Friday, October 20, 2017

The Fallen Cypress

Resuscitating a Tree

The day the builders came and, manoeuvring their digger in a tight space, crashed into one of three cypresses we planted over ten years ago, setting the tree at a 45 degree angle, we were not sure whether it could be salvaged.
After we watered it thoroughly, presumably to ease its shock (it happened at the height of a very hot summer), the cypress rapidly sank to the ground, where it lay for over two months.
The experts told us it was better to wait for cooler weather but when they came to visit the patient they were concerned that many roots had been broken in the fall; perhaps the tree was compromised. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Build a Farmhouse: an 18th Century Architectural Treatise

Delle Case de' Contadini
Ferdinando Morozzi

...farmhouses can be improved, not for the sake of it, but in order to remove many fatal mistakes, as much for the Farmers' lives as for the damage incurred for the owner who cannot derive profit from his Possessions...therefore I will try to discuss this, setting out rules for building anew, modifying and enlarging pre-existing homes based on experience, and the Authorities of the most serious Writers...

...non poco si possono migliorare di piu' le Case de' Contadini, non per il affine di togliere ...tanti errori..funesti...alla vita de' medesimi Contadini, quanto ancora di pregiudizio notabile all'interesse di chi possiede, che non ricava dalle Possessioni quel frutto compensativo...percio' procurero' di discorrere sopra le medesime...esponendo le regole per...edificare di nuovo, e correggere, ed aumentare le gia' fatte le quali cose tutte saranno appoggiate all'esperienza e corredate colle Autorita' de' piu' gravi Scrittori... 
Delle case dei contadini, link to book

On Peasants' Houses is the title of this slim volume published in late 18th century Florence by one Ferdinando Morozzi (mentioned in the post on Le Ripe History). The Tuscan case coloniche or farmhouses inhabited by  sharecroppers, but not owned by them, (see the post on Sharecropping in Tuscany) are the typical clusters of rural buildings for which this part of the world is famous. They are often misnamed villas, but villas were the homes of the gentry and nobility, are grander and often surrounded by formal gardens. 
restored casa colonica not dissimilar to the one in Morozzi's drawing below: some might erroneously call it a villa but it is really just a wonderful old farmhouse beautified

Case coloniche are the solid, square stone structures where the farmers, the 'peasants' of the past, lived and worked. Arches, dovecotes, external staircases, towers, terracotta grills on the barns for aeration, are regular features; locations vary but tend to be central to the farmland and on an elevation, if available.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hilltop View from Le Ripe

We lost some forest but we gained a view
looking almost due east
When we first walked proudly over our property - the sensation of owning land, as opposed to a house, is strangely exciting - we convinced ourselves that our scanty maps showed it extending to the top of the hill. Our imaginations expanded it a little further.
looking north towards Panzano in Chianti

We would climb the hill and confidently point out the (imagined) boundaries to visitors. It was nice owning a hilltop, even if there was no view up there from spring to autumn, because of the forest of leafy oak and ash. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Long Dry Summer of 2017.2

...and the rains came

 ...finally, almost 60 millimetres

I only wish I could have captured the sound and fury of it all, the thunderbolts and lightning flashes. 
Thor and Zeus really let us have it, at last.

looking south towards Radda (invisible)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Day the Drone flew over Le Ripe

The upside of new technology: aerial photographs

A friendly, invited drone buzzed over Le Ripe this morning like an outsize mosquito and obligingly took some photographs.

Maybe next time it will deliver pizza.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Long Dry Summer of 2017.1

Waiting for the rain

these are early morning shots, before the heat sets in

As we walk crunching on the lawns - what say I? - former lawns and meadows, at Le Ripe, I reflect that the place is looking more and more like Australia. The hills have turned prematurely brown, the earth is parched, some bushes and trees, or at least their foliage, have died.
most hills are browner than this, it is quite marked

The drought has been with us since spring. There have been two mediocre rainfalls in the past 4 months or so, totalling about 30ml. It was almost the same last year but at least then we had enjoyed spring rains.
some plants have fallen by the wayside

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cabbages and Flax

 Surprising Sprouts

At Le Ripe early this spring we had a man with a tractor work over our orchard to tumble out the biggest stones and level the ground for easier mowing.

 The resulting freshly-turned and raked earth cried out for seeds. Grass would have been the obvious choice but inspired by friends, we opted for something prettier.
Our local supplier sells sacks of flax seed. Since the flax flower (linum usitatissimum) is a pretty blue, we thought this would make an attractive first planting before grass seeds were sown in autumn.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cleaning out the Fish Pond


  Each year it is a rather sorry and tiring task of mine to clean out our fish pond which we created in a section of the adapted remains of the former laundry trough at Le Ripe.

