Friday, September 11, 2015


"What! You have never stopped at that place!" Stew says in disbelief. Stew is at the wheel as we  drive past this "must see place" when suddenly he sees a place on this winding Tuscan road to pull off and make a U-turn. We go back.

The place we return to in tow with Stew leading the pack is called
James and I have driven by on our way to Pienza too many times to count. We were curious, yet never stopped.


This place is a find! The showroom is filled floor to ceiling with objects hand crafted in wright iron.
James and I both wanted to take this floor lamp home with us, or maybe we could just buy a house in Umbria for it!

This is the plainer cousin to the more dressed up lamp we fell for. It has a graceful twist to the floor with embellished feet. We both like this one as well.
Here you can find candelabras, andirons ( with and without dragons), scones, chandeliers, furniture for indoors and out, beds, mirrors...........there is so much to look at as we are shown around by Alfredo.


Then we are all invited into the forge, the workshop, or Ferro Battuto Biagiotti, as they call it.

 Stew, who has been here many times tells us that Biagiotti is a family owned and run business that was started by Alfredo's grandfather in the early 20th Century. There is  Mario, the father of three sons; Alfredo and his twin brother Alberto, and brother, Samuel.

This was a rare treat to  be invited behind the scenes to watch as pieces of iron are transformed by means of heat, anvil and hammer.

Alfredo tells us that they design lamps, candelabras and such to specification and can create just about anything here, at least anything made of iron.
James liked the dragon andirons! Maybe someday!!!

 Before we departed, Giovanni  ( a nephew of Mario) took a short break so I could snap a quick photo of him.


Before we left we returned to the showroom to take another look at a chandelier that James and I both thought was perfect for our rather dimly lit foyer.
The price was right, and yes, they could ship and more importantly they were happy to wire it to U.S. electrical standards.

(now, hanging in our foyer)

We also liked these sconces. We figured  that we would get these another time. Alfredo informed us that....if we were to buy them with the other that the shipping charge would be the same as for just the chandelier.  Great salesman!
We bought them and now they are all installed in our home.
A lovely reminder of that day with the screeching brakes  and another unique stop in Tuscany.

( in our living room)

We finally do depart after our purchases are made, shipping information is written down and Stew chats with Alfredo  for awhile and departs with a customary Italian hug.
Now, back on the winding Tuscan road as we head back to Panicale. I think we need to stop at Aldo's for a procecco!

Tuscany in spring.

via 1 maggio, n
Pienza, (Tuscany) Italy

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Lure of the Garden

High summer and the peonies, lilacs, poppies and irises have retired their blooms for another season, what remains though are some glorious late bloomers.
The daylily, 'Elizabeth Salter', has been a cherished resident in our gardens for decades. James and I found her at a nursery in Blue Hill, Maine, she came home in the crush of plants in the back seat our car then was planted proudly into our perennial bed where she dominated her domain. When we sold that house in the late 90's as we packed the van I dug up a portion and she made the move with us to New Hampshire. On our last move a couple of years ago, it was winter and there wasn't a chance for us to take pieces of any plant since there was easily a couple of feet of snow blanketing the garden. But, on a visit to the daylily farm in Hancock, NH, we found 'Elizabeth Salter'  and once again this daylily boldly punctuates our August garden.  Ms. Salter has made appearances in several of James' paintings due to her form and beauty.

On The Road To Anghiari
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

What color this Dahlia provides in August!

Our friend Stew, from Maine and Panicale (Italy) is crazy for dahlias. Seeing pictures of his dahlias  gave us  serious flower envy so we decided to try a couple. I planted this one last year, put it away for winter and forgot about it. In early June James found it in the basement, brought it out and flowered! YAY!
Next year there will be a few more dazzling dahlias!

I received this fountain as a gift from James. Our daughter, Ana, called her "Squirt" and the name has stuck! She is a delight to have slashing around in the shade garden! The sight and sound of water in the garden does something calming to our senses. The babbling of a brook or the breaking of a wave put us in tune with nature, that is if we listen.

My friend Judith came by the other day to take some photos of the garden, she
commented that," These hydrangea flowers caps remind me of the head of a *Capuchin Monk!"
Exactly, I thought!

The imprint of St. Francis can be found throughout Umbria and Tuscany.

When we bought this house, St. Francis was already here and it was James that found him a shady spot in the garden with some hellebores ( Lenten Rose), Heucchera and Epimedium. Francis is close to the door of James' studio reminding him of St. Francis's  significance in Umbria. Last spring we visited  a sacred spotter Cortona ( tuscany), Il Celle, the cell in the monastery where St. Francis spent his days in solitude and reflection. The monastery seems to hang from the side of a gorge highlighted by a waterfall and any architect seeking to blend structure into the natural must see this place. It is a remarkable place to visit, what I refer to a 'thin place' where heaven and earth meet.

