Summer in the Langhe Hills
The fast turning days of our first Piemonte Spring passed us by with speed like the fresh breath of a morning, dew filled, day; quite quickly it became warm and sticky, with the leaden, heavy, breath of summer. No distinction, or gentle easing, this year at least, from one season to the next. The year had been preceded by El Nino and it is often said that the following year is the opposite, climatically, than the El Nino year weather had been before it. We hadn’t been following the Italian weather at all, until buying the house in Italy, so we had no idea what the opposite weather this year was to be. The Autumn we had visited Piemonte, in the year before had been unseasonally hot, with a lot of our new neighbours verifying this. Of course it had snowed in March, the first week with my Mother and a bare month after receiving the house keys. It hadn’t snowed in the preceding five years, according to the font of all local knowledge, our neighbouring farmer, Giovanni. Spring was a hotch potch of fog, a common occurrence in Spring, Autumn and Winter and some drizzly rain, with a few hot heated patches when the clouds cleared. Then in May, wham! Heat! Hot, hot, heat, all day and into the early evening, with a sudden drop when the sun dipped down to bed over the far Western hill. Our Irish skin was unaccustomed to doing any more than flat out sunbathing in our ‘prior’ life of vacationing in the heat, covered in factor 15. This was a very different experience. We had to get some of the land in to order, the first important step was my very necessary herb garden.
Working in the heat, at 35 degrees, with a sun hat and very little other protection, was extremely arduous. Sweat and sticky dirt trickled over my skin from head to toe, whilst pulling out the multitude of weeds from a waist high concrete bed, perfectly situated to the East of the house, and in reach of the kitchen for herbal recipe necessity, this bed a grand 15ft x 2ft, hadn’t, it appeared, been thought of in years. Every grain of dirt appeared to be attached to a weed, whether ready to sprout from it’s hibernation, or attached to the swaying weeds and sprawling ivy above ground. I hate to waste a good bit of dirt and rather than dig it all up and start again with new topsoil I decided to sieve it. Yes, sieve it, in 35 degrees of heat. A sucker for punishment, I went off to the local hardware shop and in my best broken Italian made the request and lo a sieve was produced, perfectly perfect for the job. I set to, and a good 5 days later had sieved at least ¾ of the bed. My biceps had toned and I felt like a Roman warrioress in the garden, no weed was left undefeated, all had vanished into the bin bag, along with an inch off my waistline, and off to the very handy local commune tip.
My first herbs, planted in Italy, were Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Basil, Oregano, Chives, Parsley and Mint. Planted fresh, from locally sourced growing pots, straight into the earth, in the garden. The joy of it. After years of growing herbs in pots in our 4x2m decked yard in our city centre Dublin terrace you have no idea how wonderful it was for me to just dig a hole and plant a plant, letting it decide how big it wants to grow. Every day I waked, padded out to the herb garden and marvelled at it all, while sprinkling with some well water before the sun popped over the Eastern hill. The honey bees from the farmer in an upper terrace were, it seemed, equally delighted with this new arrival, buzzing around and scouting out a new pollen patch for later in the year, for now though, they were content with the huge lavender bush that arched it’s newly sprouting flowers over the Eastern end of the herb garden.
We bought some necessary garden furniture in June for lunches and dinner alfresco. We had inherited a round table that sat awkwardly, for now, under the portico but felt an additional eating area was required for more formal events and our own entertainment. We purchased an 8 seater and chairs and placed them under our only shade giving tree in the garden, a gigantic spruce that was well positioned for the midday sun, as it cast a cooling shadow, for a few hours anyway, from 12pm til 3pm, someone must have thought of this idea years before our arrival, I like to think that the plan had been for this to be the lunch tree. It is an interesting Spruce with drooping arms and needles, like long fingers pointing down to the earth, at least 60ft in height, it majestically towers over the South East section of the garden, near the house. On further research, we discovered it to be a rare ‘Brewer Spruce’ tree. Hence forth it has been referred to as Brewer, as in ‘shall we have lunch under Brewer?’.
We settled into a new routine, quite, startlingly for anyone who knows me, distinct from our Irish pattern, in Piemonte we rise at 7am, water the garden, have a herbal tea in my case, coffee for Andrew and then some writing and emails for our own businesses and a swim for an hour in the local pool, then more work emails or calls, lunch under ‘Brewer’, gardening, emails, calls and then aperitivo at 5.30pm and dinner at 7pm, finally listening to an audible book for an hour before bed at 10pm. We have made the conscious decision to forego a television, we inherited one with the house but have put it in the attic. There doesn’t seem time to watch television here, there is always something to do outside during the day and in the evenings we ease our tired limbs and eyes on the couch, while sipping a glass of Dolcetto and listening in comfort to a book (via Audible), this quaint pastime has become something I find both rewarding and relaxing. Are we getting old? Who knows. We may end up getting a television installed with Sky by Christmas but at this moment in time I can’t see why.
Read all about our garden surprises next.
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