19 March 2018


As always at this time of year, we’re under siege. It’s not that I’m particularly worried that these bluetits are chucking themselves so hard against the imaginary enemy-interlopers they see reflected in all our windows, though that’s quite distressing too; but they spend so much time tilting at reflection-windmills, I’m concerned that no one’s getting down to building nests for the eggs that are sure to arrive soon.

0319LOr maybe it’s just the male bluetits that are so bootlessly protecting their pitch. Maybe the female ones are getting on with things calmly, ignoring the antics. Can bluetits roll their eyes? I now have this mind-picture of eye-rolling bluetit ladies: that would kind of make sense.

0319BThe world is full of spring signs now, though there’s been little spring in the damp cold air. One morning, walking up to town in a moment of zingy sunshine as the big freeze of three weeks ago (ten centimetres of snow; temperatures that never went above -2° for five days and plunged to -10° – unheard-of cold in these latitudes) finally loosened its grip, I was stopped in my tracks by a powerful smell of liberated earth – soil that smelled as if it was brimming with potential green stuff.

0319ANow there are daffodils, and a haze of violets-inherent-in-the-system (as L calls my wonderful patches of wild Viola) and I noticed today that the lilac bushes are breaking into leaf. But in fact, I wish they wouldn’t. After the many days of rain – from drizzle to torrential – that we’ve been having and are doomed to continue having, we’re going to get a bit of variation in the shape of snow showers some time this week, the forecast says. I’ve brought my seed trays from the greenhouse into the house, fearing that a burst of ice might finish off the tiny leaves which have just begun to poke through. Basta. I timed my return from travels in sunny climes to coincide with the end of winter. Next time, I’ll seek the sun later.

I can feel the hot breath of clients close on my neck but there’s really very little I can do. The ground’s too claggy to work; there’s little point in trying to build if you can’t get your cement into the cracks before another downpour begins. So I’ve returned to the house in town where my suites are finally getting their little kitchens – the ones I’ve been talking of for weeks now as a fait accompli when really they were just a twinkle in my eye.

0319CMy hopes for elaborate creations designed by me and made by my obliging artisans went slightly out the window: time and (lack of) funds can scupper the best-laid plans. The flatpack alternatives, though, are looking neat and very functional – probably far more practical than anything I could have invented. I still keep asking myself: will anybody use them?

Pieve Suites is not, so far, experiencing huge demand. Which gives me time, I guess, to work out what it is I’m doing. The answer, of course, is that I’m making accommodation in my own image, or rather accommodation in which I’d like to stay. It can’t just be me who wants this, can it?

Many friends, for example, have questioned the need for kitchens at all. But they are, in the final analysis, one of my main selling points – and something that I might, feasibly, use. My suites are larger than anything comparable in town, and in a style which is utterly different. (Are we still in CdP? It doesn’t feel like it! said one amazed friend – a CdP resident but originally from Milan – when he came to take a look last week. I was rather proud.) And they’re aimed to a large extent at people who want to be able to look after themselves. They can call on me for help and advice whenever they want, of course.

But I feel that the more I provide the tools for guests to be autonomous, then that’s the kind of guests I will (eventually) get. And if they’ve bought some great cheese or amazing tomatoes and for a meal or two want to snack on a salad or a plate of pasta al pomodoro instead of resorting to local eateries, this is the place: they can, comfortably. That’s what I want to provide.

I’m locked in mortal combat with my builder over the residual crane – the one used in building our house, which has languished, unused and unusable, in Mario’s field ever since. Thirteen years it has been parked up the lane, blighting the landscape and driving our poor higher-up neighbours crazy. For 13 years I’ve been going on at him to remove it, though with degrees of vigour that have waxed and waned over time.

It’s a rather less intrusive rusty red now rather than the flaming scarlet it started out as. There was a point where rampant vegetation had all but engulfed it, but that has all been unhelpfully hacked back. What has really focussed my mind on it recently has been moving the veggie garden from lower down to up there where I’m eyeball to eyeball with the hunk of rusty tin each time I go to check on my wonderfully vigorous garlic crop (not much else planted so far). It’s just plain ugly, and desperate measures are needed to overcome the builder’s eternal inertia.

So I’m witholding some of the money I still owe him for the work in town. He’s not happy. But as I point out, he’ll be unhappy up until the moment he removes the crane: his felicity is in his own hands. Thanks to him, I’ve been unhappy for 13 years.


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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