Monthly Archives: February 2016


It was very early in the plans that OH decided we needed a companion for our adventure. It was to be in the form of a dog. Quite a challenging prospect for me as I had only ever had cats, they are your equal, you never own one they actually own you. A dog was a different kettle of fish this was quite a responsibility.

I conjured up a romantic bike ride in the beautiful morning sun a little dog sitting in a basket in front of me, my straw hat,my flowery skirt flowing behind me,arriving at the bread shop to buy warm loaves for our breakfast.

Reality check OH wanted something big, a proper dog and said “over my dead body will I have a little dog especially one with a pink collar and lead.”

This was a problem as I am not keen on big dogs and I am also an asthmatic with an allergy to dog hair. Not to be deterred I checked the  various dog breeds and eventually came up with the idea of a poodle it does not cast and there are various sizes. Although he did not seem particularly keen.!!

One day while we were working at a local Game Fair I saw the cutest dog you could ever have seen. It was very small with black curls and had a round face which had a strange amazed expression. The proud owner stated  that it was a ” jackapoo”   what he really meant was that it was a mongrel a cross between a poodle and a jack russel.

With this idea in mind I looked at poodle crosses and decided a king charles cavalier cross would be our aim.  Then came the shock the cost was far more than a full pedigree dog. Some celebrity or other had one, so therefore it became the fashion ( on trend) thus enabling the breeders to  charge a premium.

By this time we had moved to Italy and were now on a tight budget so the dog idea was put on hold.

Whilst on a return visit to the Uk, late one evening I went onto my favourite site called preloved and saw a cavapoo  10 weeks old in urgent need of a loving home for little cost. I sent a message of interest and was immediately contacted  by a poor soul who poured her heart out to me. I was laid heavy with her personal problems things you could not imagine. I agreed to visit her the next morning In Manchester !!! which was not exactly close to Wales.

We arrived at the house nine o clock sharp with my mum who had kindly agreed she would look after the pup until it had a passport.

I walked into the house to be met by this enormous cage and inside was the funniest looking little thing, a ball of fluff the size of a tennis ball, it could easily fit inside OH’s hand. It was black and cream with the biggest eyebrows I had ever seen. They brought her out and she crawled weakly across to my knee. trembling and cuddling into my coat, my heart softened,  here was a little baby waiting for love and I had lots to give.

just look at that face

just look at that face

OH melted immediately and within minutes we were all leaving with a tiny bundle of fluff in my hand.

I knew this little bundle was about to change our lives and she certainly has.

From those first uncertain steps she has remained on my knee when ever the chance arises and those eyebrows are now  bigger than Dennis Healey’s

It took about six weeks to do all the formalities, rabies injection, microchip, passport etc. Then we returned to the Uk to collect her and bring her to her new home in Italy.

What a shock for the little creature after starting her life caged up for a few weeks now she had acres to run in. we watched her playing and tumbling around the vines, snuffling in the meadow grasses, hiding under the bushes always happy. Well not always unfortunately she has to share her home with a dozen or so lizards which during the summer months torment her continually scurrying about the ledges, sunbathing just above her nose she chases them all over the place but never manages to catch one. Her summer days are spent endlessly checking all the nooks and crannies tongue hanging out nose twitching panting frantically as the little beggars disappear into the nearest hole. Poor Lucy she loves her home so much but those lizards they are a pain.

lizard search

lizard search

She has now grown just a little but she is still very cute and those eyebrows make her look so serious, she has the funniest face just like a gremlin. She is a faithful companion always at our side. lucy arrives in italy 014 Here dogs are always welcome especially the small and cute there are loads and she has many doggy friends. She loves everybody and everyone loves her. Children enjoy playing with her especially when we are walking in the town or sitting at the cafes or restaurants. She is also a particularly good football player according to OH he should know he used to play for Kilmarnock F.C ?

OH has got over his need for a large dog he adores her and is always protecting her from anything  as much as 2cms bigger than her.


perhaps he has realised the potential value of this lovely little pooch , w hen we are out and about it seems that I can’t disappear from sight without returning to find him dog  in his arms wearing her fluffy pink jumper and surrounded by numerous woman old and young  cooing and kissing  HER.

I love you daddy

I love you daddy

My latin blooded husband has found the perfect way to catch the ladies eye, it never fails!!!


“It could be an Anthropod, it is over 25 million years old ”

The words are echoing in my ears as I pick up the small rounded stone. I rub my fingers across the perfect markings completely indented within and marvel at its perfection. To me it looks like an oyster shell but it is just a piece of stone.  february 2016 068

The other day whilst skyping a friend in the UK I let slip about my garden finds, his wife a geologist was immediately interested and enlightened me as to what I could possibly have.

