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Winter at Pianule
By Carole Cross    
April 2004

I was asked if I would be interested in writing another article for the web pages for those of you who enjoyed the first one so here is an update on the pleasures and trials of gardening in Umbria.

During the late autumn and early winter weeks I was able to prepare some further areas of ground for planting in the spring. Then the rain started, followed by several heavy falls of snow, which put a stop to further work. During a brief respite in the weather I was able to clear an area of very overgrown woodland that bounds our property to the west. After cutting down scores of thin, weedy blackthorn trees and removing countless bramble bushes and wild clematis, grown to gigantic proportions as they reached frantically ever upwards to find the light, I was pleased to discover several fine oaks and many lesser ones which I hope will now grow into stronger trees. The overall effect is amazing as I had not realised how much land there was in this particular area. Clearing it has given depth and a feeling of space to this boundary, whilst the remaining oaks lend an air of maturity. I intend to keep it as a natural wild area and have already introduced some native trees including Cornus mas and Spartium junceum to provide shade for an underplanting of hellebores, primroses and violets, all of which grow in the woods above us.

Although temperatures were not particularly low for long periods, the winter here has been quite harsh due to frequent falls of snow and heavy rain. The snow caused quite a bit of damage to my trees and shrubs that are still in the process of becoming established. The last time we experienced heavy snowfalls was in 1998/9 when there was nothing of any size to suffer; now that things are bigger, the weight of the snow snapped branches off olive trees and various evergreens despite my efforts to venture out at regular intervals to knock it off. The most devastating result, however, has been the hunger of the local porcupine population who have finally discovered the garden and have been making nightly raids in their desperate search for food. The first things they attacked were the irises, digging up large areas of path and terracing in their efforts to get at the rhizomes and leaving hardcore and stones scattered everywhere.

They then turned their attention to my spring bulbs, causing havoc in many areas and leaving other precious plants, growing in close proximity to the bulbs, uprooted or buried under mounds of mud. One night they even managed to locate a clump of daffodils under inches of snow! After this, I dug up the remaining clumps and put them into pots, but this only encouraged the porcupines to seek out my garlic – all very heartbreaking. The irony of this story is that there are rows of onions just beyond the house in a field between us and the woods where they live but somehow they just don't seem to fancy those. So if anyone reading this has any ideas on how to deter porcupines I would be very glad to hear from them.

Now I am looking forward to spring although it seems a bit reluctant to arrive this year, there being no consistency to the weather at the moment: one or two days of warm, bright sunshine are followed by several dark, dank days with rain and low temperatures. However, the fruit trees are in blossom and my Clematis armandii is putting on its usual prolific display of flowers, their perfume filling the air on warmer days.

The spring tidy up is a little behind schedule since the ground is still very wet and if I tread on it too much now it will set like concrete in the hot days to come. However there are nurseries to visit and the excitement of buying new material for those areas prepared for planting, so despite the porcupine problem I am full of hope as a new year starts at Pianule.

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