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. 

from the Life of Noah, the Drunkenness of Noah, Green Cloisters, Santa Maria Novella
It is to be found in The Sacrifice and Drunkenness of Noah painted by Paolo Uccello in about 1425. Above the figure of Ham, in clear outline and striking for its perspective, stands a geometrical pergola replete with fat bunches of golden grapes.  
The garden at Le Ripe has been planted according to a design which evolved over some years and depended on various factors: our dreams, the lie of the land, the type of soil and the climate, not in that order.
It was impossible to plan everything from the start; indeed it would have been a mistake. As it is, some plants (and dreams) have had to be discarded as reality presented obstacles along the way. Yet about some things we have been signally stubborn.
From the beginning we decided that a pergola or two would be most congenial. What more delightful way to shade a dining or sitting area from the summer heat while decorating it with rose, wisteria and honeysuckle and filling the air with their perfumes, as our ancestors have done down the ages?

Our first pergola was constructed in 2007. It was a simple wooden affair designed to shade a small patio. We planted a pink climbing rose (name long forgotten) and a honeysuckle (lonicera periclymenum serotina) which arrived with us from a balcony in Milan.
Eight years on we are still waiting. In the meantime the nameless pink rose has perished (possibly thanks to pruning ignorance) and been replaced with a Cécile Brünner, which is famous for being prolific (hope springs eternal); the Milanese honeysuckle reached the horizontal plane only last year, so we added another honeysuckle for good measure. Hence we are still using canvas canopies to provide shade.

Next up was a large wooden pergola to shade a dining area for giants. Here we immediately planted what is doubtless a garden cliché, but irresistible nevertheless: The Wisteria, or rather two. This was in 2010. In five years the wisteria has covered perhaps 6 square metres in total, if we are being optimistic. Are we doing something wrong? The wisteria is duly pruned each winter and certainly looks wildly luxuriant in the summer. It is just slow to spread. Our canvas canopies were renewed this year.
Impatient with this lack of progress, about three years ago we added two of the above-mentioned Cécile Brünner roses which, it must be said, are doing their valiant best. 
Our third attempt at elevated horizontal vegetation is an iron pergola made and installed in 2013 by our favourite local blacksmith. Here is the description of its installation. This time we chose two climbing roses, New Dawn, and four grapevines (table grapes, known in Italy as uva Italia and uva Victoria). They are getting there: this year four out of six plants have achieved the horizontal. But only just.
Yet each winter, to our chagrin, they get pruned back to basics and they have to start all over again the following year.
We begin to wonder when we will enjoy thick, cool, overarching, green arbours. We cannot wait to be able to say with Marvell: 

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness...
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade. 

The Garden, Andrew Marvell, 1621-1678 

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