The Langhe Hills in Spring 2018!
Piemonte is alive at last, after what has seen like a very long winter compared to last year. This winter started in mid-December 2017 with snow that came and went, carpeting the terraced farmland in a blanket of crisp white snow for most of the following three months; fabulous for Christmas cards but not for the spirit! The snow was chased by rain! More rain in March and early April than the whole of last year. What will this mean for the farmers? So far they all seem happy that things are back on track, after last year’s drought, but they are hoping for some warm weather weeks now and no late April frost like last year. Last year’s frost greatly reduced grape yield in the Langhe but the quality, according to Barolo wine makers, will be high, so watch out for the 2017 vintage in a few years’ time when they start releasing Barbaresco and Barolo wines on the market!
Certainly, looking at our own land and gardens, there is a big difference this Spring. I have noticed an increase in song birds, last year the sun and heat were a month earlier and seemed to have had the birds hiding in the nearby woods, out of ear shot of the house. But we are surrounded by cuckoos, wood pigeon’s, blackbirds lots of different tits and other birds I am yet to categorise. So, for once, I am writing this outside, in the garden at 8am, with all the calls of nature in my ears, including my neighbour ‘Giovanni’s frogs and their mating calls!
The garden has woken up nicely in the last week, as at last the sun has made an appearance and daytime temperatures are up in the mid-twenties, with nights over 10 degrees. It has been a long time coming. The herb garden has taken off into a full on growing competition. I trimmed the oregano dead stalks back only two weeks ago and they have now started to billow into a stack of green healthy leaves. The parsley I planted last year, after originally planting celery by mistake (it really looked like parsley when it was young), has now become very established and in fairness has fed us fresh leaves all winter and looks like it loves it here. I have introduced some new herbs to the garden in pots to brighten up a dull entrance wall from the driveway, making a much more inviting welcome for us and our visitors. I envisage this will be far more attractive and aromatic! The herbs I have introduced are Pineapple Sage, Borage, Chives, Marjoram, Costmary, Melissa, Coriander and two different Mints. These are to experiment with and I will take cuttings soon and plant out in the garden in different areas to see how they fare here. I much prefer the idea of herbs growing in the land rather than pots. I sourced these herbs from a wondrous garden centre, Garden Pregno in Asti, Piemonte. Garden centres were getting me very frustrated, there was none I could find that had a decent array of plants but this one – oh my! You must see it! It is in Asti and you could blink and miss it driving by it but don’t be deceived. It has hidden depths! Behind the tiny entrance off the main road it has been sectioned into 6 ginormous glass houses about 50mtrs in length by 30mtrs wide, each containing different plants, trees, roses etc. It took an hour and a half to walk round just three of them – I was entranced. The plants are in amazing condition and are the best I have seen anywhere in the world. You just have to visit it if you love plants and are in Asti on a wine or sightseeing trip! Check out Garden Pregno's website
Garden Pregno, Asti Pictures
We have made a start on adding to the orchard with a granny smith apple tree, we can’t source this variety of apples in the shops here, so I am wondering how this will do in the summer heat. Another purchase is a nectarine tree, which will be espaliered against a south facing Langhe stone wall. I really hope these take off, as I sorely want my own apples in the next year or two and I prefer nectarines over peaches, which thrive in the garden but are mostly wasted on me. Fortunately, I think we have moved on from the earnest disaster of planting a pear tree in our first year and forgetting to water it! Our new friends in town have gifted us two gooseberry bushes, a new fruit for me to grow and one my mother loves. I am crossing my fingers on this, so I can feed her gooseberries all summer! The most frustrating thing now, is my lack of Italian. I am having to rely on gardening books from the UK, I know that the climate is challenging me on this front as plants react differently in each country and their instructions haven’t always played out well here, due to the lack of rain and very hot summers. I have to get on top of this language asap and buy some Italian gardening books, even if it is all Italian gardening terminology that I learn! If anyone has any recommendations please let me know.
Accompanying the return of the garden are our neighbours. They are starting to head back to Langhe after their winter sojourn in their respective, warmer weather, holiday homes in Menton and Genova. They arrive now for the summer months, as it is cooler in Langhe than the coast. Although I don’t think there is much difference in the summer temperatures, if last year is anything to go on. But I do like the idea of a coastal retreat for winter. This is something we are contemplating for next winter. Invitations are now coming in from the returners for dinners and lunches. It really is like we have been in hibernation for the last 4 months since they all departed and they have been sorely missed for entertainment, laughs and company.
I have made a couple of lovely things for the larder and health cupboard. Firstly, after a failed few attempts in the last couple of years, I have nailed a traditional Piccalilli recipe. Piccalilli and cheddar cheese are the only two food items I miss here. And thanks to some recent Dublin visitors we are now stocked with vintage cheddar cheese for another couple of months and have enough piccalilli for this year and to give as gifts to give our unsuspecting Italian neighbours palates and some lovely local ex pats.
Our garden is full of dandelions right now, I really can’t remember seeing this many last year. I have made an oil rub from these yellow darlings (courtesy of Jill at Prairie Homestead) for sore muscles, as grass strimming is upon us, or rather on Andrew. I expect the usual groans and gripes after he has strimmed the terraces and I do hope this salve will do the trick. I will also start adding the petals to salads and teas.
All in all, I am breathing again. I was holding my breath this winter and early Spring, praying for the rain to fill the well up and get the streams going again, as they hadn’t in 2017’s Spring. It feels like this year ought to be a full-on garden growing year. This is the point of being here and having this land, to feed and nourish the soul, and I am determined to make it happen this year. I will get the bountiful harvest I envisaged when we first bought here in the beautiful Langhe Hills of Piemonte!
Share our stories with your friends.