The Journal of a Gardener in Tuscany – July 2004

The second half of summer,The Journal of a Gardener in Tuscany – July 2004 Articles also known as the dog days of pappy van winkle for sale, are upon us and while parts of the garden flourish, others struggle. They are called the dog days as in ancient Greece at this time of year the brightest star in the sky was Sirius, and it was thought the brightness of Sirius contributed to the heat. Now is known as the dog days of summer even though we know Sirius makes no difference, in fact Sirius now rises in winter in the northern hemisphere. All the same it is as if there is a second star baking the garden. The lawn slowly loses its life and green drains to yellow yet the trees and shrubs grow fast. The summer lilies, gladioli and agapanthus provide a soft delicate mix of colour while all around them the garden relies on water from us, as so little comes from above.

What rain that does come from above evaporates so quickly it rarely makes a difference. Only a really heavy rainfall helps, and these are still a month away. This is the hardest time in the garden because one small act of negligence, one pot missed, can mean death the next morning. All the work and time taken over a cutting, a seedling then potted a couple of times in three years, comes to nothing.

The springwater is holding up well and shows no sign of slacking with its incessant gush coming from who knows where. Apart from weeding and deadheading I spent a lot of time cleaning up the garden, dead growth from the furious spring must be cut back and growth encouraged elsewhere. The rose beds are coloured with petals from fallen flowers, and the only disappointment is the aphids, which has led t a certain amount of ‘balling’ of the flowers. When they are so badly attacked the flower never really has a chance to flower properly and so forms a ball of colour, far less attractive than the real thing. The bugs that eat aphids are late this year and few and far between them. This is a problem everywhere and when in town the other day I saw some dreadfully attacked Oleander and Roses, the life was gone from whole branches.

So ladybirds, who enjoy a feast of aphids, are most welcome here and when I found one the other day near a plum tree I kindly escorted it to the top of a rose bed where it can feed to its heart’s content. However, I’m not sure if it quite got there, as the moment I finally reached the top of the rose bed, after slowly walking with the ladybird, once picking her up when she fell to the ground, and with my hand partially closed, it fluttered away, so suddenly I couldn’t see the direction it went.

Hopefully, even as I write, it will be where it should be, but who knows, hopefully the end to the balling roses will come and then I’ll know. I visited the Garden Centre in Rosano today and the place was empty, of plants as well as people. The end of July is not their busy season and it showed; struggling for anything pretty to buy my Mother for her birthday I settled for a new wicker trug, for her to collect deadheads and, I hope, weeds.

The garden endures the fierce endless battering the sun provides, I have to say, that once the cool rain comes in August I’ll be a relieved man, even if our guests won’t.

The Oleander season is upon us, and having never seen them flower before, the first thing that struck me about them is that they are almost like a Mediterranean rhododendron. Large evergreen shrubs, similar in size, that produce lush colourful flowers in an informal pattern, that lends them to be planted informally.

I am surprised not to have seen oleander gardens in Italy in the same way the Rhododendron gardens and walks abound in Britain. Italian gardens are more formal in their design however, and oleander is a rare variety in the northern countries that favour informal gardens.

We have three oleanders growing between the cypresses facing south and on a bank. A very picturesque Tuscan sight you may think. However, the truth is they conceal a slope built by builders rubble, hardly ideal potting compost, and since I repotted them (when on holiday here at Christmas five years ago) they have hardly taken off. This year they are finally flowering and being tolerant of hardy pruning in the winter, guess who’ll be getting a short back and sides for Christmas this year. Along with a dose of fertiliser and a few soothing words.

A sharp thunderstorm this afternoon gave us the first serious rain in about 5 weeks. Much needed, especially on the outer parts of the lawn the water sprayer dopes not reach, as this is a lawn on terraces watering isn’t simple. Much was turning yellow and all parts were showing wear and exhaustion. This storm probably won’t change much in the long run, ie the next two months, but it will help keep the garden green.

The roses are also taking a breath after a frantic first flowering that still has my mother running round dead heading every evening and declaring this is the worst year for deadheads ever. I fed them, and most of the garden, with a soluble fertiliser too to help them recover from this spurt. Elsewhere the lemon tree is growing lemons and the plum trees are starting to produce plums. A trial run with plum and apple jam went well and much more jam will follow.

The vines planted last year by Antonio are growing furiously, already producing edible grapes, and threatening to take over the bamboo shelter he built. This would be fine, good though it is it lookes like a shanty town construction and when the helicopter came and we chose a photo they airbrushed out this bamboo construction without even being asked.

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