Saturday 29 August 2020

When porcupines invade

We assumed it was a porcupine eating the leaves from a courgette plant but we didn’t worry too much about it.  Then the other morning I got up to decimation, there must have been an army of porcupines in the garden.  They had taken green tomatoes and aubergines from the veg plot, leaving half eaten ones all over.  Mr FF has now put wire netting all round our crops, let’s hope that does the trick.
There’s worse.  I have for many years tried to cultivate Belle di Notte, an herbaceous perennial that flowers late afternoon and through the evening with a wonderful perfume.  I’ve tried seeds and cuttings with little success until last year I managed to keep a couple that were due to flower this year.  I don’t know why I have so much trouble with them, they grow like weeds, they get mowed down and come up again, they seem to like being treated badly but I’ve really had to molly coddle mine.  Unfortunately shortly after we returned Mr FF accidentally strimmed one of them which was my fault apparently for planting it in the wrong place (below the terrace so we could enjoy the perfume when sitting out in the evening).  I nurtured it back to life and marked its position clearly for future reference.
Then the porcupine had a go taking the top off again, I am not sure if it still has the will to live, it should be flowering now like the other one.  
One cheeky creature had climbed up onto the wall of a raised border in the middle garden and had a good munch on the juicy tubers of my iris, which is in fact very cheeky as these also grow wild and there are hundreds to eat on the hillside behind us,  which is where we think the porcupines live

A spider plant I’d been establishing in the front border had been completely destroyed, it was carnage but it could have been much worse. I’m hoping my dahlia tubers will be left alone and grateful that the hole dug next to my Passion flower had done it no harm. 
It’s bad enough having to water every evening whilst being attacked by mosquitoes without having these spiny pests undoing all our hard work.

Thursday 27 August 2020


Mr FF quite often likes to spend his birthday at the seaside, for his 60th we spent two nights at a beautiful hotel in Sabaudia, this year his 72nd was a little more subdued but very enjoyable.  We went to San Filice Circeo, a new to us little town in the province of Lattina, an hour and a half away by car much less as the crow flies, blame those mountains.

We needn’t have been concerned about social distancing, there were stewards taking our names and phone number before directing us to marked out spaces on the beach.  We usually hire beds and umbrella at one of the stabilimenti where there are toilets, showers, changing and a restaurant or snack bar but this year decided to use the free unserviced public beach, taking our own shade and folding chairs.  We took our drinks and lunch too, no mingling for us as the public beach was much quieter than the other spots.

The beach experience was much as it always is, plenty of beautiful bronze bodies, large families talking non stop,  kids with a vast assortment of inflatables and lots of fun and sun. 

We were right at the end of town and it was very pretty, lovely white houses rising up above us, craggy rocks and when I did my obligatory 
long passeggiata along the wet sand the views round the corner to the next large bay were stunning.  Mr FF had his usual long swim, he’s gone so long that I always think he’s perished in the water, he reported he’d tried to get round into the harbour but failed. 

Late in the afternoon we packed our belongings and took a walk round the town, admiring the boats in the harbour and some smart hotels, it really is a nice little resort, this photo is from the town Facebook page we didn’t get to the still active lighthouse.

Photo from Facebook

We stopped on the way home for ice cream, the best we’ve ever had with new flavours to try.   Delizia al limone for me, which was fantastic and included little squares of lemon sponge plus bacio, the Perugina chocolates with fondant and nuts.  Mr FF had paradiso which was full of all sorts, orange, lemon, nuts, yoghurt, and was pronounced delicious plus amarena crocante, sour cherry with crunch bits.  Last stop was our favourite farm shop for bufala mozzarella.

We also brought home quite a lot of sand, on our clothes and on our bodies.   I like that and the gritty feeling of being coated in salt with hair stiff from seawater.  We always feel we’ve had a good bashing after a day at the sea, the water was warm and pleasingly choppy, I’m sure it does us good.   And that is what birthdays are about.

Monday 24 August 2020

From scratch

People nowadays talk about cooking from scratch, it used to be called just cooking, as opposed to peeling back the film on a ready meal.  It means cooking without assistance or any prepared ingredients, although  someone once told me she was cooking me a meal from scratch whilst heating up what I could see was a prepared dish from Marks and Spencer.  

Anyway I like gardening from scratch by which I mean I like raising my own plants from seed or cuttings.  I’m not one for buying ready planted tubs or big mature specimens, I don’t need instant results.  I’m also quite partial to a failing plant from the bargain bucket confident I can give it new life and buy it cheap.  All my spider plants, and I have about 18 in pots and in the borders, are from one baby a friend gave me and I have lots of purple tradescantia from a cutting I stole from a hotel garden.

