Thursday, October 29, 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Food of the Month: Remarkable Cavolo Nero or Tuscan Kale

 A Rustic Vegetable, Rediscovered

other names for this brassica are dinosaur kale, black kale, flat back cabbage, palm tree kale
It appears that a local peasant staple is currently the healthfood of choice in much of the western world. Brassica oleracea Lacinato is a tough plant which requires little attention and enjoys a long growing season, from one spring to another. It is particularly crunchy and tasty following winter frost. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Piero della Francesca and the Fall of Light on Solid Bodies

The Dream of Constantine 
in The Legend of the True Cross, Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo
overview of entire choir and its glorious frescoes
The Legend of the True Cross, Piero della Francesca's masterpiece in Arezzo, narrates how, over the centuries, the wood of the apple tree in the Garden of Eden became the cross on which Christ was crucified, through the interventions of the Queen of Sheba, Solomon and the Romans. Later in the story the cross's pedigree is verified and the cross itself plays a role in battles where Christians triumph over pagans. The Annunciation completes the cycle.
For a 3D virtual tour, have a look here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Happy Ending for Mister Fox

The Fox has Fled

Regarding our posts The Downside of a Fence  and Mystery Solved
we are delighted to announce that in all probability, Mr Renard has escaped the confines of our garden where he was inadvertently imprisoned during the installation of our perimeter fence.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ordinary Lives

The Diary Museum of Pieve Santo Stefano

'The famous river bathes the small plain..' a homage to Pieve Santo Stefano and its river by the poet Carducci

As you waltz between Arezzo, Anghiari, San Sepolcro and other delights, you might take a detour to a little town called Pieve Santo Stefano which, thanks to the efforts of the journalist and writer, Saverio Tutino, has become home to and promotor of an archive dedicated to diaries, the diaries of ordinary people collected since 1984. The writings come from all over Italy and span two hundred years of the country's history. 
The archive now holds 7,000 diaries.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mystery Solved

The Downside of a Fence part 2

We are now pretty sure of our mystery guest's identity because there have been several signs and, last night, a sighting, plus a convincing confirmation from the internet - to do with smell.

We first thought it might have been a fox. This was partly wishful thinking, because the possibility that a porcupine was enclosed in our garden with all its juicy bulbs, corms and tubers just waiting to be foraged, was just too scary.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Figgy Pudding

What to do with all the booty

 This year, with its hottest summer on record, seems to have worked wonders in the field. I am told that the grapes are promising, the olives are abundant and I can certainly attest to the incredible fig harvest of 2015, which is petering out only now. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Downside of a Fence

On the Inside Looking Out
(The Downside of a Fence part 1)

 When our fence was installed, over days and weeks, the noise of the men and machines ought to have scared off any residual larger inhabitants left in our garden.
But it seems it didn't.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Uffizi in Technicolour

Colour and the Evolution of the Uffizi*

Chardin's Boy Building a House of Cards, 1735, now displayed in the Foreign Artists' Gallery at the Uffizi
It is impossible to write a post on the art in the Uffizi Gallery. That is a job a) for more learned people and b) for people with more time on their hands. So I shall offer some thoughts on one aspect of the gallery which is prompted by recent changes: the colour of its walls.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Bucketful of Roses

September's Largesse

September is a generous month. It gives us grapes and figs, the last fruits of the vegetable garden, milder weather with sun, and wonderful roses. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Castle and Village of Vertine

A Medieval Jewel
Vertine seen from the air with its gate tower and castle keep tower and what remains of the curtain wall

The castle of Vertine is first mentioned in a document of 1013. Thus the village of Vertine is over 1000 years old. A statement like this can stagger. As a native of the Antipodes where white settlement goes back a mere 250 years, I am continually staggered, in this part of the world.

the castle keep, today an attractive B&B
Apart from being a castle and village for 1000 years, Vertine can almost certainly claim to have been inhabited over the same period. Not bad for a tiny village which must have seen wars, plague and countless other crises in its long existence.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Storms of Summer

When the Storms of Summer mean Summer's End

zoom-in on nearby Radda between storms
 Summer's lease may have all too short a date, but this summer has been a whopper, with record temperatures and record lack of rain. We couldn't wait for summer to end.
recent storms have given rise to 'trombe d'aria' or tornadoes such as this, seen off Massa Carrara (courtesy of

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Gardens of Villa Marlia near Lucca

The Ups and Downs 
of an 
Historic Garden

It is true that we arrived at Villa Marlia, Capannori, not far from Lucca, on an extremely hot summer's day during an extremely hot and dry summer. Yet our overriding first impression of the gardens was of neglect and decay.This impression was soon softened by splendid perspectives and some truly special gardens and features (the massive topiary hedges and bushes are most striking), but despite these, it is clear that the property has seen better days. It needs some saving.
 a portion of the lawn at Villa Marlia, with its spectacular topiary columns and spheres; one has to imagine the grass as green as per Capability Brown landscaping which it clearly imitates
magnificent, tall hedges leading to Clock House

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Fence at Last!

