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A New Garden in Umbria, Italy

words by Carole Cross  
photos by Colin Cross
August 2003

The garden at Pianule, situated at about 450 metres above sea-level in Northern Umbria, was started in 1999. My philosophy has been to prepare the ground as well as possible, to choose planting material that will cope with the prevailing conditions (both climate and soil) and to stay in harmony with the beautiful, natural surrounding countryside. I water regularly during the first year after planting to encourage a strong root system, thereafter, with a few exceptions, things are on their own. A large, purpose dug, cistern and two above-ground tanks collect all the rain water from the roof and these have proved invaluable. I water with cans and insert tubing into the planting holes of all larger subjects to ensure that water is not wasted and goes where it is needed i.e. to the roots. Due to this philosophy my garden in being made in stages and at present I have areas to three sides of the house in various stages of development. This approach also means that I gain experience with each year that passes.

The photographs show areas that bound our pool which is situated discreetly below the house and is bounded by an existing natural backdrop of deciduous trees and shrubs plus a small conifer plantation. The long border between this boundary and the pool terrace consists mainly of rocky sub-soil from the pool excavation and is planted with subjects that can tolerate such conditions - Atriplex halimus, Buddleja davidii, Perovskia, Lavender, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Verbena bonariensis etc. The terrace edge is softened by Erigeron karvinskianus which flowers from May to November. The Verbena is also particularly rewarding, seeding itself about freely so that during the long , hot summers there is always a succession of flowers - the older plants starting in May and the newer seedlings looking fresh and bright in August. This border is always alive with butterflies, lovely when you are sitting by the pool.

The opposite border slopes down from the house and another photograph shows the access steps to the pool. Here again I have used Lavender and Erigeron. (I would rather see repeat planting that is flourishing than more diverse subjects that struggle.) The main border, to the side of these steps, contains olive trees at the top plus Teucrium, Artemisia 'Powis Castle', and Santolina. At the bottom of the slope, where it flattens out and is retained by a wall, there is Lonicera japonica 'Halliana' and Jasminum nudiflorum to provide perfume in summer and colour in the winter. Certain indigenous plants that invade the garden are tolerated and some, such as poppies and forking larkspur are encouraged since they add intense patches of seasonal colour. (You may well spot one of the purple vetches and also wild carrot in the photographs.)
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