This little morsel is just one of many we have collected as we attempt to overcome the wilderness. It was very early in our labours that we started to dig up these perfect fossilised shells from the soil and realised that this beautiful part of Italy had once been at the bottom of the sea.

I have sea shells in my garden

They are everywhere in the vegetable patch, the flower borders, the meadow, the vineyard, even in the house walls. We line them up on pieces of granite placed within the flower beds.  Leaving them on display for people to admire and wonder why we would want sea shells so far from the sea.february 2016 065

Now I can’t boast that the garden is that old but it certainly felt like it when we first moved in. Especially the wisteria bush which had been originally planted by one of the oldest patrons.

The giant Wisteria

The giant Wisteria

Originally it would have covered the arbour, perfectly sited across from the front door giving much needed shade from the burning sunshine. The remnants of the structure  could be seen crushed under the thick green foliage, all that remained standing were a couple of upright wooden poles which were completely engulfed by this vigorous thug.  Its twining stems had escaped and were now running across the garden suffocating everything in its path.

The garden was quite a challenge, to beat back and get some control after many years of neglect. It is well over four acres and completely encircles the house . The land is flat to the front and rises sharply to the rear as it reaches the Vineyard.

The soil here is incredibly deep and fertile slightly alkaline and definitely leaning towards the clay. It grows everything and anything with absolute vigour,

deep rich soil

deep rich soil

well nearly everything unfortunately not rhubarb much to OH’s annoyance .

Poor OH , I did say that it was not the climate to cultivate such a plant but he loves his rhubarb and custard so we tried  a little crown last year. We placed it into an old bottomless metal container in the shadiest part of the garden.

What a struggle !! he watered it faithfully each day and took great delight as he watched its first large leaf unfurl but the spring was very hot and it wilted and sagged. By mid June it had only managed another couple of rather sickly stems.  We were sad to see the little plant suffering such stress. Eventually he conceded and picked the stalks before it finally expired. We achieved one spoonful of rich rhubarb sauce which we ate on our yoghurt for breakfast the next morning. What a luxury! I don’t feel it was a failure of our soil but more the fault of the relentless penetrating sun of the spring and early summer. I now know why none of my Italian friends had ever heard of the plant never mind tasted it.

In Italy the most important area is the vegetable plot the ORTA everybody has one , it keeps them in fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit throughout the year. Winter is for clearing, spring for planting and growing, summer and autumn for harvesting and bottling. we still have broccoli, sprouts and leeks in the last week of January. Although on occasions they feel like they have just been removed from the freezer and I have had to defrost them in the kitchen before they can be used.

Our house came with an Orta which of course had not been cultivated for many years it was also to the front of the house somewhere under the massive wisteria bush. All we could see was an outline of a type of fencing and some sturdy growing grassy spikes peeping though the mass of smothering foliage.

Pleasant surprise

Pleasant surprise

The first summer we owned the house I had little time on my hands on such fleeting visits to try and conquer the wilderness. So it came as a lovely surprise when one sunny summer morning we arrived to find that Ernestina had hacked back the wisteria  pushing it against one of the wooden poles. At the foot of the other pole she had placed a sweet smelling jasmine. Behind this she had uncovered the orta a strange triangular shape enclosed by a wire fence and a rickety metal gate. She had cleared an area and had planted rows of tomatoes , peppers and aubergines.

Gosh I was thrilled but a little apprehensive as I was somewhat rusty on the veg gardening. I had stupidly boasted my previous occupation and now all eyes were on me . With a reputation to keep I had to quickly set to work. Here you are judged on the quality of your veg not on the beauty of your flowers they cannot be eaten. Veg was never my forte but I dug deep into my memories and remembered the days I had spent with my father on his market garden.

Through the passing years my neighbours and friends have watched on with intrigue as my orta has blossomed with large headed sunflowers, stately gladioli, scented stocks and everlasting flowers. The paths are lined with lavenders,chives and nasturtiums. I allow the rocket to flowers and it gives rich nectar for the thousands of insects that share my paradise. The neighbours  have started to ask questions and come to admire this strange creation made by an eccentric welsh gardener growing flowers in a veg. patch. Now they even ask for seed coveting every little treasure and rushing back to their gardeners to sow immediately in the rich dark soil.

Flowers in the veg patch

Flowers in the veg patch


The first year was completely trial and error the little time I had spare was spent weeding, pruning, tieing in the tomatoes.


working hard

working hard

To my amazement they survived without very little water. Not may I add due to my green fingers but by pure luck. I was able to harvest a couple of baskets of ripe juicy tomatoes but sadly the rest rotted as I had to return to the UK.

One basket of sweet ripe tomatoes

One basket of sweet ripe tomatoes

Many years ago I created a nursery specialising in cottage plants and herbs many for dry places. I was in a field on the side of a mountain in Wales fighting everything that nature could throw at me and it certainly did.

