7 March 2015

I’m so sick of this wind, its howling and buffeting and rocking. It hasn’t stopped for about 72 hours now, blowing steadily, gusting up to 60kph. It funnels up our valley from the north and north-east, gathering speed until it hits the house. I know we’ve been lucky: elsewhere trees have crashed on to cars, whole stands of ancient plants have been uprooted, people have died. But it distresses me hearing its non-stop urgency; and it forces me to fret about slovenly upkeep.

I have one ear constantly towards our beautiful oaks, not because I think they’ll blow over, but I’m wondering how all the dead wood that should have been removed so long ago will stand up to the assault – and whether it could fly far enough to dislodge pieces of our roof.

The elms are niggling at me too: so many are dead from Dutch elm disease – and some have been for years now – yet I leave them standing. Up behind the chicken house, the grass is carpeted with shed branches. Will whole, towering trees keel over at some point? I’m clinging to the thought that all those trees are really one tree, from one root system, and that they are anchored to each other as well as woven into the earth. But the very brutal gusts have me imagining a domino scenario.

And then there’s the chicken house itself. Even if no elm crashes through it, it’s ready to collapse. The old walls that have survived on the lean-to side are giant pebbles with a web of sand between them: it has fallen out in places, leaving holes through which birds and snakes scrabble in and out. The roof is a jumble of ill-assorted tiles, with large stones positioned here and there on top, as the contadini used to do to weigh the whole thing in place. In the ‘sturdier’ half, the beams are rotten and the floor joists not much better. That it stood up to the snow of 2012 was already a miracle. Its day will come.

As the gale blows, we hibernate. The sun that’s streaming through the windows today – sun which would usually have me running for my gardening tools – is not fooling us.

It takes hours – quite literally – in the morning to coax a fire into life in our wood-burning stoves: the downdraft is too great for the tiny flame under the kindling in a cold new-stoked stove. We can’t risk opening the big outside wooden door shutters any more: one of the kitchen shutters broke its chain and slammed against the step, snapping off the lowest wooden plank; on the terrace outside our bedroom, the hook for the chain was ripped right out of the wall.

Sorties into the maelstrom are short and practical. I struggled down into the field to retrieve the flap-window panel from the top of my greenhouse, hardly able to keep upright in the blasts, then somehow managed to clamber on to a garden chair to put it back in place, and duct-tape it firmly down. (The greenhouse is only still there because I leaned the stacked metal chairs from the outside table at strategic points against it: the hooks attaching it to the wall would have been ripped out by now if not.) And I battled my way up to the compost bins to empty the bulging container of kitchen waste.

As I did so, I noticed a lone bird skimming, in a very crooked line, barely off the ground. How do my little bird friends (sad, yes, but I do spend a lot of time here by myself, and need someone to talk to…) survive in this? They are utterly absent. How do they feed themselves or get water if they can barely venture out? How do their nests survive when the trees are being so badly shaken? The thought has been worrying me.

I have studied the Beaufort Scale (thoughts of the shipping forecast in my head) to see what it is we’re suffering. Large branches in motion, force 6 (up to 49.9kph, strong breeze): yes. Whole trees in motion, effort to walk against the wind, force 7 (up to 61.8kph, high wind): yes. Twigs broken from trees, progress on foot seriously impeded (up to 74.5kph, gale): yes. Branches break off trees, small trees blow over (as has happened in my client’s garden near Orvieto, up to 88.1kph, strong gale): yes. I think we’re experiencing the full gamut.

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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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