My Diary, Uncategorized

Eyes Wide Open

My mother told me that when I was a baby I hated going to sleep. She also said that when I was a toddler and was supposed to have a little nap, she would find me asleep yes, but sitting up in my pram and with my fingers trying to hold open my eyes! And I’m still none too keen on sleep, I guess I’m a night owl. Sleep is such a waste of time. And so, eyes wide open.

It’s amazing the pleasure you can garner by just driving a little more slowly, traffic permitting and maybe even losing your way. I went to have an asthma checkup the other day, tiny hospital not many patients so the doctor had a bit more time to do what old-fashioned doctors used to do before we’d all become numbers, have a chat. On the way home I passed by a huge sign announcing a bonsai exhibition so I parked and found out that it was at the weeke I asked for enlightenment from a lady who was so surprised she didn’t seem sure of what to do so she photocopied hers for me.

My supper the evening before had been absolutely disgusting: pasta e fagioli from the supermarket ,frozen. I’ve rarely eaten such awful stuff so I decided I needed a treat. I found a nice little restaurant, quiet no background music, good menu and pleasant waiters. Just the right combo of helpfulness without being too friendly. And after lunch on the way back to the car I saw the park gates standing open. Need I tell you I went in? Overwhelmed by the green. The park was beautifully laid out giving the trees their growing room and they had grown beautifully into their natural shapes, most were enormous. On the way out there was a statue, Neptune giving a horse to Athena by Aligi Sassu. And that’s only the morning! So as I began writing this, keep your eyes open! You never know what’s coming your way!

Gardening, My Diary, Trip, Uncategorized

Villa Carlotta

Who cares about a spot of rain? Well certainly not the fearless Garden Club members! We all crowded onto the ferry and sat on the few (nearly) dry seats to admire the loveliness of lake Como wreathed in the mists. We arrived at Villa Carlotta, one of the Grandi Giardini Italiani, to be greeted by Dr.Tantardini a phytopathologist who accompanied us round the garden. History, anecdote, advice, dripping magnolia trees, it was a fascinating walk until he said that it might be best to shelter in the villa, perhaps the rain would stop or taper off. So we had an extra opportunity to look around this lovely place with its reproductions of romantic Canova statues, Psyche and Eros of course. The rain did let up and we continued our explorations: he showed us how NOT to prune azaleas, told us which soil improvers to use for which plants and answered the many questions that we all had to ask him .What was extremely interesting was the kind of housekeeping he envisaged for a park like this. Little or no attempt had been made to prepare substitute trees should they die or get blown down; apart from the obvious danger of an old tree blowing down, the hole it leaves and above all the disappeared foliage, will completely alter the ecosystem that was there before. Tender plants will be left without shade or their windbreak so they will suffer too. We saw places in the garden where the azalea trees were old and destined to die or fall, leaving that particular space quite empty. It’s so much more complicated and linked in than I imagined. Another particularly fascinating insight was his aversion to irrigation systems. Apparently ,after time ,they tend to make the soil too lime-y and thus unsuitable for azaleas and rhododendrons. After a pretty decent lunch we tramped round the rest of the garden and then made our way home. A very succesful if wet day, there’s so much to learn.

My Diary, Uncategorized

An unusual,old fashioned and almost forgotten pleasure!

I have some beautiful brown leather brogues, bought years ago when we were not as animal-friendly as we are today, and paid for in lire! I think they make me look very English and I can assure you that gardening shows are the only place left to flaunt one’s Englishness with pride! So after several shows I decided to get out my shoe-cleaning kit and give them a polish.

I absolutely love cleaning shoes and I feel quite cheated by these easy-care plastic-y things we wear on our feet today! It brings back memories of home. When I was a kid my Sunday-morning job was to clean all the boots and shoes in the house. My grandfather’s Sunday boots were high ,soft black leather which you could work up to a really good shine; grandmother’s were usually black, very misshapen because of her bunions poor soul; my mum’s were normal, high-heeled court shoes generally in beige or tan, mine were ballerinas as befitted my age. I had a super harlequin pair but extremely trying to clean (all those different colours) Anyhow, I took great pride in all this. For the young people who have never cleaned any shoes, here’s how: first you brush off the dirt and dust, then you rub in the cream, then you shine with your black or brown shoe brush, and finally you buff the already -shiny shoes to a mirror-like quality!