After  the closure of  my Nursery “Julias garden”  I threw myself into working with my husband in his catering business. I spent many years kidding myself on that I did not need to be up to my elbows in soil, I would admire my perfectly manicured nails and soft hands, I congratulated myself on the lack of aching limbs, and not having to spend every waking moment worrying about those little gems relying on me for nourishment and care.

I soon realised how very much I had missed it.

I loved it, my gardening bug was back and I am again starting with a small patch in the centre of a huge meadow. This time my beloved plants are thriving with the kind climate.  Julia’s garden has come to Italy but this time no nursery, just a place for me, Oh and my little dog to enjoy and a special place to share with our future guests.





Once again I decided to enlist the help of my friend Ernestina she tracked down seven local builders and  a couple of others our geometra invited along. We must have had about 10 in total through the house.

They came and perused our house.  They were tall, thin, fat, old, young and some downright cheeky and arrogant. Some were way too expensive , some could’nt even converse in Italian never mind English, the problems went on and on. At times it was quite amusing albeit stressful. It was also extremely time consuming as they all insisted that we should go round and view their previous creations.

They would arrive at the house stomping towards the front door have much to say about everything taking deep breaths and rubbing their chins mentioning big jobs etc etc etc.

We would look at each other knowing that this was a non starter.

So we came up with a strategy  the room that we had decided to allocate as our dining room had major water damage to its ceiling. The large hole in the roof had allowed water to run down into the bedroom soaking the floors and weighing heavy on the vaulted ceiling below. This had caused a large crack and a flattening of the curve. Our geometra  said that this could be saved and repaired.

This would be the test which builder would be able to save our ceiling.  We certainly could not justify the cost of creating  new vaults.

The majority of these characters shook their heads waving their hands in negativity and saying” no no it needs to come down far too dangerous”

others said “it would be cheaper to demolish”

We were getting nowhere fast and the builders just kept arriving.

A few days later the geometra came back he wanted to submit the plans to the commune but could not do this without a builder’s name.  On seeing our plight he said

“why not use my builder?”

well we had met him, he had actually been one of the first in the group but had been very quiet and uninspiring. I have later learnt that he was very apprehensive and self conscious about the language barrier. When I voiced these concerns to the geometra he said ” he has renovated my house come and see.”

So we did, it is an old property across from the cantina in Mombercelli the inside is ultra modern and quite stunning. Maybe not our style but very impressive never the less. The one thing that completely bowled us over was the brickwork. It was quite perfect and precise.

We said ” send him back we will try again”. In fact he beat us to our front door and this time we could not shut him up even though we could’nt understand a word he said.

What we did establish was that he would willingly work with us and that he was happy to tell OH what jobs he could reasonable do cutting the costs and using the professionals time to the most benefit.

The biggest deciding factor was that ceiling and as we all looked up I said in my pigeon Italian

“Renew or repair”., I held my breath

he repiled

” no problem it will be a bit of hard work for you but it can be done. ( I didn’t realise what he meant at that time!!!!!)

I guess the decision was made at last we had our builder. ‘ Nicola ‘

The CrewThe Crew

Nicola the boss, Salvatori the brother, Marco the son – in -law, Pani the Macedonian and his side kick Javid the Moroccan who is the general dogs body.

There are also other members of the family that come and go.

Did I mention that they are Sicilian , well they are and in fact they are all small, dark and speak fast with great hand gestures. Nothing is too much bother and everything can be usually sorted without costing us too much money. The boss is a mine of information and Whenever we need something he knows how to source it, With a shrug of the shoulders he says all is possible it just depends on what you are prepared to pay. I think our house has been built from the salvage yard as we have rarely bought new. It always arrives on the back of the pickup from where   – I don’t ask,!

The standard of their workmanship is excellent and their honesty is beyond reproach.

Pani is from the eastern block and has that dogmatic temperament, he is a real artisan his work is always  perfect he likes to horde things as if they are a treasured possession you can always here him saying ” that will be useful some day” and in fairness they nearly always are.

Salvatori is always in a hurry busying about and needs Nicola’s beady eyes watching, just in case his haste misses a point.

Javid the Moroccan he is slower and steady very serious, a Jack of all trades and always wanting everything to be correct.

Marco he is a jolly soul, always has a big smile and something to witter on about. His job  I am not sure about apparently he had a very bad motorcycle accident and has been pieced back together so is somewhat limited but he certainly has some good ideas.

In spring 2014 they moved in, they stayed and they are still with us. That is when we really started to see things happen.

They are all quite passionate about this old house and pride themselves in their work. There are numerous debates about each project and often things change from the plan whilst the work is in progress.

