My Diary, Trip

I’m just a gal who can’t say GO…

Actually that’s not the title of the song which is” I’m just a gal who can’t say no and I’m in a terrible fix”.I wish I were like that girl because procrastination is my enemy, Thief of my mini holiday!A gal who can’t say go, me down to the ground! So, eventually, tardily, tootling along in my car admiring the distant hills but knowing all the time that flat land is in my soul. Here the paddyfields and Poplar woods of the Lombard plain. Their flatness satisfies me, flat land, the horizontal lines give a feeling of calm., I’m not interested in the vertical thrusting lines leading up to….where? The really bright acid green of the rice fields, the poplars, green leaves their silver undersides shimmering in the slightest breeze all against that Leonardesque background of blues fading more and more as they are further away from me. I guess the mountains are wonderful to the more energetic souls among you or even the very romantic ones, but give me flat land.

I had decided to go and have a look at the lavender fields of the Oltrepò, but after quite a long ride, the landscape was unrelentingly green. Nice of course, but shouldn’t it be violet?So I stopped and asked a man where it was, and sometimes I’m pleased I have a foreign accent, foreigners are more easily forgiven for their lack of knowledge. ” Signora it was all harvested three weeks ago”! I really should do my research before starting out. So what to do? visit a little borgo, one ot the most beautiful ones in Italy apparently, and it was. Those quiet deserted streets , the climb up to the castle area and the church where I noticed that it’s not enough to be good to get into heaven, you have to climb a lot of steps. A nice little place, beautifully kept, but for me it was more to do with the intangibles: the perfect silence interrupted only by the birdsong, a cool fresh breeze which made walking a pleasure, even at 13.30, butterflies fluttering all around, occasional elderly ladies out walking with their granddaughters, the lady who stopped cleaning her windows to draw the curtains so I could get a decent shot of the gothic arched window….

Gardening, My Diary, Trip

Grazzano Visconti

Last Sunday, Monza Garden Club went to Grazzano Visconti for a plant show. It was held in the grounds of the castle, a medieval structure built by Giovanni Anguissola in 1395 for his wife Beatrice Visconti and it is still in the hands of the Visconti family . It looks very much as you would imagine a castle to look , square ground plan ,four towers (two square ones and two round ones), crenellated walls ,a moat that is still visible, grassed but not filled with water and even the traces of a drawbridge . We were able to go in although it’s usually closed to the public, visiting being allowed in the surrounding postiche medieval village, that was built in the early nineteen hundreds, more Harry Potter than Disneyland but a great crowd -pleaser just the same. It’s a really busy place with all sorts of events going on as well as the usual food and drinks services; I suppose you could do worse,

snob that I am! The interest lay in the castle grounds with its belvedere, and tiny maze,all very neatly manicured and barbered.

The show counted a select few exhibitors, really competent people and so willing to share their knowledge. It’s always a pleasure to pick their brains. I’ve been faffing about a problem for well over a year because my beloved hydrangea quercifolia is hidden behind a H. paniculata which has outgrown it and has hidden it from view. What to do? At every show, nursery, garden centre I’ve been to in the last year I’ve almost begged someone to say” yes, go on move it . It’s got a pretty good chance of surviving”….but no,from 50% I’m now up to an 80% probability of it dying. But the nurseryman from Viterbo with the beautiful stand of unusual hydrangeas , had the perfect, unthought-of-by-me answer…move the paniculata! Would you believe it? I can’t believe that the idea had never entered my head! So that is probably what will happen. The quercifolia will remain in its place the other will be moved and take its chance…one problem solved.

The other interesting event was a conference given by Umberto Pasti,

a writer on botanical subjects who divides his time between Marocco and Italy .In Marocco at Rohuna he has revitalised a village with the passion of an evangelist in his attemps to salvage autochthonous plants endangered by uncontrolled building and cementification. He is also interested in preserving the local culture as far as possible. Although I was not always in agreement it’s impossible not to recognise the profound love of nature and the farseeing fear of what wild modernisation does to both the culture and the countryside. A very interesting talk indeed.

So all in all it was a really happy day,and I managed to curb my spending(!) I came home with just 4 little pots of the sweetest smelling carnations as well as a rather crumpled pulmonaria which I’m told will prosper in the deep shade under the trees.

Gardening, My Diary, Trip

Orticolario and good intentions

In Monza parking tariffs were awful as usual and train information was obscure. in fact we mysteriously paid a different price to go from the one we paid to come back.

The journey is always a pleasure, but we arrived in Como, not Como lake or Como San Giovanni which we had asked for at the ticket office so we sat for some time wondering why quite a lot of of people had already alighted! Please notice Como is Como is Como! So we finally got off, walked through the town, had Italian breakfast and wended our way to the lakeside; it was nice, photogenic , relaxed, friendly. What was not friendly was the long queue! I asked a tall guy in front of me if I was in the right one and he admonished me to “speak English” (What a useful language!). Unfortunately, I guess we were talking at cross purposes (or he was one of those people who just HAVE to give directions even when they don’t know) because when we eventually DID get to the window and after seeing ,to our horror that the next ferry AND the next were fully booked we were finally told that we had been standing in the wrong queue. The miracles of Italian signposting! Where are all those young graduates in communication for heaven’s sake?

