11 September 2013

0911 0911B 0911C 0911DSuch short evenings! It’s dark at 8pm or even before on days like yesterday when the sky is stormy. I’m sure it wasn’t like that before I headed off to the UK last week. What a difference four days make.

There were other differences too on my return.

My infuriatingly recalcitrant tomatoes had made a quantum leap and buckets of the things had finally turned red in my absence: I began churning out passata the moment I got back; there’s more bubbling on the stove as I write.

I have come to realise that my neat all-mod-cons kitchen method of passata production is really rather tame. One evening before I left, I was driving back down our lane, past Mario’s house, and found Mario, his nephew and his Romanian home help all poking long sticks into a steaming 44-gallon drum, their faces illuminated by the fire leaping beneath it. This witches’ coven was too picturesque not to stop for. I pulled over to find out what was going on. It was, of course, tomatoes: dozens of glass jars wrapped in old bed sheets and stacked into the drum, all bubbling and clattering noisily.

Also abounding suddenly on my return were my tomatoes’ accompanying stinky/shield bugs, crawling over the fruit in immense droves. I have been doing some research on these horrid little beasts, and it comes as no surprise to read that they belong to a superfamily, called Pentatomoidea. Flicking through the various families that make up this ravenous clan, I’m pretty sure that every single branch, and all possible instars, are robustly represented on the plants of my orti. The one (naturally occurring) CW I use on hostile veg-attackers is pyrethrum and it does doodlysquat to these determined little creatures. So I allow myself the only pleasure that my stinky visitors afford: a chance to exit the house a couple of times a day to while away a few minutes gleefully squishing the horrid things. The smell is horrible, the satisfaction immense.

With the heavy rain (64mm in three days) that fell before I left for the UK, followed by a week of splendid hot weather, another great alteration on my return was the terrifying advance of weeds. I had the situation more or less under control before I left… with a few patches (such as much of the garden directly in front of the kitchen) where I was using ostrich tactics. But now… everything that had been lurking beneath the surface, afraid to stick its head out in the scorching sun, has let rip. I’m trying not to think about it: the risk of despair is too great.

Helping to keep my mind occupied are my ponderings about the north end of the house. It’s odd, the disconnect between what I do here, and what I do when I’m working. One of the first things I ask myself as I approach a project is “where in this space do these people want to be?” I ask them; and I imagine myself in their shoes. And then I set out to create areas that I hope they will come to regard as a continuation of their living space.

But when I ask myself “where do I want to be?” I’m forced to confront the fact that I don’t really want to be at all: I want to be doing. As easy as it is for me to envisage others relaxing outside, I never picture myself doing anything of the sort because I know that the minute I sit down, I’ll be itching to get up again and pull a weed out. This isn’t the result of guilty feelings: it’s just how I like to be in my garden.

One evening over summer we had ten people to dinner. The dining table outside the kitchen is wonderful (though still, after all these years, awaiting its pergola), and can hold that number fairly comfortably. But the space around it is small. As these ten people (plus us) milled and meandered before dinner, chatting in groups and moving on, I realised: there is nowhere here (except seated at the table) for them to be. I was imposing my restlessless on guests attending social occasions too.

That patio area is long and narrow and really no good for milling in numbers. The remedy lies at the north end of the house where that patch of lawn – little-used except when we have shooting-star-spotting loungers out there in mid-August – could make a perfect salotto, were it not so scrappy and un-thought-through and sadly under-irrigated. From there, the saunter around the corner to the eating area is short and simple. It all makes perfect sense.

This, then, has become my weeding-displacement activity – not that I’m actually doing it, naturally: just thinking long and hard about it.


The hunting season is upon us again: pre-season shooting of selected species was allowed as of September 1. So it’s strange that more or less the first shots I heard were yesterday: a Tuesday – like Friday, a day of silenzio venatorio when hunting is banned. L called the Carabinieri to complain, soon after which it really did fall silent. I think this may have been a coincidence though. The policeman on the phone reckoned it was some kind of official cull going on, maybe organised by the forestali.


Despite my loathing of hunters, once again I found myself feeling conflicted. I have no desire whatsoever to find our field crawling with burly men with huge guns, blasting holes through unsuspecting beasts. Then again, the scene in the field next door two evenings ago was pretty representative of the boar situation in this neck of the woods. That’s a whole lot of perambulating boar steak… and rather too close to my garden for comfort.

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.
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