They have become part of the furniture and happily help OH when something out of their job specification is required. I often see them all disappearing off around a corner to help Oh move something. On another occasion they helped us rebuild new purchases from the antique market. They have even happily concreted my paths in the veg plot with leftover cement. It is hard at times when they are around as work starts exactly at 8.00 and there is not a minute of peace from that moment. Sundays are our sanctuary but incredibly we often find ourselves wishing for Monday so we can all push on again.


Ernestina is the wife of Gianni Barbero whose family owned our house before us. They have been good friends and in fact have helped so much without any expectations in return. Right from the beginning we were welcomed into their home and treated to numerous family feasts. I do believe they feel that by making us part of the family they have not given away the house to strangers. All the Barbero family want to give their own opinion on the way we should go forward with the house but they are all in agreement that it should not cost us infinite amounts of money.

Ernestina is the kindest soul always helping people and is very generous in her own way. I really could not have managed to get this far without her patience for my inadequate Italian, her help and encouragement.

my dear freind .

my dear friend

Over the last few years there have been so many reasons to celebrate with a meal, Christmas, festivals, birthdays, in fact just get togethers.

On every occasion I feel as if I am in the middle of a Federico Fellini film.

There is a big long table in the dining room covered in a pure white tablecloth.

Dinner italian style

Dinner Italian style

Papa Piero sits at the top end, Mama Rina to his left, she is the boss and everybody tends to treat her with kid gloves. Her word is law and my poor friend Ernestina runs around endlessly to the beck and call of her mother – in law.

The rest of the family sit along the centre and the other end is always reserved for the guests. There could be up to ten of us.

Ernestina loves animals and there are always at least three small dogs running around our feet, playing and chasing each other around the room.

The food is endless with numerous dishes of antipasti, pasta, meats, risottos, vegetables and salads followed by fruit , icecream or special torta.

On one occasion we had zabaglione made by our host Gianni he added at least half a bottle of Marsala which nearly blew our heads off  and sent the old ones to sleep.

My small offering is always a home made cake. Something they rarely have here.

The problem is there is too much food, there are at least ten courses, every course is a delight and if I chose it in a restaurant I would be thrilled by the quality and flavour. However when it is followed by another and another it makes my stomach scream,

“stop,    enough!!!”.

All this food is washed down by copious amounts of wine specially selected for each dish some made by themselves and numerous bottles from surrounding cantinas which they feel the need to supply just in case theirs does not come up to standard.

Gianni seems to have great delight in opening these various bottles taking a few sips and shaking his head in disgust and moving on to eventually supping a glass of his own..

To me nothing beats his Barbera  especially as I have slaved up on their vineyard harvesting those grapes with my very own hands ( but that is another story.)

These meals can last for hours during which everyone talks loudly to each other and over each other vying to be heard. Every possible conceivable subject is discussed including dare I say politics. It is one of their favourite subjects on which you can usually hear Gianni ‘s final conclusion echoing loudly around the room

” Bastardi.”

There is always a moment of silence when Mama decides to shout “Senti” ( listen) and we do just that to hear the words of wisdom that she has decided to entrust on us all.

The meal is completed with dark sweet coffee and a tipple of each liqueur he keeps proudly on his sideboard .

We retire gracefully and slightly inebriated returning home to nurse our stomachs and to enter in a two day fast.

What do we do next?

Following  the unfortunate experience of the roof and to prevent any further mistakes Ernestina once again came to the rescue for which I will be eternally grateful. She found me a local geometra Signor Musso he has a loud deep voice.  When we first met I thought that he was shouting at me because he was of the opinion that the louder he spoke the more Italian I would understand. Later I realised my mistake when on visiting the bank located across the road from his office, I heard his booming voice coming from within obviously deafening the poor soul on the receiving end.

This guy was a god send he listened to my somewhat poor Italian aided by Ernestina. He looked at our A4 scribbled design which was not too ambitious. We did not want to change any of the structure just to sympathetically work within the house’s perimeters.

The previous architects had wanted to change positions of the staircases and to build huge extensions.

Why do this ? when the house is already enormous and full of character. The staircases are important to us as they are typical of a Piemontese farmhouse, beautiful stone steps leading to the upper floors.

stone staircase

stone staircase

His brief was to split the renovation into phases the first being to create us some living accommodation. We wanted spacious rooms with lots of light.’

He soon set about measuring and translating our ideas into a working plan. We decided to  remove the wall between the old kitchen and the stable to create a large kitchen with a small lounge adjoining. This we felt should be the heart of the house. The rear barn was to be changed into a bathroom, a service area , and a garden room. Upstairs we were to have two bedrooms one en -suite.

our new living accommadation

Phase one

He listed the work necessary and dealt with the local commune. He also advised us on what work we could feasibly undertake ourselves. Within a couple of weeks or so we had a preventivo (a list of work)  and all we needed was the builders.

How hard could that be!!!