The seeds section in our agricultural store is a delight, I spend happy hours browsing while Mr FF is sourcing irrigation parts.  One of my biggest successes last year was dahlias from seed.  I didn’t expect them to flower the first year but most did, this year they are amazing and will be ready for division next year.  The bees love them which makes dead heading tricky as they particularly relish the faded flowers which must be higher in pollen.

I was also lucky to find 10 days ago two yucca tops that had been pruned and thrown out.  I checked on line and they root easily, mine seem to be doing ok, time will tell.  

Generally we don’t grow our veggies from seed as we can buy a tray of 6 plug plants for just over a euro and this year since we were late arriving we wanted the plants as advanced as possible.  They are  cropping nicely and I think Mr FF is already sick of me cooking pasta and vegetables from scratch.

Thursday 20 August 2020


We didn’t enjoy our first market experience so we decided to try the Sunday one on the altipiani above us.  It’s a windy climb up the mountain that Mr FF always enjoys driving,  I find it rather worrying as a lot of motor bikes enjoy the road too and it’s a bit of a race track.  

Again we found the market too busy for our liking and instead took a walk round the quiet streets of the town.   A little after 12 we tried again, by this time most people had left.  Generally the stall holders start packing up around midday for a one o clock finish, this time they hung on presumably needing a bit more trade.

I braved a rummage on the everything 5 euro table, in fact I found a very nice Marks and Spencers swimming costume in my size.  The supermarket one I’ve been wearing in our pool is suffering from the chlorine and I didn’t want to waste my better costume so I bought it.  Mr FF got a nice cotton shirt, we were very happy.

However when I was pulling out items to examine twice I came across clothing with UK charity shop labels still attached. In fact one top had a Red Cross ticket reducing it to £1. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen this.  I did a bit of research and it seems charity shops bundle up unsold items, generally cheap fast fashion, to be shipped abroad for rags, to be sold on markets or simply put into landfill.  Shocking, it just demonstrates how unsustainable cheap fashion chain clothing is, not just from the disposal point of view but also the awful production conditions for workers, though I’m not totally convinced that some of our better quality chains treat their producers much better.  

Tuesday 11 August 2020



We picked our first courgette yesterday, 5 weeks after we bought the little plug plants they are producing faster then we can cope with them.  The aubergines are about half full size already, it  will be a summer of ratatouille.   

By lunch time today the clouds were gathering, we watched the lightning around us and wondered if it would come our way. 

So we also had our first much needed rain.  Since we arrived we've seen maybe 10 drops total.  This was a heavy but fortunately not damaging storm that damped things down nicely but nowhere enough to wet more then the top couple of inches of ground. 

It felt good not to be so hot for a while, Mr FF took time out for a siesta and I read on the sofa with doors and windows open to let in the cool.  Now it feels fresh and clean, and the sun is back this evening.  We shall be eating courgettes outside as the terrace has dried and we are back to a manageable 23 degrees.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Not so lovely now

This is the view from our terrace of Paliano, a nice little town with a pretty medieval centre and narrow cobbled streets leading to the church and square at the top.  

However this year our view has changed and not in a good way.  The large white mass you can see central beyond the town is a new distribution centre for Amazon.  The whole area we look into is the Sacco valley, once home to heavy industry, infamous for corrupt dealings and major industrial pollution.  Now the factories mostly lie empty though the pollution from previous illegal waste dumping and chemical plants up river continues. 
Amazon are reputed to be bringing 500 much needed jobs to the area, most I imagine low skilled, part time ones, nonetheless welcome in a country where youth unemployment runs at almost 30%.  There will be more traffic on the roads, currently the quiet local one is being upgraded with a large new roundabout to access the site.  The warehouse is very close to the autostrada but then so are most locations in the valley.    
I don’t usually discuss politics here, I am a guest, but I think it’s a shame to have used a greenfield site, albeit beside a massive and ugly landfill site, when there are so many existing industrial areas going to waste.  Of course it all boils down to money, Amazon don’t want the cost or hassle of clearing and possibly decontaminating an existing site. They want a quick easy build and certainly in the way of budget supermarkets and Scandi hyper furniture stores they want to whack up a basic functioning building that contributes nothing to the vernacular architecture.
The construction work isn’t finished yet, we can hope that there will be some creative landscaping to hide this monstrosity.  We can hope for that in the same way we hope Amazon might pay some taxes here, I don’t hold out much hope for either.  Bear this in mind next time you are tempted order from Amazon, something I rarely do and will be reminded not to every time I look at the view.