30 October 2012

And now it’s winter. Just like our long hot summer, which thumped itself upon us unbidden without so much as a spring to prepare us for the shock, winter has arrived on the back of a long series of blue days of 25 degree temperatures. Wham. Saturday lunchtime sweltering at a birthday party in Rome (pretty windy, I admit, with a stormy sky; but I was sweating inside the tights that I had unwisely decided to put on to match the cloudscape); Sunday evening starting out of our seats when the funny little ‘roads may be frozen’ (ie four degrees or less) ping sounded in our car; then this morning – a beautiful, blue morning – our first frost, and swirling condensation wreathing around the house as the sun hit it.

We decided against the solar panels. Things just didn’t add up. Of course, now come the guilt twinges. But it felt like we were being rushed into decisions with wool firmly drawn over our eyes by a very nice man who was desperate for his commission. He was so keen, though, to keep certain bits of information from us and to push those bits he wanted us to have (mostly, how much we could, potentially, save if everything went swimmingly and we waited for 20 years) that in the end what little did slip through his net seemed to be suggesting that between what we’d be paying back for the loan and continuing to pay for power we risked, despite some rebate from Enel (the power company), ending up owing twice each month as we now spend on electricity.

Of which, it must be said, we use surprisingly little, mostly because I obsessively turn things off.

But in the end, that wasn’t even the main problem. It was the leggerezza – the lack of seriousness – of the thing. When I breezed in in the middle of L’s initial conversation with this salesman, they were enthusiastically agreeing on a place for the panels. “But that faces east-north-east,” I said. “You can’t put panels there!” But salesman didn’t seem to mind that they were skewed well away from the sun for much of the day. I suggested somewhere further down the field; “yes! yes!” he said, but it was only later, reading the small print, that I realised we would have to pay a large but unspecified extra sum if we put them more than 50m from the house. There was never any mention of sending a tecnico; we had to sign on the dotted line without knowing what kind of PV technology we would get (specifying brands, of course, was out of the question). It was beginning to feel more and more like that poor Nigerian man who desperately needs to deposit his recently deceased grandmother’s vast fortune somewhere and could I send him my bank account details please… like something you only fell for if you were incredibly naïve.

Now, perhaps this is foolish. And perhaps we will live to regret our decision. But L has taken the bull by the horns and decided that the immense amount of money we have ‘saved’ should be invested in that second wood-burning stove that we really can’t afford, to go in the open fireplace in the living room. So that’s our next project. And, because we want to take advantage of a pre-winter sale, it has to be fast. It will be wonderful to have a ground floor which is warm all through. And when we’ve dealt with the cold and damp, perhaps we’ll be able to bring our books up from Rome. Oddly, after all this time, I’ve been missing our library recently.

It’s strange how difficult it is to get nursery people to move once the heat of the year is over. You’d think, logically, that they’d be less hassled and therefore more ready to help now that the great rush has subsided. Yet I’ve been waiting two excuse-laden weeks for quotes for a very very small bit of garden down by lake Trasimeno. Without wishing to provide excuses for them – they do that perfectly well themselves – I suspect part of the problem may simply be locating plants which haven’t grown large and expensive (or leggy and useless) over the summer. But this is getting ridiculous.

Then again, I’m wondering just how efficient I’m being myself. I really need to find someone to make the huge planters for the terrace I’m doing in the north of Rome. (heavens! it has taken me ages to get a page up for that.) I have sent my plans to the architect, asking him if he can recommend someone who works in aluminium (for the sake of reducing weight and potential over-heating, aluminium would be best). He hasn’t answered. Have I called him? First thing tomorrow. But didn’t I have this conversation with myself yesterday? Hmm

Ditto the terribly simple structure I have asked Francesco my fabbro (smith) to quote for, to grow wisteria over in the garden up in the hills. Ten days later: one apologetic email, no quote. I was up there this morning, chatting with the Irish owners. The way the light was falling on the countryside around – dark brooding patches then sudden flashes of sun illuminating every bush and cranny – was quite superb. The lawn is sprouting (a pity it didn’t make a little more progress before the cold hit) and the plants are coming along. But gosh does it blow up there! They are remarkably exposed.

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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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