Tiring for fairly obvious reasons: the trough measures about 2.5 metres by 1.5 and is about 50 centimetres deep and after one year its base is rich with sludge. It has to be completely drained, emptied of its stones and pots and the sludge and rubble swept out through a narrow plughole.

 A sorry task, because each time the fish seem to be the victims of fate and clumsy handling, one way or another. 
It is remarkable to think that our goldfish, left to their own devices in the pond, have survived extreme heat, extreme cold (including 10cm of ice on the surface of the pond), dirty water (this year for various reasons it was 2 years since a clean-out) and amuchina which is a sodium hypochlorite compound used for disinfecting water to deter mosquitoes. This was added when I thought the fish had perished; I was not trying to murder them.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Oscar Tintori's Garden of Eden

The Citrus Hesperidarium at Pescia

If you drive to the west coast from Florence you may take the Firenze-Mare motorway along the broad valley of the Arno all the way to the sea and Pisa or Lucca. En route you will be treated to views of one of Tuscany's celebrated plant nursery districts (others are to be found further south along the Arno and in Versilia on the coast). 

Battalions of cyprus, platoons of magnolias, brigades of tufted or twisted ornamental bushes, divisions of deciduous trees, regiments of shrubs: an entire army of woody plants marches towards the sea. It is a magnificent display of human enterprise, the varieties of horticulture and human-imposed order.

If you have time (and you really should make time), on the way towards Pisa and the coast, you could make a detour at Pescia (exit at Chiesina Uzzanese) to visit the glorious, perfumed citrus nursery founded by Oscar Tintori. Here you will find gigantic greenhouses covering 2000 square metres and sheltering hundreds of different varieties of citrus plants.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Clump of Violets

Spring's Herald

Spring arrives officially in about 10 days but there are some exciting harbingers in the garden, not least of which this spectacular clump of violets, all the more precious for being wildflowers.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


After a Good Rainfall

During most of the year the two streams that run through and beside Le Ripe are completely dry. Even the Pesa river in the valley below dries up in summer, although it is said to continue flowing underground.

Recently Le Ripe received a gift of 82mm or more (over 3.2 inches) of rain in 24 hours, and it shows.

 There are waterfalls everywhere.

Monday, February 20, 2017

From Farm to Forest

Back to Nature

registry map of Le Ripe

When we first arrived at Le Ripe we invited an 'arboreal archaeologist' to examine our trees. We rather fancied that some of the old apple trees might have proved interesting and we thought she could advise us on how to proceed with new plantings at Le Ripe. 

When I showed her the dense woods, full of brambly undergrowth, trees reaching for the sky through thickets of blackthorn and juniper and said something cheerful about it all having gone back to nature she stopped my ramblings with a curt: 'This is land which has degenerated'. 

Although at the time we were shamed into silence, we now have a different perspective (see the post on Monks and Forests) on the fate of forests. 

However, paying respect where respect is due: Le Ripe was once a fully working farm where the native woods provided fuel, forage, fruits and timber for tools; where grapes, cereal crops and fruit trees were cultivated; where livestock grazed; where bamboo and certain trees were planted for their agricultural usefulness. Since it was abandoned in the 1950s or even earlier, the land has been steadily reverting to its pre-agricultural state, 'degenerating' in a sense, although regenerating in another sense.

Until recently, apart from a detail in a neighbour's family shot from 1946 (see below), we had no documentary record of this process, but now, thanks to the internet we have found aerial photographs, starting in 1954, which provide a striking testimony.

2013: for the purposes of comparison with 60 and 70 years ago
The entire area captured in these aerial photographs is of great interest, but for the purposes of our exercise, the Le Ripe property comprises the central area of the photograph, bordered to north and east by the Pesa river, to the south by creeks and to the west by the crest of the forested hill (see map at top of post).

Le Ripe 1946, from the Pesa river (the houses in the foreground belong to Casanuova delle Ripe, a hamlet below Le Ripe): note the terracing, the tracks, the sparse vegetation. these were pastures, grape terraces and fields for growing cereal crops to which the large ricks of oats and wheat bear witness.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ballads, Laments and Maledictions

Tuscan Folk Songs


scenes no longer seen in Tuscany

In the 1960s and 70s a young Tuscan woman of Spanish-Swiss parentage took it upon herself to collect, record and perform the traditional songs of Tuscany.
a very young Francesco De Gregori, with Caterina Bueno and Antonio De Rose in 1971
Born in Fiesole, brought up in postwar rural, poor Tuscany with a nanny from the Mugello area, Caterina Bueno was to dedicate her life to the preservation of a precious folk tradition. In her own words, when asked whether she was more interested in ethnomusicological research or performance: "Research! Because
for me performance serves to finance research and to augment it."