29 May 2017

I’ve got August grass. Until last week it was green and fairly lush. But it’s now four weeks since we had even a drop of rain and my thick crop of well tended spring green stuff (you can’t really call it ‘lawn’) is gasping. It’s turning into a tough spring.

I have my watering systems going, of course, in those places where they’re fit for work. The utterly neglected area behind the chicken house and beyond the barbaque where my poor hydrangeas have been left exposed to the sun since the dead elms were removed is unattached, all the tubes having been bashed about and left seriously in need of patching. Now the neglect means I can’t find them any more, and the hydrangeas are looking even more bedraggled and thirsty. I need to find time to get in there and do some repairs.

The slow-moving vegetable garden has drip-pipes linked to a network the ends of which poke forlornly out of their dusty hole near (but not attached to) a tap, getting in the way of the hose which I have to drag about every evening, filling the little depressions around the base of my plants – the ones that should be filled by the drip pipes – with enough water to see them through the next, hot, 24 hours.

For the first few moments I rather enjoy watering. But frustration soon sets in. It just seems a pointless waste of time.

Locals love to tell you that l’orto vuole l’uomo morto – a vegetable garden puts one man out of action (literally, needs a dead man), in the sense that one person has to dedicate all his (and it is almost exclusively his) time to keeping it going. This is of course nothing more than a pretty lame excuse for the man of the family to get out of doing anything, being able to absent himself among his tomatoes and courgettes whenever it’s suggested that he might help with something more useful or have any contact with his nearest and dearest. Because a cheap timer and a few metres of plastic drip tube would liberate him from about 75% of the work that any on-going orto involves.

I’m happy to spend time mowing, weeding, sowing, planting, strimming: these are things where my presence is vital and unavoidable. But watering? It’s better done by very simple, affordable technology.

(A digger operator on a project I’m working on in the far north of Tuscany was singing the praises to me this week of his robot-mower. “Even Queen Elizabeth doesn’t have lawns as smooth as mine, and I never ever have to cut them myself,” he boasted. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that prato all’inglese (English-style lawn) is my pet hate in rural settings and simple gardens. I managed to summon up some diplomacy and changed the subject.)


Yesterday evening our local Sri Lankans (or at least, the buddhist part of the community) celebrated Buddha’s birthday with a party on the big piazza down near the schools. They were out in force among the beautiful home-made lanterns, attempting valiantly to light the tealights picking out a giant Buddha-head across the square which never really got going in the steady breeze. (I’m told that later, after we left, the breeze dropped and the head sprang to life.)

There was wonderful food, and Sri Lankan music, and happy children, and general festivity but relatively few pievesi bothering to come by to join in the event. All right, to give them their due, it wasn’t advertised at all: just word of mouth. And the native turn-out there was considerably more impressive than that the previous day for the presentation of our local artist residency initiative, held in our contemporary art gallery  which in itself is a pretty remarkable thing for such a tiny place.

But on the whole – and with a few notable exceptions: a handful of people who really make sure they participate – it’s difficult to drum up pievese interest for anything much outside of Sunday markets and things involving pasta and boar. Is it unreasonable to think that they might be prepared to move out of their comfort zone for happenings handed to them on a plate? Or is that just presumptuous of me (who – incidentally and in the interests of full disclosure – isn’t all that good at putting in appearances herself, though that’s a question of laziness/disorganisation rather than spurning) to presume that they should appreciate being introduced something if not “better” then definitely different?

I was discussing such attempts at dovetailing incomer and native interests with a highly successful veteran architect at a lunch party over the weekend. He told me about a super-mod winery he had designed some years ago for a major Tuscan producer. When the building was ready, a party was thrown for the people who had worked on the project and all the locals. They came, they saw, they marvelled or griped, depending on their disposition.

Some years later this architect was working on another project in the same area. He turned up at the site one day to find a huddle of vigili there, and his heart sank. Vigili urbani are the local police force, something akin to traffic wardens but also responsible for seeking out violations of the kind of niggly by-laws that Italy specialises in, and which drive you up the wall. Vigili are generally regarded – not always, but often with good reason – as the kind of official who makes up for his/her bottom-of-the-pecking-order status with extra officiousness. They’re not generally given credit for much foresight or imagination. And you really don’t want them poking around your building site.

So it was with dread that he approached and asked if he could do anything for them. Totally unexpectedly, one of the vigili came towards him and said “so, are you making another masterpiece?” He had been at that party years before, and had been blown away by the ultra-contemporary design. This architect said that for him, such praise from that quarter had been a moment of immense pride.

Up in town , the carpenters are working on my windows and French doors now, and I needed to get handles to match the interior doors.

“I got them at Marchi in Sinalunga,” I said, and the carpenter gave a snort of disdain.

“We’re in Umbria,” he snapped. “We get our handles in Perugia. We’ll get them for you.”


It’s that time of year that’s permeated with the perfume of Rosa Felicia and lovely pinks. Opening the bathroom window each morning is a joy.

The carpenter making the inside doors had directed me to Marchi; he’s down in Chiusi Scalo, which is just across the border into Tuscany… by about half a kilometre. The window carpenter is in Po’ Bandino, which is about a kilometre into Umbria. They’re practically neighbours.

As the crow flies, I don’t think there’s any difference at all in the distance between here and Perugia/Sinalunga. No, Google maps is telling me: it’s just the same. And in fact, zipping along the autostrada then the Siena superstrada, it’s probably quicker to reach the latter. So this clinging to your regional identity is as impractical as it is bygone-era charming. And it’s absolutely typical.

It was amusing, then, when I went off to Sinalunga anyway, then was uncertain exactly what I needed, and got the handle-seller to talk directly by phone to the carpenter. After sidling around each other and communicating as if each considered the other far from up to scratch, my carpenter said “so, I don’t suppose you send your agents this far.” Of course,” said Marchi, “do you want someone to pass by?”

It turns out that Perugia may be Umbria but it’s hopeless for handles. I feel I’ve struck a blow for better inter-regional relations.




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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One Response to 29 May 2017

  1. Pingback: 7 April 2018 | La Verzura

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