Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Italian Gardens Old and Modern 4

Those who go from the mountain districts down to the Maremma, to work during the summer months, probably keep well while they are there; but as soon as they return to the keen, dry air of the mountains, the effect of it is to develop the malarial fever that has been dormant in their system.  In cases of consumption it is the same thing. Where it is latent in the system, there is no more sure way to develop it than to bring the patient to this keen, piercing Tuscan air.  I have known this frequently happen in the case of English people, who might have been considered delicate but in regard to whom there had been no suspicion of consumption. The climate of Tuscany is one that stimulates without bracing, and requires long and frequent absences from it, if one wishes to preserve the constitution unimpaired. It is a most uncertain climate, with variations quite as great as those of England, only, as Italians say, always in esaggerazione.  It is always an extreme, be it of heat, cold, drought, or rain, as is expressed by the Italian proverb, “Ni in freddo, ni in caldo, siamo in cielo”.  And the people have the same characteristic, - unbalanced in the highest degree, and it is extremely difficult for a foreigner to deal with them until, after some years of experience, he begins to understand the different types, and to discriminate between them.  There is no training of children in any rank of life, and it is really not until a young fellow goes to his military service that he gets some idea of discipline.  There is no better servant than a youth just returned from his military service; it is the one education of the country.  When I look back and think of the way the garden and I struggled on, always making a little headway, it does seem to me extraordinary that it should ever have developed at all.
In the late eighties, family matters recalled us to England, and we were absent for a year and a half, and again in 1891, for fully six months.  When we returned on this last occasion, the place was in such a  state that I was thoroughly disheartened, and seriously thought of giving it over into the hands of someone who could supply us with flowers, and make what he could out of it.  But by this time I had gone to very considerable expense with regard to it. We had had a number of frames made, which I was allowed to stand on the sunny side of the big park, and after the stanzone came into my hands, finding it was a kind of cemetery for plants in the winter, I entirely remodelled it, putting in a glazed window to the west, taking down the tiles from the roof in two places, and glazing the vacant spaces, doing away with the lumbering old doors that suggested a convict prison as they swung to and fro, and making two neat, small beds at each side of the new doors, which were on a wooden frame inside and slid backwards and forwards into place, and were fastened at night by a padlock.  These beds had nice stone edgings, and we planted creepers in them to cover the stanzone roof.  After all this trouble and outlay, the Junior Partner protested loudly against any scuttling policy. So I decided to engage a permanent gardener, but before doing so, again had everything put to rights as far as it could be done, knowing well how fatal it would be to any future prospect of law and order if things were not in a good state when handed over.

The man I engaged was a powerful young fellow, and he, too, came of a good gardening family.  His brother had charge of the rose-grafting department in one of the leading Florentine nurseries.  His home was only about a mile distant from us, and I found him very honest and industrious, and with a fair amount of knowledge.  He was with me for two years, during which time I had raised his wages, and he was just about to be married when, to my great regret, I found I should have to make another change, in consequence of his conduct during a short absence I made in the autumn of his second year, when he conceived the happy idea of adding to his income – in view of his approaching marriage – by taking on other gardens and totally neglecting mine.
That is the bedrock on which one so often lands in this country – the absolute untrustworthiness of the people with whom you have to deal!  The Tuscan saying is that “you must begin with suspicion, and go on with suspicion.”  The beginning is legitimate enough, it is the “going on” that is so very painful and that brings so many forestieri to the frame of mind when one shrugs one’s shoulders and says, “Che vuole? – what else would you expect?”

And sympathy here is always – Irish-like – with the criminal, and never with you, the aggrieved and injured employer.  I was thought a monster of cruelty on this occasion for turning the man away, though he had left standing out in torrents of rain all our seed pans and boxes, containing all our autumn sown seeds, rather than trouble himself to put them into the frames, securely under glass.  I returned home two days  after the storm that had literally washed the earth and seeds out of their seed pans, to find the garden that I had left six weeks before in perfect order, a wilderness.
I felt especially aggrieved on this occasion, having lent my house to some Italians, to whom I knew it would be a great boon during the hot months, and had hoped that their presence would be a certain check on any irregular proceedings, and that they would let me know by letter if anything was amiss.  I should know  better by now than to expect anything of the kind

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