As gardeners our goal to to have areas of the garden shout with color and form saying "look at me!" Yet, there are sections of the garden that are purposed for subdued quiet.
Often it is in the shade that our quiet gardens evolve with the simplicity of foliage and cool greens surrounding a place to rest, a bench, a chair or large rock. We stop, we observe, we reflect, we rest.

Beauty is found in the understated.
I gave very little attention to hosta flowers until this one, the lily like blossom of Hosta 'Guacamole'.
this flower does not scream with color, it waits like a star in the night sky waiting to be noticed among all the other stars and planets.

 One more appearance, an encore by daylily 'Elizabeth Salter' to end the show.

* a Capuchin Monk

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sunday Lunch and Garden Visit in Umbria

It was a hot spring day in Umbria but in the shade of the stone walled porch of the villa at the house of our hostess Daniela it was very comfortable. James and I had a invitation, along with our friends Elida and Gunter, for Sunday lunch and a garden tour at
the home of Daniela Fe d'Ostiani, a renowned gardener and rosarian.

We were greeted by Daniela and followed her along a path to a garden in the shade of her villa and a few large trees where bottles of chilled process were uncorked. As we have discovered , and happily so, many Italian festas begin with glasses of prosecco and exchanges of "Salute"!
Sunday lunch is Italy is a big deal. Daniela had prepared a feast that began with a pasta course of asparagus lasagna followed by a roast pork with a side of incredibly good beans from her garden. The next course was  a salad of greens and vegetables from the garden. She had been up early harvesting in order to present such a delicious meal. Elida brought a creme caramel for dessert that was a sweet  treat and perfect ending to lunch...oh, and I cannot forget the cookies, an American favorite, chocolate chip cookies! And throughout the meal a local wine was served.

A couple of hours had passed with a great lunch and conversations in both English and Italian between the eleven of us at the table.

Time for the tour of the garden..........

Daniela is a powerhouse, full of wild energy! She is a rosarian and a plant collector and her garden is not like the typical Italian garden most of us imagine. her garden is like her personality, a little wild, energetic and lovely all wrapped into one. Pushing the garden envelope!

The garden is sited on a hillside in Casalini ( outside of Panicale) with views of Lake Trasimeno.
The views of the lake are revealed in a few of the gardens, other gardens are reached by paths in near jungle like setting with roses stretching and climbing into tree tops!

The textures are of great importance here and are stunning.

This apricot rose spiraled its way up through this tree, using the tree as a trellis showing off it's buds and flowers proudly. It is with great abandon that these roses grow, not at all formal in design.

The selection of foliage is remarkable with surprises around every corner. A gate leads into a garden of dahlias ( not in bloom) and another path takes us to a vegetable garden, where much of our lunch was grown.

There is one 'garden room' that is defined by a hedge, making it more formal in feel. The backdrop is a view of Lake Trasimeno and Isola Polvese.

The trees frame the view of Isola Polvese.

There is much to see here, but it is the roses that I was so interested in.  There are roses everywhere, never in a straight neat row, you must look for them and stay close to Daniela so she can point them out. She knows each and every rose in her garden.

This rose is a beauty.....well, I guess it is fair to say they all are.
A very good Sunday.
Grazie Mille Daniela!
( and Elida & Gunter for the introduction)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


I no longer have a rose garden. How romantic I thought, roses filling vases and scenting the air of the house all summer. A dream of having a garden filled with Gallica roses, English roses, Heirloom roses and rose that would climb to the top of the trellis with their blossoms cascading over, just waiting to be noticed.

It was pure joy for me, and an enormous amount of work, mostly for James, digging the garden beds out of the hard pack and clay in order to bring in real soil and compost all by hand, a shovel, a pick axe and wheelbarrow. It was nothing short of heroic, but by summer's end James had made a garden possible in an area that had once been a driveway.

 We researched and found specialty rose growers in New Hampshire and Maine where we traveled to purchase roses with names like, 'Great Maiden's Blush', 'Apothecary's Rose' and 'Rosa Mundi'.
Discovering the roses was an adventure that was an added pleasure to the creation of this circular formal garden. As it matured the fragrance and beauty especially in June was  all I ever imagined.

Roses were cut and filled vases, sometimes solo other times mixed with perennials from the border garden. James painted the roses. Rosa Mundi was a favorite of his, both because of it's striking color and the story behind the name having to do with King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry's mistress Fair Rosamund and her demise by Eleanor, poison it is thought.
Roses are the subjects of artists and poets with their  stories told of beauty and thorny darkness. Roses are a  sonnet written by the hand of Shakespeare.

