6 March 2017


Last week our cleaning lady arrived looking very flustered.

“I didn’t think I was going to get here,” she said. “There’s a car blocking the lane. I only just managed to squeeze around it.”

We had come home about 7pm the previous evening; the cleaning lady arrived at 9am; barring an explicit invitation from us, sex, drugs and/or other nefarious acts are the only reasons anyone would have happened along our dead-end track under the cover of darkness. L went to investigate.

It was an old BMW, its bumper cracked and lop-sided, and and two of its wheels rammed into the deep storm ditch just up beyond what we still called Mario’s house (the Mario in question died a couple of years ago.) The car was unlocked; the registration papers were in the glovebox. The whole thing reeked of cigarette smoke and was badly in need of a clean.

“Did you check the boot to make sure there wasn’t a stash of weapons or a dead body in it?” I asked. I watch too many movies.

When I went up a little later no one had come to haul it out, which seemed to confirm our suspicions: around here if you’ve had an accident there’s no way you don’t know someone who’ll come along with their tractor to pull you out. So I called the carabinieri. I told them the number plate; I left my name and address. And that was it. Just after lunch the car had gone. No contact, no news. Nothing.

A couple of days later in a bar, I accosted our local maresciallo. I told him I’d rung about an abandoned car, and asked what had happened to it.

“Oh,” he said, “it was you. I don’t know. I was hoping someone would tell me!”

He went out himelf, he told me, and poked around, but he couldn’t find any car. Which wasn’t really surprising, it transpired, as he didn’t seem to know where he was meant to look.

“Oh, down there on the white road?! They told me it was up closer to town near the new houses.”

I pointed out that I’d left a very detailed description of where it was. And I’d left my name.

“Why didn’t you phone me?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t have a number.”

I said that I’d wondered why they didn’t ask me for a number, but just presumed that the number must show up on their phones. He gave me an incredulous look.

“You must be joking!” he said, as if such basic technology was unthinkably advanced.

Was it that awful pile of trash Carabinieri that made me suppose that our forces of law and order might be more efficient than they are? I think I saw a total of about three and a half minutes of the many seasons of improbable cop-drama that were filmed here in Città della Pieve, and that only to check that they hadn’t used our property without our permission: in my dreams I was hoping that if they did, I might get some money out of the production company to put towards restoring our house. In that fictional policing world they were always leaping into cars and screeching off to desperate scenes in abandoned barns, armed to the teeth and palpitating with passion.

I’ve now made a mental note to myself that, should ever anything really serious happen, I must remember to talk them through things very very slowly: repeat my address several times, explain calmly how to reach us, dictate our phone number and ask them to read it back to me. In real life, they clearly need as much help as possible.

As for the car, the owner must have found someone with a tractor after all.


Why do violets go with the adjective ‘shrinking’? There’s nothing shrinking about mine. Small they may be, but they’re hardly backwards about coming forwards: they’re colonising the whole garden.

Naturally they’re doing this aided and abetted by me. It doesn’t matter how far they stray into gravel paths and under the wheels of cars: I can rarely bring myself to pull them up. The result is little tuffets of deep purple all over the place. And today, in the damp and gloom of a rainy almost-spring day, they seem to have a special glow.
I’m going to guess that my wild friends are Viola odorata. How anyone could ever consider uprooting these ‘weeds’ and replacing them with their vile false-coloured relation, the pansy, is beyond me. Then again, my tolerance threshold for ‘weeds’ is high: before this rain set in I managed to squeeze in a couple of days of extracting messier, less loveable wild things from in between meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratensis), snake’s head iris (Iris tuberosa)… and my plants of course.

I also successfully planted my new asparagus trench. But for some reason, circumstances are conspiring to keep me from finishing my new vegetable garden. This is getting serious: if I don’t get a move-on we’ll have nothing to eat this summer. Broad bean babies are almost bursting out of their pots in the greenhouse, dying to be planted out. Soon the tomatoes and peppers that I sowed the other day will be clamouring too.

But what have I been doing instead of labouring in my orto? Well, flying kites on Tuscan beaches for a start. It has become a my-birthday tradition, this long drive across to the marvellous La Pineta restaurant in Marina di Bibbona. There’s something so special about the light on a beach in winter… especially when accompanied by a Michelin-starred meal.


0306aMy builders drive me up the wall. But they also, occasionally, bring a smile to my face. The plasterers are making their slow way down from the attic to the ground floor, gradually smoothing out the construction bumps. They come from Orvieto, these boys, and they come equipped with life’s important things. On the ground floor is a gas burner and a moka coffee maker. They have their priorities sorted.


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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