So I believe it was pier 5, but don’t take my word for it!The trip across is “free” or rather , it is included in the price of the ticket for the show. Anyhow ,it feels free! Orticolario just gets better each year. Bigger with more exhibitors including a lot of nurserypeople from abroad and above all with the paths laid out in sisal matting so it was easier to find your way about.

Inside there are a lot of interesting floral and garden-related stands. One which interested me was a local school doing agricultural projects so I bought some worms from them. I think my next project might be a wormery. Watch this space!

Another very happy day. I just need to garden, that’s all.

Gardening, My Diary, Trip


There was an important international event at Crespi Bonsai Parabiago. I like to decide on things at the last minute which of course is great for me, but I need to get my head round the fact that not everyone is as free and available as I am, so sometimes it’s difficult to find company. However on Sunday I was really lucky. Mind you there was a bit of difficulty hooking up with my friend, my tomtom wanted me to go to church, to crash barriers and generally behave badly! In the end I called her and she came and rescued me! The amazing thing was that the gps had got me about 500 metres from our meeting place. Off to Crespi’s. It was a special day: the guided tour round the museum was offered free, so we took it and Attilio showed us the intricacies of this extraordinary discipline which combines horticultural techniques and art. The extreme care they take to match the vases which are an essential part of the whole experience, to the essence. There are two different strands running through the world of bonsai. The classic stance which emphasises the “tree-ness” according to Zen ideas, or the more modern one which is not necessarily botanically correct but the artistic qualities are underlined and there is a sense of work -in- progress, an unfinished oeuvre .There’s a kind of running diatribe between bonsai buffs and the tender -hearted people who see the art as cruelty, but I believe the profound love which first caused men to miniaturize these trees in order not to be parted from them while journeying, or to take nature inside a temple, does a lot to offset this kind of criticism. The idea of family, of continuity is very strong, they are passed from father to son through the hundreds of years they live. In fact the chef d’oevre in the museum is a group of one -thousand -year-old trees. I’m sure you know more about them than I do so let me get on to a couple of things which were relatively new to me and which I found quite moving. Kintsugi or “golden joinery”. There was one small pot, seamed with gold. Broken but mended with the technique which makes the pot even more precious broken than whole because it becomes startllngly unique, one of a kind, emphasising the cracks instead of trying to disguise them and is an ecological lesson to us all. I think I might have learnt this lesson many years ago when I was a girl; I tore my school dress which was new and so my mother mended it with a beautifully neat patch. I was so proud of this dress, it was unique different from those of the other girls’ and my mum had made a lovely job of the patch, so I’m now complimenting myself for having understood the concept of wabi-sabi (to see beauty in the flaws) at a very early age. The other things which really floored me were the breathtaking rocks presented like precious artifacts and given a place of honour in Japanese homes. Suiseki( the art of appreciating stones formed by wind and water and suggesting stability,longevity and immortality) It’s interesting how these extremely costly items are born of……nothing (the little tables they’re exhibited on plus the shallow vases they stand in on beds of sand or water are worth thousands of euros ) And they are just a bits of rock picked up and contemplated until they surrender their meaning. The equilibrium, the structure, the colours give them their power of suggestion

My Diary, Trip

Train tripper

I love trains. So yesterday we spent getting on and off trains all round East Anglia. Lovely flat land as far as the eye can see. And the English countryside! And the cloudscapes! Green green green! There’s also a lot of water because we were on the edge of the Norfolk Broads where a lot of people spend their time cruising in river barges and boats. I went on a boat trip from Ely to Cambridge once and loved it, almost eye to eye with the waterfowl! My daughter said” I’m going to get off, I can walk faster”. Lots of different points of view in this family. I’ve sent you a famous song which is worth listening to, maybe with subtitles because there’s a lot of boating vocabulary! Go on, singalong!

We arrived in Lowestoft in time to have lunch in the “Joseph Conrad”. I should imagine you’ve all read his “Lord Jim” or at least seen the film. Of course you all know of the 1970’s film by Francis Ford Coppola “Apocalypse now,” based on Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. The walk along the seafront was great, very bracing (that’s English euphemism for quite chilly and windy!), the buildings a reminder of when no one jetted off to foreign destinations, before Spanish package holidays became the norm and you had a seaside holiday at home! There was an amazing kaleidiscope of dress. People in wind jackets, people in vests. There honestly weren’t a lot of people on the beach which is nice and sandy; everyone had a windbreak and I noticed a conscientious life guard watching the bathing kids with close attention. I’ve bought you a rude postcard, they don’t sell them any more because of political correctness I suppose. They used to be pretty off -colour,about vicars and actresses. I think this one is quite inoffensive.

Then off to Norwich. I’d read a glowing account of the town but maybe I went the wrong way because I found it very tacky, so many ambiguous nightclubs and girlie bars. Didn’t like it at all. But we did find the cathedral. ( The cathedral is in the news because the dean had a helter-skelter installed in the nave temporarily). Nothing ever comes near Ely cathedral I’m afraid, but this one deserves a better, longer visit. Especially Cathedral Close full of green lawns and trees, and beautiful old houses.

>On the way back ,knackered! I saw lots of piggeries and you’ll all be pleased to know that my breakfast bacon came from porkers living in the open air with space, green grass and mud to roll in. If you’re not a vegetarian that’s a comforting sight.