24 October 2012

My roses have decided to burst out as if it were the spring they never had. The Felicia are magnificent and ditto the chinensis; the Primo Passo are covered in tight little buds which may or may not open before Saturday when we have been promised a wall of water and a precipitous plunge in temperatures.

To date this autumn has been extraordinary – blue and balmy. Outside, working, it’s still shorts weather.  Inside, of course, the house is cooling as usual. We lit a fire the other evening. Then we baked a crumble and boiled up a couple of pots full of quinces, and had to open the doors when we felt overcome by the heat.

Things all around are strangely staggered. I see up in town that persimmon (Diospyros kaki) trees are putting on their spectacular autumn colours, and the fruits are turning a beautiful Chinese orange; the leaves of mine are still bright green and the fruits are their unripe pale apricot. Across the valley, the trees which had been driven brown by the relentless summer drought have shed those dead leaves and gone green again, with barely a tinge of autumn except for a couple of yellowing poplars; elsewhere,  everything is very much on the turn.

My life in the past few days has been very much dominated by quinces. In the end, I had to remove ours from the tree. Not only were they bending the poor little thing over with their weight, but they were beginning to rot on the branches, without falling off. So I brought them in, and began the long slow process. Not that we had that many – we had more than we’d ever had before, but it’s the donations that are keeping me busier than I really want.  I mentioned to our friends Tom and Adriano that I could do with a few more. What I got was about 30kg more, plus a demand that I should stock their larder too. Which of course I will. But after our dry summer, they are dry too and they’re running very little juice. The amount of time/labour required is the same, but the yield is miserable. I feel I’m quincing my life away.

Also occupying time has been the PV quandary. A very enthusiastic man turned up from Enel (the power company) with all kinds of smoke-in-your-eyes arguments – most of them revolving around the huge savings we’re going to make over the next 20 years – in favour of us installing photovoltaic panels. I have tried to explain that in the space of 20 years we could either become millionaires or end up squashed under a bus and therefore it’s the month-on-month saving that really interests us, but that interfers with his sales patter and therefore goes unnoticed. We are, I have to say, quite tempted, despite the fact that my hard-and-fast rules (no panels where we can see them; no panels where our neighbours can see them) make it rather difficult to find a suitable spot. The roof is out of bounds, for aesthetic and conservation zone reasons but also because it faces west/east rather than north/south and so is virtually useless. There’s one small sunny-ish spot down in the field which meets my stringent criteria but looking at it this gloriously sunny afternoon, it was already in the shade at 4.30… not all that good.

Why, I wonder, do they force you to commit before sending a technician round? A salesman really isn’t good enough. And why do they expect you to accept funding without telling you the basics (interest rate? type/make of panels?) You’re asked to take their package, sight unseen. I suppose the fact that Enel too plans to gain from it is their guarantee that you’re not going to be palmed off with any old rubbish. It’s a leap of faith. But that is countered by the consideration that the saleman is only interested in getting his cut for the deal, not for the yield.

Meanwhile I look around our beautiful Umbrian countryside, now dotted with banks of solar panels, and wonder: when will we wake from our collective amnesia? Not everyone is as fussy as me. Indeed, most people just stick them anywhere. It’s a bit like the uncontrolled building of the 1970s and ‘80s (and of the here and now in some cases), blighting Italy’s beauty and making me want to weep: people plan, administrations give permits, the landscape suffers at every turn. Now, apply the label ‘ecological’ or ‘sustainable’ and you can do just about anything, however devastatingly ugly it is. Do I want to be part of that, however discerning a part I am? I really don’t know.

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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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