24-25-26 August 2012


24 August 2012

I saw that someone who had stumbled across my blog had clicked on May 28 of this year, so just out of interest I went to see what they found. Such a shock. Lawns a green sward. Roses bursting out all over. How different the picture is now. Lawns dead and brown. Roses stunted and brown.

I’m feeling foolish and horribly guilty about those roses. For a while there I thought I could (1) keep the lawns limping along and (2) at the same time, by indescriminate sprinkling, keep the roses happy too. Wrong on both counts but it wasn’t until the leaves of the roses were curled up and miserable that I realised I was making a major mistake. It was made in good faith. In all these years, I have never had any problems getting enough water to my roses. It has (or rather had) never occurred to me to provide them with their own watering system. They just went on, and on, and on… flowering through the summer and looking – well, tired at times but never exhausted.

I haven’t rigged them up with the plant-by-plant drip system that they need. But I have become their drip. Above each plant (they’re all on slopes) I’ve dug a deepish hole. Every second or third evening I dribble huge quantities of water into these holes. It takes me hours. But it is working, and it is salving my conscience a little. When I came home from town this morning and caught a whiff of R. Felicia bloom on the air (there are just a few, timid flowers hiding beneath leaves), I felt that I had been forgiven. For now at least.

If only it would rain.

The woods across the valley are full of autumn colours. Well, that’s what I call it when I’m feeling optimistic. But I know quite large trees are dying all around. I hope that’s not that which is turning the leaves that russet colour.


25 August 2012

Keen for a jaunt, we took the funny little cross-country train from Chiusi to Siena, to see the uncovered Duomo floor marbles in their entirety. The train is charming, frequented by locals using it as a bus – which is of course how trains should be – and mostly rather large, older, northern European and Anglo-Saxon women skipping stages of what I presume are well-worn walking tracks. Very jolly.

I booked a guided tour of the Duomo, thinking that it would enhance the enjoyment. The magnificent floor, with its huge expanses of intricate marble inlay, is generally mostly covered over but once a year (L had thought it was less frequent but in fact it’s every August) they pull the covers off for a better, more complete look. In the event, the minuscule guide, a doll-like Norwegian woman with a perky air but world-weary delivery – was of little use. She seemed to deflate as we entered the building, her attention wandering and her delivery faltering. It didn’t matter. The floors needed very little explanation. Or rather, explanation would have been good but just looking at them and soaking it all in was quite sufficient.

Brilliantly carved and inlaid and swirling and alive, it’s their lack of any of the trapping of pious Christianity that really strikes. I mean, there are the ones that are just plain pagan: the muses and the sybils and so forth. You can argue that these are here as the precursors and predictors of Christianity. Sure. But they also revel, in delightful humanist fashion, in their own pagan nature. Then there are the bible stories, told in stone with such swirling gusto that they are sheer Boys’ Own adventure. Marvellous.

L wanted to take me (struggling through the crowds – it’s so nice not to live in a tourist-filled city) to the Orto Botanico. Of course the end of August isn’t a great time for garden visits, and especially not in a drought year such as this. But the Siena one has a certain délabré charm… and I’m not sure, quite frankly, whether the impression would be all that different had there been weeks of sun and rain. Because once again – as with the the one in Rome, or in Bologna – it’s a place which is screaming for someone to spruce it up again. It has that dogged-by-bureaucracy look about it, and an evident lack of funds used properly. Signs of inertia (why no watering system? boys with buckets just aren’t good enough); signs of over-ambition (why such huge hothouses if only one small corner has plants in it?); signs of incompetence (so many labels in empty patches, so many labels for the wrong plants).

26 August

Rain. Thunder, lightning and rain. Such a strange thing, to see something falling out of the sky. L removed all his clothes and went and stood in it. But the novelty was short-lived. An hour maybe. Perhaps not even that. Of which no more than ten minutes was acceptably heavy. Better than nothing, of course, and I didn’t have to water the roses too much. But the lawn continues brown and the expectant feeling is still there.

I spotted this expectancy when I went up to my neglected veggie garden yesterday evening late. The tomatoes all seemed to be poised to Do Something (they haven’t done much so far). And the droopy, mould-covered courgettes were shooting little green leaves from their centres. Suddenly the beans were laden. And the strawberries too are full of unripe fruit. I presume it’s partly the shorter days – simply fewer hours of remorseless sun. And maybe a tiny bit of damp in the air at night?


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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