23 July 2012

We’ve passed from endless summer to endless hurricane. Since yesterday morning it has done nothing but blow, fiercely. My poor echinacea are bent double and I have just found a pumpkin plant snapped right off.

At first, yesterday, it was pleasant to be able to step outside in the day time and not feel ourselves wilting. And after weeks of living in penumbra, it filled me with wonder when I realised we could open the shutters and let the light stream into the house without heating it to oven temperatures. Now, however, the novelty has worn off.

Of course, the storms promised with this spell of inclement weather have not materialised. Two rather forlorn drops this morning. Since when, nothing, though the forecasts on various sights are still festooned with drops of various shapes and sizes for today. Sunburnt plants are now battered and wind-burnt. Can’t we just have some normal weather, please?

The odd thing about the extreme heat of the last four weeks is that nothing (except couch grass, but then that’s always the infuriating exception) is growing. My tomato plants are tiny and so far we have had a couple of handfuls of cherry toms… always the first to take off. The courgette plants have produced enough for a few meals. The cabbages were already big when the heat hit, since when they haven’t really done much except crack open dramatically. It’s all rather bare.

It is – and has been for the past four weeks – like August, when everything usually comes to a halt. With the worrying difference that we never had a proper June and July for things to put on a spurt. If it gets a little cooler, will they now do an early-summer-style dash?

The only thing this weather seems to be good for is fruit. The apricot super-glut is over. I have bottled apricots, frozen apricots, dried apricots, apricot jam and still a tiny lump of apricot sorbet languishing somewhere in the freezer. I’ll polish that off now, I think. We ate kilos of the things fresh, and we used them to top cheesecakes. I should be saying that I never want to see another apricot again – and indeed I’d be perfectly happy never to have to remove another apricot stone – but I have to say I miss walking up to the orchard and picking up a handful of hard little fruit, hot from the sun, from where they had fallen off and scattered themselves across the lawn, and eating them then and there. Tart, tangy, delicious.

The plums on the droopy tree in the vegetable garden – the ones I like to refer to as damsons though I know they aren’t – are bigger and darker than I’ve ever seen them, though they’re still not nearly ripe. Ditto the peaches which have already reached the size they generally are when perfectly mature, yet they’re still green and rock hard – too hard even for insects to make an assault on them. If they ever ripen, they will be magnificent.

So my dribble pipes have been going, stingily in someplaces, generously in the orto. And the assorted sprinklers have, from time to time, been let loose on the grass. But this latter has been more to placate L than for any real effect. I don’t think that the thing I call ‘the lawn’ would react to anything other than a week of regular downpours. It’s beige and parched and the only thing with even the faintest tinge of green about it is the bindweed which is rampant, as usual – and now bursting into flower, to add insult to injury. Lizards seem to delight in the lack of resistance and it’s a colander of neat holes which tails wriggle down into whenever I pass. And though L seems distressed by this state of affairs, I, of course, take it all in my stride.

An emerald green sward when all around we’re hearing desperate tales of empty wells and trucked-in water would seem greedy to me. And irresponsible. I don’t need to sit on my grass. I don’t want to frolic on it. Of course I’d like it to be less unsightly. Then again I’d like the fields to be verdant too, but at this time of year they’re burnt and thirsty looking. It’s just what happens. So I live with my savannah and look forward to the autumn. It is, I’m convinced, the right way to go.

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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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