Our odd unseasonal drought broke one day last week with a thumping 70mm of rain in about 12 endless hours of downpour. Forecasts presented vistas of dreariness and damp from then on, but not a drop has materialised, and our bits of overcast have alternated with some pleasant wan sunny stretches.
Before the storm, I had the wonderful Giuseppe in with his digger. Giuseppe is an artist. From the cabin of whatever piece of unwieldy earth-moving equipment he’s manoeuvring he sees volumes and gradients and the tiniest undulations that are unimaginable to mere mortals. I had (who knows why?) actually tried to involve a different earth mover in my long-running attempts to reshape the bit of garden beyond the concimaia and behind the chicken house. But when that fell through, and when I spotted Giuseppe working in the agriturismo up the road, I collared him, and dragged him down here.
One afternoon with Giuseppe, and the place was transformed. (A testimonial to his skill: 70mm of rain on freshly shifted ground failed to disturb a grain of dirt – except out in the old agricultural road where water gushing from the pipe that brings run-off from our lane carved an impressive channel.) Since when, I’ve been trying, and failing, to move forward. It’s most frustrating.
Timing here is of the essence and I’m afraid I may have missed the boat. I need trees and bushes in the ground, so that – more urgently – I can then sow grass seed before the ants really get going. As the temperature rises, I’m beginning to see ant activity seething all around me – tiny holes in the ground with crumbly soil around their entrance, rapidly expanding into huge omelettes of churned-up earth here and there, messing up the grass.
Once they’re on the move, it’s a nightmare: they’ll fan out immediately in their nasty, vindictive campaign to pick up every single seed and carry it back to their lairs where they’ll pile it up in infuriating heaps, on full view, just to taunt me. Am I being too me-ish about this? I think not. They are, without a doubt, out to get me.
I was a hair’s breadth away from completion yesterday and today… until the person supplying and planting went down with what sounded like the cold to beat all colds, and retreated to bed. The forecast says there are four days of rain coming up. Will they materialise? If so, I’ll find myself with earth so damp and claggy that there’s no way I’ll be able to sow for many days afterwards. Aaaagh.
While I’m on the topic of insects that have it in for me personally, let me mention: vine weevils (Otiorhyncus sulcatus). They even sound like evil creatures.
They have invaded my poor little greenhouse (half-dismantled by icy gales last month, ripped about again in last week’s storm, now put back together expertly, lovingly, and with rather more duct tape that I would have liked). Every morning when I go to check on the watering situation, there’s another blighted stump poking out of its pot where a nascent tomato plant used to be. Interestingly (though not really…) they seem to like some varieties more than others. Or maybe they’re just being methodical and working from one end to the other.
There’s something so mean and underhand about an insect that lurks in the soil, hanging about waiting until it’s dark and you’ve gone to bed so that it can wiggle out and start gnawing at your precious seedlings behing your back. I’ve brought the tomato trays inside now. I’m watching and waiting, ready to grab the little devils as they emerge, and put an end to their evil nibblings. How many have I caught so far? None. But I will.
So it’s just as well, then, that spring’s niggly challenges are being made up for by an extraordinary explosion of blossom, to lift the soul and make the heart sing. The little crabapple has gone beserk; the cherry trees are magical. How I love flowering trees!
In my new stretch of garden I have replanted my wonderful oak-leaf and Annabelle hydrangeas – the ones that I allowed to be engulfed by a weed patch, arguing to myself (ha ha) that that would protect them after I’d had to remove their sheltering elm trees which had been wiped out by disease. How easily I fabricate excuses for my slap-dash gardening methods!
I really needed Giuseppe and his digger to get the monumental specimens out (they had been there for ten years, or maybe more). Getting them back into the ground, by hand, nearly killed me. I only hope that they won’t take too much offence at being disturbed so violently this late in the season. For the time being, they all seem to be happily pushing out pale fresh leaves in their new position. Fingers crossed.
Most of what still needs to be planted is tree, and exclusively flowering tree: more fruit trees, magnolias and red-flowered witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’).
We fled coast-wards last weekend, for a dose of sea air on one of L’s so-called work assignments. We stayed at La Pescaia Resort, a wonderful old agricultural estate-turned laid-back holiday venue near Roccastrada.
How I love that Maremma bit of Tuscany: it has an arcane feel to it. If a buttero (an old-style Tuscan cowboy) lollopped past on his horse, tending his herd of massive long-horned white Maremman cattle, it wouldn’t surprise you. On the road between Roccastrada and Sticciano, the forest of cork oaks (Quercus suber) is magnificent and unsettling, with those writhing trunks, recently harvested and scraped a red-black the colour of dried blood, twisting up out of the undergrowth.
At Alberese we rented bikes and whizzed along the levée (swamp drainage channels criss-cross this flatland) to the beautiful stretch of sand tucked in behind the Monti dell’Uccellina. Herons lifted off the water in slow motion. Maremman cattle studiously ignored us as we passed. Signs along the way had a difficult-to-interpret drawing on them which seemed to suggest that it was forbidden to feed peanuts to wolves, but we saw none of these – just one furtive fox checking out the rubbish at the almost-deserted picnic area at the beach end.