4 January 2014

Four magnificent angels hover in the pendentives. That is my very favourite sentence in the whole of the Time Out Venice guide. I didn’t write it, I’m afraid (that honour goes to the oh-so-knowledgeable academic-author Gregory Dowling) but I treasure it, and roll it around my tongue quite frequently when it comes to mind.

It has come to mind recently because I have agreed to update the guide again – why oh why?! I have so much garden work on my plate that I really don’t have the time, never mind the inclination… yes, the thought of yielding my baby (I crafted the opus myself, years ago, in another life) up to anyone else would be dreadful, but this is so much not what I want to be doing. So I have to cling to things like sentences which resound… and of course to the fact that I get to spend quite a lot of time in Venice: once in November and we’ll be back there again some time very soon. Wintry Venice: I love it.

Wintry CdP is decidedly grey and damp right now, though surprisingly un-cold. In fact, so far, this winter has really been very fine – a fact that’s easy to forget on the occasions when we huddle round the stoves and keep the lights on all day. It seems so long since summer that we are beginning to feel that winter should be drawing to a close. But really, it has hardly begun.

On 20 December – the day before we set off for a UK Christmas – I was out planting until 6pm. The blue of the sky was superb, and as long as the sun shone it was heavenly out there (less so the moment the sun set when the damp immediately started insinuating itself into your marrow). There were many days like that (and New Year’s day was even better).

We took what could only be described as serious risks in that garden in Castiglione: such as laying turf so late in the year. But the grass arrived on a big truck from the UK, sent by a vendor who swore that it would be perfectly happy being laid then.

That kind of claim never fails to worry me: Brits tend to judge Italy by their summer hols, imagining anywhere Italian as balmy and awash with swimming pool action. When I send photos of us in the snow to friends who visit us only in summer, they scoff with disbelief, suspecting my Photoshopping talents rather than the meteorological conditions. Few can accept that we can be far icier for far longer than anything tempered by the Gulf Stream.  But my client, in his wild dash to get things done, was more inclined to go for the grass-seller’s tale than I was. He accepted the risk: the planting went ahead. Now I wonder what the next two months will hurl at us.

February can be the cruellest month, as we learnt two years ago. I’m  not sure that new-planted turf would stand three weeks buried beneath a metre of snow. And I might have some sleepless hours over the things that went into the formal garden beds too.

I’m slightly more confident about the bushes I had yanked out of the ground and replanted in more fitting places near Orvieto. With the exception of an eleagnus or two, they’re all looking rather happy, which is a relief. I shall keep my fingers crossed for the slightly less cheerful ones.

This evening there’s a southerly howling: a real scirocco, making the air oddly balmy and the stove in the living room hopelessly sluggish. It’s always the way. I leap up and down constantly, opening and closing vents. We’re digging ourselves more deeply into the wood-burning stove rut, putting yet another one in L’s office in the hope that the top floor will feel less chill – if, that is, our recalcitrant builder ever gets here to knock the requisite hole in the roof. At the same time, I’m going to get him to cut a bit out of the masonry that encases the flue from the living room stove as it passes through C’s bedroom. It is stupid that all that heat just goes up the chimney. I have had two metal grates made. We’ll put one on one side up near the ceiling, and the other on the other side down near the floor. I’m hoping this will make a nice convection swirl. L is scoffing.

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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