Friday, 30 January 2009


The Italian Bunch!!

Every morning I am met by this motley crew outside the kitchen door every morning. They are all starving. The dogs and cats have probably been up for at least three hours and would eat my handbag if I had it with me at this time of day!

During this time I have a tune running through my head that goes, ‘If they could see me now’, as dressed in a blue fleece dressing gown on top of which I have slung some old riding jacket, woolly hat and boots of varying descriptions, my smart friends in London would be horrified at this bizaar sight. It’s a bit breezy down below but at least I am warm and dry on top!

I blush to think of the times I have been caught out in this garb by total strangers who have let themselves in by crossing the stream and coming in the back way unannounced. Goodness knows what they think lives amongst them in the hills of Cortona, as they come across this apparition with mascara down to her chin!!! I don’t haunt houses, I haunt olive groves!!

First I feed the pushy cats and clean up the mess the wild animals have made during the night scavenging for any leftovers . There is usually a torn up a sack of precious potting compost they have mistaken for a sack of fish food or wild bird seed!!! They would eat my pampered cats if they weren’t tucked up somewhere hiding their heads under their paws and playing dead!

It’s usually raining at this time of the year so it’s a mad dash to the greenhouse followed by two filthy wet dogs thinking that instead of work, I am going for a long walk up in the hills.

On the way I inspect the advancing spears of the daffodils or the browning leaves of the over-wintering spinach or plan what needs doing by the gardener on Monday morning. Whatever I ask him to do will make no difference, he will do just as he pleases.

The ponies have heard my yelling by now and are yelling back. I have forgotten to throw them some tidbit or a chunk of hay. The little stallion will yell until I remember. He can wait.

I don’t quite know why they call my erection a greenhouse! It’s a poly-tunnel with a few mod cons like light and a little electric heater. It should be called, Heaven.

As a child I remember visiting my grandmother in her house on the Thames, just below Teddington Lock in London, where there was a proper green-house with a proper gardener who grew exotic things like orchids. I can remember the wonderful smell and beautiful colours that greeted me when I entered, and have never forgotten the magic of that little wonderland. Subconsciously, I think I have tried to recreate just this vision of Plumbago and Jasmine in my little plastic tunnel. The smell this morning was quite over-powering and although pouring outside, it was spring inside.

I don’t think any perfume house has ever reproduced a scent as beautiful as the natural scent of jasmine, or for that matter, many other flower perfumes.

The cats and dogs are usually shut out because I keep falling over them as I go about my planting deep in thought but if the rain is too heavy they come in and fight for the one dog bed. I have been known to hide in that same dog bed with them if unwanted visitors arrive when I am in haunting mode!!!

The inside of Heaven would probably resemble Hell to some of my tidier friends, but I know exactly where everything lives and among the bee equipment, the snakes winter quarters, the gheckos holes, the tools, plant pots, etc., I can usually find a pen to mark some new plant pots or a hammer to kill a bug!

Lots of little bags of seeds to plant at this time of the year. Some gathered from trips to foreign fields and some ordered on the net. Yesterday I opened a packet of cucumber seeds that I had paid two pounds for and it only contained four seeds!!! Can you believe they can get away with such daylight robbery? Note: Write rude letter to Thompson and Morgan.

By now there is usually an essential trip to the bushes! Not easy or comfortable when the bushes are dripping wet, the grass is sodden and there is little cover and one is being watched by four pairs of eyes wondering why the hell you are hiding behind a rock in the pouring rain!!

My eyes are streaming. Hankies wet with tears, must be allergic to something. Boring having just found my future amongst all things laden with pollen!!.

Ducks and chickens to let out. Little bantam sitting on five eggs, looking plumpy and pleased with herself. Herald, her husband on guard.

Laugh out loud as five ducks rush out with wings flapping to try a few exploratory take-offs! Most attempts end up in a pile of legs and white feathers akimbo, but when they do occasionally they get their fat bodies six inches off the ground they waddle back with a look complete elation. Or are they looking elevated?

Back to the greenhouse to write explicit biological names on tags for the newly-potted seeds and plants. “Hessi’s Triffids”, and “Plant Pinched from Garden in Perugia”! I will find the real names one day but not today I have too much to do.

Begin to wonder why my hands are shaking and promise to leave the second half of the wine bottle un-drunk at lunch time, only to realize I am on my second schooner of dark, black coffee. Try planting seeds the size of pin heads with shaking hands the size of shovels. Most end up on the floor.

Trickles of sweat drip down my back and I realize the sun has come up, the mist has disappeared from the woods and valleys and the sound of birdsong has been joined by the bells of Cortona announcing that it is mid-day. I have been wrapped in a world without worry for five hours and for the first time in weeks not thought about the credit crunch, only the safety of my summer’s harvest.
My grand-mother’s silver topped cane hangs in the corner of Heaven and her well traveled planter covered in gaudy oranges and lemons, probably bought on a trip to Amalfi in the thirties, sits on the bench.

They take note of me as I rescue the animals and make my way to my bath and a quiet Sunday afternoon in front of the fire.