19 February 2013

0219D 0219CFinally, I have started revolutionising the path down from the car park. When I first designed that strip – half grass, half gravel – it seemed like a good idea from several points of view.

First of all, I had to leave a track wide enough to manoeuvre the caravan out. Ugh. I had almost forgotten the caravan. May I never set foot in a caravan again in my life. It had its uses: we could be on-site to keep an eye on things when we were building, without spending a fortune on local hostelries. It was, I guess, fine at the beginning, in good weather. But as our building work dragged on and we spent muddy, miserable winter nights there, it lost the charm it never really had. Yet we just didn’t seem to be able to work out how to get rid of it after, so it sat and sat. Until we called the wreckers in.

But tugging it away was easier imagined than done, even with a path that was (just) wide enough. There was a tense half hour when we were seriously considering torching it in situ, releasing all the chemicals (asbestos?) that an old plastic caravan is made of and potentially immolating our beautiful oak tree too. What a wonderfully liberating moment when the wrecker boy with his big SUV finally dragged it, wheels spinning and exhaust chugging, out and away.

Then there was the suitcase-tugging aspect. Wheeling your wheelie bag on gravel is always a major pain: in fact, it’s easier to pick it up and carry it, however heavy it is. So much easier on grass… or at least it would have been had that grass ever become more than a weedy, bumpy, gravel-strewn mess which had an infuriating habit of washing away every time it rained.

And finally I quite liked – in the abstract – the idea of a clean divide down the middle of my path, a line of bricks with gravel on one side and lawn on the other: the gravel running into a lush bed of buddleia and other bushes, the grass stretching up to a bed full of roses. But the grass never really took (as I said) and the buddleias have remained resolutely leggy. So that the while thing looked rather scrappy.

My magnificent gift for only seeing exactly what I want to see kicked in, however, and for me, that rarely attractive bit of path was not an issue. Until one day, quite without warning, it was.

So now there will be one sweep of gravel (too bad for the suitcases), flanked on the buddleia side by a rather wider planting bed. The problem is, however, that to do it properly – as it was never done before – the bed of the path needs to be excavated to some depth, to give the gravel a place to sit in well behaved fashion rather than spilling out all over. And that will take days… muddy yucky days if this spell of cold dry weather comes to an end and rain sets back in, as forecasters say it will the day after tomorrow.

A little desperate at the thought, I called Giuseppe the bulldozer boy yesterday on the off-chance: he might have been somewhere close, with a scavatorino. But no, he made strangled, oh-my-god-I’m-so-overworked noises so I abandoned that and resigned myself to my fate. Days of pick-axing away.

Why I’m embarking on this right now, I don’t know. There have been long rainless periods throughout this winter when I had nothing much at all to do in the garden, and I could easily have dedicated my time and energy to re-landscaping. But no: I have to wait until roses and fruit trees are screaming to be pruned – ignored and abandoned with the excuse that we could – like last winter – get a metre of snow and I didn’t want my freshly pruned roses buried and burning. As snow like that comes along (touch wood) about once every 50 years in this neck of the woods, the chances of that happening were slight. And I knew it.

But the temptation to hibernate is just too strong.

 **********

There are some very sweet girls with the patience of saints and the enthusiasm of the innocent up in town who are creating a GAS – gruppo d’acquisto solidale – which is a group purchasing cooperative for buying produce, in theory all from local farmers and growers and small-scale manufacturers of which, I’m learning, there are any number, doing all kinds of exciting things.

The patience is needed by the shovelful. Are we a group? Or an organisation? Or should we be affiliated to a larger organisation? Should there be receipts? How many rules and regulations are we infringing? What happens if the Guardia di Finanza (customs police) stops one of us with produce in our car? Where are we registered? Do we need a VAT number? Should everything we order be organic? But what about those producers too small to afford organic certification despite the fact that they are organic really? What if…?

The one GAS meeting which we managed to sit through part of was such a disheartening affair (though the number of local producers mentioned was, as I said, uplifting) that we decided to remain on the sidelines, place our orders from time to time, and approve without intervening. Life is far too short.

Why do Italians do that? Put them in a circle where democracy runs rampant and they will talk themselves hoarse, the least well informed shouting loudest and most ostensibly knowledgeably in their desire to persuade everyone of their expertise which has no basis in fact?

Around and around and around they go, making everything as complicated as possible and sapping ones will to live… or at least to participate.

When L set up his Circolo del Vino (wine club) and started off thinking of finding a permanent venue for this get-together of friends around some good bottles, the owner of the restaurant we approached immediately asked for the Circolo’s VAT registration number. “For one alcohol-fuelled dinner a month?” L asked. Yes, that was precisely what this man expected. We never returned 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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