10 June 2013


 0610G 0610H 0610FAnd what of my garden? Sometimes I forget – as I ramble off on interminable tangents – that what I originally set out to write about here are the trials and joys of gardening in Umbria.

This is (I was going to say) an odd spring. Then again, when isn’t spring odd? It’s just odd in different ways. This year, the oddness is grey and drear: sun-deprived and full of showers. The mornings are often pleasant; after lunch (which we’ve been eating for the past week around the south end of the house, at the table beneath the Acer campestre, admiring my immense, red red roses and flourishing potatoes) the clouds move in. They generally rumble quite loudly. And sometimes they drop fat raindrops on us. They have dropped just enough to allow me still not to have cranked my automatic watering system into operation, opting instead for the occasional quick splash with a hose. I don’t think I’ve ever left it so late before: that gives the measure of the odd-ness.

Of course any sensible gardener would take this weather pattern as a sign that they should get down to digging the rain-fed weed-jungle as early as possible in the morning, then move inside to get sedentary work done in the less enticing afternoon. But my ‘sensible’ by-pass means that I tap away at my computer most mornings, fail to get much done in the afternoons, and wonder at the rate of weed-growth, trying to convince myself that it’s all despite my best efforts. Hmmm.

One rather pleasant effect of this edging so slowly towards something akin to a fair season is that the roses have peeped out very very slowly and gradually. Usually there are a couple of tiny buds then boom! One morning you open the shutters and it’s just a sea of inebriating roses, which then goes over a couple of weeks later, to make room for a gentle season-long sprinking. This year, on the other hand, it has been a long slow process, emerging bloom by bloom, over the past three weeks or so. There has been no harsh sun to burn or bleach, with the result that the colours are particularly dark, especially of the R. Felicia which has come up a R. Bonica-type bright pink.

The roses which I hacked so mercilessly – the R. Cocktail and the R. filipes Kiftsgate – are awash with flowers: in fact, I’ve been lopping off great armfuls of the latter, for myself and for friends, worried that the weight of the flowers might pull the wires off the chicken house wall… or pull that wobbly wall down altogether.

0610EMy only rose-problem (probably not one that would worry anyone but me) is that the explosion happened so slowly that I didn’t hurry to remove the weeds beneath the blooms before they emerged: the miasma poking through and out from under is dense. But among the R. Felicia, at least, some of that mess consists of the camomile daisies I planted last year which died a death when drought conditions set in. I shrugged this off, and decided that the chances of my ever producing sufficient camomile tea to see us through the winter were slim. But up they’ve come, very obligingly, without my doing anything at all beyond ignoring them. And now I’m harvesting pungent daisy heads and leaving them on a tray in the sun in C’s room (outside they become a magnet for ants), trying to dry them sufficiently for storage despite the dampness in the air. Difficult job.

No such treasure trove lurked beneath my all-but-invisible hydrangeas beyond the barbeque. With all the snakes we’ve had to deal with this year (besides the two dead ones and the tangled-up one that ripped my netting, poor L has had to intervene with rubber gloves and scissors to liberate another snapping, thrashing, tangled one – the same one I’d say – on two separate occasions), I ventured into the undergrowth, thick-gloved and long-booted, fully expecting huge beasts to assail me. But I emerged unscathed, and with the Annabelles and quercifolia looking glorious – they’re certainly overjoyed about this unseasonable dreariness.

In the vegetable gardens, things are going slowly. I sowed my tomato seeds in scientific fashion, just when I should have in order to have them ready for planting out at the correct moment. Some were eaten by pesky pests in my greenhouse; the rest never grew beyond minuscule. But I have (1) resown as necessary and (2) planted out, nevertheless. I don’t care how tiny the plants are. Now I’m crossing my fingers and turning a deaf ear to L’s howls of derision/demands that we buy big healthy-looking seedlings from a nursery. I will persevere.

The tiny bean plants are out, the potatoes are looking marvellous (I should go in among the over-close rows and bank them up, but that’s the snake-trap area and I quail slightly at the thought – so easy to put it off, and off, and off), the courgettes and cucumbers are in their rightful places. It’s coming together, slowly, and if we don’t have much to eat until late July… pazienza. For the time being we’ll gorge ourselves on fat sugary strawberries and the outsized onions I hauled out of a raised bed yesterday to make room for some beans – not enough onions to keep us going for long, but good while they last.

I’ve decided to invert my bed planting this year, arranging things the opposite way to how I’ve done it previously. Usually for summer crops, I make lengthways grooves in my beds in which I plant at intervals, laying the dribble pipes off-ground, resting on stones which hold them above the slightly raised strips from where they (in theory) dribble water down into the grooves. It sometimes works. This year instead, I have laid the pipes on the soil and made small planting-holes directly beneath each of the drips. Now, if all goes well, each of these holes should hold enough water to keep the plant inside it perfectly watered (in theory), and hopefully just a little bit sheltered from the heat of the sun… if we ever get any hot sun. All this would perhaps have had more sense if I had taken the trouble to replace the gummed-up dribble pipes, most of which have been there ever since I built the raised beds, so many years ago.

I’m now being held up by my garlic. After having next-to-none last year, thanks to the snow and the drought, I have over-compensated somewhat this year, and will, I think, have enough for a huge household, or for several years. Soon the vast expanses will be ready for harvesting and I’ll be able to replant their beds with something more summery. In one, I’ve decided to put beans and squashes and sweet corn, red-Indian style. If nothing else it will look fun.

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
This entry was posted in MUSINGS FROM UMBRIA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 10 June 2013

  1. jan525 says:

    Just back from Rome! Now must get in the garden… it all sounds wonderful (apart from the snakes…).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s