In late May and through June the garden and house were full of roses. I dried the fragrant petals that lightly perfumed closets and drawers and filled small bowls on bedroom nightstands.
But, by the Fourth of July things began to change in the garden. Morning walks were no longer with a cup of coffee in hand, but with a can filled with soapy water.
The Japanese Beetles had arrived.

It took about a decade of the waging the battle of the beetle, but the beetle eventually won.
It was too heartbreaking to watch them chomp away at the lovely young beautiful buds. The clusters of nightmarish gluttons were impossible to keep up with and the only alternative was to use poisons to kill the nasty invaders....but it would also kill the bees.

It was time to bid farewell to the roses. It was a difficult goodbye for me.
That fall we spend removing roses. In the spring the soil was replenished and boxwood were planted at the edge of the beds along with herbs.
The new garden worked and since we love to cook the herbs made sacrificing roses a little easier.The lavender for fragrance and all the culinary herbs for the kitchen.
And, no Japanese Beetles!

We have since moved, yet.....

 I will always remember those early summer morning walks in the garden and the lingering perfume of the roses.

An Invitation to a garden in Umbria.....the gardener's passion....roses.
Our visit there coming up!

Monday, June 8, 2015


Last year we went to Deruta to buy plates, something we have wanted to do for a long time since James and I are both smitten with hand painted Italian ceramics. The town of Deruta is not terribly distant from Panicale and a drive through the landscape of Umbria is reason enough to make the journey.

We often visit Orvieto a remarkable town built high on tufa. Orvieto boasts of one of Italy's finest cathedrals with a chapel painted by Luca Signorelli that is spectacular and daunting in it's apoctolyptic imagery.


Our plan on this day was to bypass Orvieto and head to Todi, a city that sits above the Tiber in an area of Umbria we had yet to visit.

The Piazza del Popolo, we are told, has been the setting for several movies. I cannot verify that bit of trivia, but the piazza  is uniquely  beautiful, and yes, the sky truly was that blue.

 Sempre salire, in Italy there are  always steps to climb, here they lead up to the Duomo. The Duomo is simple in comparison to many churches we have seen, but the beauty lies in the geometry of the architecture and details like those of the columns. As is often the case, this gothic church is built over the remains of an ancient Roman temple.

First, the Etruscans built a wall around the place we know as Todi, then came the Romans who with their masonry skills also built a wall and if that was not enough protection from invaders there is the most recent Medieval wall.
It was a rather hot day, so after walking around and up and down we needed something to eat, and besides we were hoping to get in to the 7th Century Church of San Fortunato. There is a fresco by Panicale home boy, Masolino di Panicale that we wanted to see.

We did find an enoteca right beside the church, alongside the steps, where we could have some lunch as we waited for the church doors to open. The lovely, shady spot is called Vineria San Fortunato.  A board of local cheese and salumi was perfect served with a local  chilled white wine. James saw something on the menu he could not resist trying, fried rabbit.
When it was brought to our table James said to the server,"Come (like) Kentucky Fried Chicken!"
She replied, "K.F.C., si!"

Well, the church never did open, there is always next time.


On our last visit to Deruta we purchased four dinner plates and four pasta bowls, but that is a problem when there are six people for dinner so to remedy that we bought two more of each.
So now.....what if there are eight for dinner? We will consider that another time.

There are several ceramic / maiolica makers in Deruta with our first stop at Sberna where we purchased our dinner ware.
I coveted this soup tureen, and if I bought it I would be making soup all of the time just to have it out on the table, but I left it there on the shop shelf for now.

Across the street there was another shop that we wanted to visit.....

Ubaldo Grazia Maioliche

After looking through the shop and resisting a serving bowl and platter, we began talking to one of the woman that works here. During our conversation we mentioned that we were artists as we commented on the quality of the painting on the majoliche.....we were led upstairs to the workshop.

This is work for someone with a good brush held by a very steady hand.

All of the pieces are first glazed white with the design the 'pounced' on with tiny dots.

James was interested in the application of the color and as he found out the colors change during the firing so the artist must understand the color being painted on is not necessarily the color when it come s from the kiln. We were delighted to be invited into the workshop to see this traditional art of hand painted ceramics being continued.

This shop also produces a line of contemporary designs. I believe that James could create a unique pattern using the fruits and flowers of his still life paintings.

The antique pieces at this shop are exceptionally interesting and they have a good collection with some of the shapes and designs still made in this workshop. This  family workshop has been producing majoliche  in Deruta since 1500. The terra-cotta clay that is used used is from Umbria and the formulas for the glazes have been passed down through generations of potters and painters.

Clouds are rolling in over Umbria for a late afternoon rain, maybe a few thunder storms at the end of a clear, hot and perfectly ideal day here in Italy.