east side, the sun is already warming things by 9am. Best, then, to keep the windows bolted until late in the afternoon when it’s long gone. Now that I’ve finished the mosquito screens for up there, the windows can stay open all night… as long as I can get up early enough to close them before the sun gets hot again. And that means before. Well, eight at very latest. It’s a full-time job. Even if the heat didn’t leach all energy out of you, this would.

The oddest thing is late at night, outside the house: touch the walls, and they don’t feel particularly warm; but stand 20 centimetres away from them, and you can feel the heat oozing out. It makes you glad to be here and not in Rome, for example, where that heat is emanating from a forest of walls and from the ground too. Even the thought makes me faint.

All of which makes it sound like I don’t like the heat. But I do. I love this feeling. I love the way that the weed rampage slows down – even though the window of opportunity for extracting the ones that were already there is limited to early morning (hopeless – I just can’t make myself get up) or late in the evening (equally hopeless – people will insist on extending enticing invitations).

 **********

Each summer turns into The Year of the (fill in the fruit). And often The Year of the (fill in the bug).

This year, as far as the former is concerned, it’s apricots. Our tiny tree is bowed down with them. Up to now, we have had three (yes, three) apricots the year before last and a tale of woe last year when the one tiny stunted fruit to survive spring gales clung on for weeks, until just before it was ripe, then fell and was devoured by ants and other such beasts before I could save it. This year each day the colour deepens, the branches dip further, and I taste one fruit – getting sweeter with every passing day – to gauge when I can whip off the rest for consumption and jam. Hardly any time to go now. The old battered apricot tree on our border with Mario’s land, above the vegetable garden, is also laden: this is the first time I’ve ever seen apricots on that tree. The fruit there are greener,  more blotchy, less developed. They’re clearly going to be larger than those on the little tree, and much later.

As for bugs. Well. So far, apart from those infuriating buzzy pesky flies – horrid beasts with pale brown and black patterns on their v-shaped wings, that swarm around me and buzz into my face whenever I step outside to do some gardening – we’re surprisingly pest-free.

I think the snow really did for our wasps. Last year there was a black cloud of them above the roof, and a mini-nest beneath each tile. This year they are remarkable only by their absence. Aphids, so far, are holding off. There’s a pale dusting of mealy bug on L’s raspberries, but I keep zapping them with pyrethrum.

And ants. Everywhere. But fighting ants is a sisyphean task. I throw in the towel there.

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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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