The Diary of an English Gardener in Tuscany

Jan 25th 2004 – Looking at the bleak colourless winter gardens here, and the memory of the garden in the summer, it is clear this garden needs work, but none more so than planting trees, and not any trees of course. La Doccia is surrounded by forests; oak, chestnut, ash and beech abound. The woods are famous and even Milton wrote of the woods in this valley in Paradise Lost.

The trees in mind are of the variety that provides a blend between the wild woodlands we have beyond the immediate garden, and the smart terracotta potted garden around the house.

La Doccia means ‘the spring’ in Italian, and was built next to a spring in the mountains just twenty miles to the East of Florence. The spring provides a permanent stream of water, something valuable in the heat of the summer. It is 2,000 feet above sea level and faces west to Florence. On a clear night the lights of Florence are clear and the view towards Florence never ceases to amaze visitors, it never ceases to amaze my parents, whose house this is, nor me.

The woods around La Doccia were once farmland, and the terraces that were farmed are still here, only instead of growing olives, vines and vegetables, they now support large oak trees alongside the stone walls laboriously built by the monks of Vallombrosa and later by the farmers that ground a hard life out of this steep and difficult terrain.

Closer to the house the woodland dies away and is replaced by more recent scrubland that has grown up in only the last thirty years or so, which is when this land was last farmed. The scrubland is impenetrable and made up of broom, wild roses, brambles, wild vines and many other plants that flourish wherever man leaves a void. Alongside this there is the most colourful plethora if wild flowers in the summer, and tracks made by wild boar, sheep and deer.

It is this scrubland that provides the barrier between the mature woodland and the house and garden. The wood looks after itself but the scrubland has a mind of its own, it is difficult to tell though and I can only guess at what is underneath. The garden is something I have worked on in my holidays for the last five years. Now that I live here I can focus on longer term plans and genuinely creating a pleasant garden out of the mountainside, which people will want to visit, instead of making the house of my Father look simply pleasant.

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