Le Ripe has its Fence at Last

It has been almost two years since the Le Ripe Saga of the Fence began (see side column for the whole gory story).
The principal reason for the Fence was protection against marauding and destructive wildlife.
On this very day we can cut the ribbon, pour the champagne, crow with joy and felicitation, for the Fence has been completed, thanks to our trusty gardening team.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Vegetable Patch or Vegetable Garden?

The Choice Before Us

Gardening is hard work. Enjoyable, but hard. A vegetable patch, which requires constant care: planting, watering, hoeing,weeding, pruning and harvesting, and whose produce is by its nature almost entirely seasonal, is consequently very hard work.
There is a local saying, l'orto vuole l'uomo morto or 'the vegie patch will be the death of you', loosely translated.
With that in mind, here is how things are evolving da noi/chez nous.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bufo bufo pays us a visit

Toad in a Hole
 This morning as I stepped outside to do some work in the garden I was confronted by a toad sitting on the cast iron bars of a drain. 
Possibly he was searching for water. So I decided to offer him some. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Yellow Foxglove

An Unexpected Treat

We first noticed the long stalks with  blackened buds at the end of one summer a few years ago. Wild foxgloves at Le Ripe. Next season revealed them to have rather dirty yellow flowers, not the favoured blue or purple. 
After that we considered ourselves lucky to have native foxgloves yet unlucky that they were such an unprepossessing colour.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ocimum Basilicum

It's not Summer without Basil

Once on a trip to Greece we noted the pots of small-leafed basil sitting, round and pretty, on verandahs. To our surprise we discovered that it was decorative basil, that the Greeks do not eat basil. Subsequently we introduced some Greek friends to pesto and it caused quite a sensation.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Getting there

 From Wikipedia:
A pergola or arbour is a garden feature forming a shaded walkway, passageway, or sitting area of vertical posts or pillars that usually support cross-beams and a sturdy open lattice, often upon which woody vines are trained. 

I would argue that woody vines and other climbing plants are almost invariably trained on any pergolas worthy of that name...

The pergola is the ultimate 'garden feature' which tends to be both functional and decorative. I assume pergolas have been around for a long time. The Chiostro Verde of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, has a wonderful depiction of an early renaissance pergola. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How to fool a bumble-bee

...and further your species.

The other morning while hanging out the washing I spied an interesting flower bobbing in the grass. It had three mauve petals and was being plundered by a bumble bee. Or so it seemed.
On closer examination the bee turned out to be part of the flower which was a tiny orchid.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Rose is a rose is a rose

Roses in May

In a 2013 post Roses are pink , Le Ripe's roses were introduced; here is the next chapter.

  My inherited cultural references being at least partly British, I usually associate the optimum blooming of the rose with the month of June, but here at the 43rd parallel north things start getting exciting in mid May; this year some summery weather has accelerated the excitement.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pizza in Chianti

The Requisites of a Good Pizza

We have had an outdoor pizza oven at Le Ripe for one year already but it is only now that we feel relatively confident about our pizza production; we still have to be tested for large numbers.

Below is a summary of the 10 most important things we have gradually learnt about making - and eating - this Neapolitan specialty.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Slow Food in Greve

 Greve does it again

You cannot deny that Greve is bursting with initiative. Last weekend it was the Flower Show, this weekend the town is hosting its annual Slowfood market which highlights the produce of a number of Italian Comuni or towns, from Grumes (Trento) in the north to Positano in the south. 
that lovely backdrop again, plus a stunning sky this weekend

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Greve's Annual Flower Market

Greve in Fiore

Once a year at the beginning of May Greve's beautiful piazza is enhanced by serried ranks of flowering plants.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Found in Woodpile

Nest eggs

Uncovered in woodpile, roughly-woven nest of moss, straw and wood shavings with six tiny eggs. Might be redbreast or starling eggs?

If anyone reading this blog can identify the eggs, please send us a message.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Walking from Radda to Volpaia

Cross-country Commandoes

our goal: the hill town of Volpaia, as seen from the hill town of Radda in Chianti. Volpaia is the cluster of buildings just visible below the skyline slightly right of centre.
Our guidebook Walking and Eating in Chianti* is 10 years old, but we depart Radda confident in the knowledge that Volpaia will be visible from most of the route: we can overcome any potential problems 'navigating by sight'.

Leaving Radda is easy enough, the guide's description extremely precise. It is a perfect day for a walk, warm but with a breeze, sunny but with occasional clouds.
The way is lined with grassy olive groves dotted with wildflowers