12 June 2017

Dear Mr Porcupine who has been devastating my garden since early spring, digging up all my bulbs with particular attention to the iris,
in recognition of your sterling work over the last couple of nights, I would like to rescind all – no, make that some – of the blasphemous insults I have hurled at you and instead thank you. By assiduously digging up all the bulbs – overcrowded and desperately overdue for lifting and breaking up – on the bank beneath the pale yellow roses and arranging them in neat piles (I have to say, I found that a bit brazen) ready for many more nights of toil-free munching, you have saved me hours of back-breaking digging. I have removed all the viable bulbs and hidden them away from you (two can play at brazen). The rubbishy leftovers – if you’re interested – I tipped down the slope beneath the big oak tree. Now I’d ask you kindly to throw a fit of pique, storm off to someone else’s garden, and leave me to replant my bulbs without fear of their being dug straight back up again. Just a word of warning: don’t even think of wreaking your revenge by tunneling under the vegetable garden fence and decimating my potatoes. If you do, I’ll get the forestali on to you.

It has been hugely, ridiculous hot for early June and it shows no sign of letting up. The last time rain fell was on 7 May and that was a measly few drops. This is the time of year when all I ever seem to do is struggle to find time to mow the grass which springs to knee height whenever my head is turned. But I haven’t mown it for three weeks now: it doesn’t seem right hauling the lawnmower about merely to lop the heads off a few undaunted and very annoying chicory (Cichoryum intybus) upstarts.

Selected things have resisted the August-like torpor and are still growing, though. We’re eating peas and green beans from the vegetable garden, and the sweet cherries have never been so fantastic. There are baby green tomatoes on the plants, though I have to say they drop off with worrying ease whenever I’m a bit too enthusiastic with my weeding. And the courgette plants are full of incipient edibles. All of which is satisfying.

And that’s just as well because once again I’m at my wits’ end in town – which I admit may have more to do with my overheated mood rather than with progress or lack of it.

Because there has been progress. I have bought sheets and towels. The bathroom mirrors are ordered and the metal furniture I’m having made is very well advanced. I have a couple of rather beautifully restored windows already in place. And the painters are in this week, plugging up holes and getting going on making it look less like a bombsite.

But they’re complaining that the builder isn’t far enough towards completion for pressing ahead with painting without the risk of everything being ruined by flying dust. And by the time they do get everything finished – in two or three weeks – the man who’s going to lay the floor has a long list of engagements elsewhere and heaven knows when he’ll be able to get to me. And of course there’s the little matter of my roof which still doesn’t have any tiles on it. Et cetera. It’s all very frustrating.

So just as well we’ve been taking our minds off things with a couple of jaunts. Yesterday, I joined L (who had been accompanying an American group on a Tuscan weekend) at Villa di Geggiano, where I hadn’t been for many many years. I have a strange affection for the place because it was there, I think, that I heard the wonderful, almost onomatopoeic word verzura (verdure: you can almost hear the breeze through the lush foliage) for the first time – and immediately adopted it for my website and blog.

The house, with its lovely gentry-playing-at-country-folk murals and spectacular papiers peints is quite wonderful. The garden is too, in its way, though there are parts – including the teatro di verzura itself – which blur the line between charmingly délabré and distressingly dilapidated. I’m the very first to say that over-zealous upkeep and/or restoration is more often than not a garden’s worst enemy. But there’s a limit to everything. Of course, the extreme dryness didn’t help; neither did the collection of art dotted rather anomalously around the place, as part of some works-among-the-vineyards initiative. But just a little more tlc lavished in the right direction would give such huge rewards.

Even better, from a sloughing off tension point of view, was the previous weekend when we took to the waves, on a magnificent craft about which L was writing. Satori: 42 metres long, all in teak and mahogany and walnut, luxurious cabins with marble bathrooms, and an on-deck cinema. Not to mention a masseuse and a Michelin-starred chef. (All for hire of course, though slightly beyond our holiday budget.)

We sailed from Scarlino to Elba – and when I say ‘sailed’ I really mean with sails up and running fast before the wind – for some of our brief hop. We swam in the sea (oddly warm for the time of year, but quite in line with our bizarre year). We visited Napoleon’s pad in Elba (another garden which with just a tiny bit of tweaking could be a marvel). And we came back salty, which is landlocked Umbria is a very nice feeling from time to time.



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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