Orto Update: A Garden in Montone

Well the orto isn’t going to plant itself, and we’ve watched the sun patterns for enough days, it was time to bite the bullet and head in there and start whacking some weeds.  Jeff and I thought a small patch about a third of the way in would get the longest hours of sunlight. It’s too late in the season to be starting a garden, but enthusiasm and hope trump practical reality.
We were ready. We had on long pants, sneakers (to ward off snakes and scorpions), I made some ice tea for hydration, we brought our new sickle, clippers and rake. Then we stood in the middle of the plot, where the weeds come up to my chin and some of the big stuff is easily at eye level and it all seemed sort of hopelessly overwhelming.

So, we started to chop and cut and it was feeling like a very Quixotic mission. Maybe we weren’t fighting windmills but it seemed just as improbable that we could actually clear a space in the dense over growth. Of course, the instant we started, there was a steady stream of passer bys shouting encouragement and shaking their heads.  Italians are completely hot wired to give their opinion on all subjects, it’s in their DNA, so two sweaty Americans whacking at weeds in the middle of town is fine fodder for lots of comments. 

Then along comes Roderigo! He volunteered to get his weed whacker and give us a hand. The man is a maniac with his whacker! He can whack with the best of whackers.  A few hours later and about 6 huge trash bags later, we cleared a sizeable section of the plot. It was very satisfying, to say the least.

Then Roderigo wanted to know how we planned to actually turn the soil. The dirt here is unlike any dirt I’ve very seen, it’s hard clay clumps. So hard that you can’t tell a stone from dirt unless you smash it on the ground.  We have a little machine tiller, but that’s not going to cut through and churn the dirt, so tomorrow’s adventures may include going into Umbertide to see what the big boys use when they turn earth. Cutting weeds is just the first step, the earth turning step is going to be a lot harder.

Amazingly we found a fruit tree in the orto. It was laying on its side, but it’s now upright and our hope for the future. We think it might be a plum tree but no one is really certain. Roderigo votes for cutting it down, but we want to save it. Jeff also wanted to save this gorgeous poppy plant, but Roderigo was a little too quick with the whacker.
Although I had hoped to find some Roman or Etruscan coins buried in the ground, so far we only come across some plastic forks and a couple of clam shells. It is a medieval thing, a garden in the middle of a walled, fortified village. It feels pretty cool to be bringing it back to life again. This is going to be fun, but a whole lot of work and sweat.

(I’m fantasizing about artichokes in the fall, but that’s going to be a stretch.)


  1. Swisskaese on July 20, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I wish David and I could have lent you a hand. As you know, I tried growing artichokes from seeds and so far it has been a dismal failure, but I am not giving up.

    BTW- You can plant artichoke seeds until September 😉

    Let me know if you have any luck.


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