Nowadays, you only see leather shoes very rarely. In the tube (having now given up taking pictures of manspreaders) I look at the floor, and what a pleasure it is to see really smart, beautifully shined shoes. The rest of the guy (it’s generally a man) is usually very elegant too .Come on, will anybody defend those shapeless smelly things everybody now wears? Absolutely awful and you can’t help remembering the famous scene in a Massimo Troisi film when he got out of bed to move the offending gym shoes.

real leather

whole family

Gardening, My Diary, Seasons, Uncategorized

A Tragi-comic Story with an Unexpected Happy Ending.

I have a young olive tree in my garden; I bought it from a seller with a truck along the roadside, not much hope there I’ m afraid. I have no idea what it really is, I mean the botanical classification but anyway it’s a kind of homage to Italy because together with those lovely Leonardesque rows of plane trees getting bluer as they recede into the distance it’s the typical Italian tree in my idea of Italian stereotypes. It was planted in the garden and surprisingly likes it. My daughter was worried about the original position so I moved it and it took off and did well there too. So by then it was making great headway but one year I was unable to prune the rambling roses scrambling over my pergola which cast so much shade over the olive tree that it tended to lean away. And of course the twigs very quickly got strong and quite thick and the tree had grown into an unpleasant, unnatural hunched shape. Obviously the only thing to do is to give the roses a haircut and try and pull the olive tree back to a more upright position. With a lot of help and muscle power from students and friends, very gradually the tree is now taking shape again, beautifully upright. It needs to fill out the more neglected side with some extra branches still, but I’m happy.

A year or two ago, I noticed I’d got a very heavy crop of olives. I asked around trying to find out when you should pick them. When I tasted them I decided they were awful until someone explained that YOU DON’T EAT OLIVES STRAIGHT FROM THE TREE! The next step was picking them and trying to make them edible (Google was very useful on this occasion) So first of all you wash them, prepare some brine and put them away in the dark. Easy peasy, except you have to do this 3 times with brines containing different percentages of salt. And I even did this. Then I forgot them in my cellar! When I DID remember, all the jars I opened had exciting varieties of mould growing on the top! Help! Throw them all away? Of course! NO though, wait a minute, don’t I know a very nice food scientist from a place I used to work? Yes. So after an exchange of photos to be sure that I wouldn’t poison myself I received a whole list of instructions. It was going to be a long job, but “in for a penny, in for a pound”. It was because I had to wash them, exagerrated a bit with the salt, found them inedible, washed them again and went through the 3-stage process yet again. Believe me however much you pay for your olives, it’s never enough. So now I proudly use my very own olives in my recipes ,that’s a success story!


Anteprima of Spring

Spring IS coming again this year, my garden told me so. We are having magnificent weather, bright and sunny, several drops in night-time temperatures but milder than last year. I have all this interesting information because I keep an R.H.S 5-year diary, fantastic invention. You can check what you’re likely to see , what’s early, what’s late what’s right on time. You can also hopefully correct a few of your last year’s mistakes!

I’ve also started combing through my “What happens each month, what to do each month”books. And I decided to put together a combination of the expert advice, the only problem with THAT brilliant idea is that I got a really long list of things”to do in January”.My idea had been to take out a book, sit in a sunny place near the Sarcococca (moved especially for this purpose) and just breathe in the inebriating perfume! Instead I find myself on my knees scratching about among the leaves which are supposed to suppress the weeds. It’s a gardener’s eternal mystery why weeds can get through ANY barrier you present them with.

I’ve also started growing seeds. I had great success last year with my Cosmos seeds, so I’m starting this new adventure. At the moment just Saxifrage and Parsley. I was shocked at the price of the saxifrage plants in the nurseries so I bought what I expected to be a root from my usual suppliers. It turned out to be ONE SEED. That’s right ,one single, wildly expensive seed. So now the lonely, minuscule, almost invisible thing is luxuriating in love and TLC.