03 – Olive Pruning

Now we desperately needed to concentrate on getting the olive trees back into shape, as they had become sadly neglected over the last year, however our nursing duties at the time naturally had taken precedence. 

During one of the many spells that “Ugo” had been in hospital we had the pleasure of getting acquainted with a fellow kidney patient, a  very kind man by the name of Mario.  He spoke a few words of  English as he had lived in Australia for several years before returning to his home village of Lenola.  We chatted and soon learned that he worked as an olive pruner and when we told him about our olive grove at “Tre Cancelle” he was much intrigued and bemused that we had taken on such a huge project, with no absolutely no knowledge or previous experience whatsoever.  We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch, however with Dad being so poorly over a year had passed since we had been in contact. 



We decided to give Mario a call and arranged to go up to Lenola to meet him and discuss the possibility of employing him to do some pruning for us, and ask if perhaps he could teach Paul some of the basic skills required for olive farming. 

We were warmly greeted by Mario and his wife, and who were saddened to learn of our recent loss.  We asked if he would be able to help us and he agreed to start work in a week’s time.  He agreed willingly.  

Mario then took us for a very pleasant stroll around his small medieval home town of Lenola where we visited the beautiful Sanctuary of La Madonna del Colle.  

We were not allowed to leave their company before his wife parcelled up for us two bags of frozen home farmed chicken portions, 21 fresh eggs and two bottle of Mario’s special homemade red wine.

He told Paul to meet him down at Itri Cemetery at 5.30 am on the following Monday morning, thus we set our alarm clock to waken us at this anti-social hour of the morning.  At 6 am Paul, Mario and his workmate Guglielmo commenced work, first walking around the various terraces to assess the situation and decide which trees most needed pruning and attention.  This was not the conventional time of year to be carrying out this task, and some of the healthier trees were in blossom and showed some promise of bearing some fruit this year.  However there were certain terraces where the trees were looking rather poorly as they had grown far too tall and bushy and required a severe cutting back.  Thus battle commenced.  

At around 9 o’clock  they said they were stopping for a spot of breakfast.  Paul and I went to gather some rolls and jam and a cup of tea for our “continental” style breakfast, however when we returned Mario and Guglielmo were eagerly tucking into what appeared to be a three course meal that their wives had prepared for them, which was being helped down by a half a litre each of potent homemade wine.  They were horrified to see what we were going to eat and Mario said something along the lines of  “Paul, how on earth are you going to survive as an olive farmer if that’s all your going to eat and drink.  Here tuck into some of this and have a swig or two of my hearty wine”.   At 9 am in the morning !!!  Feeling replenished, and Paul somewhat tipsy, they went back to work climbing up the olive trees pruning with secateurs and brandishing a chainsaw or two until they knocked off  for the day at 1.30 pm, to return home for an even more substantial midday meal.  Over the next few days Paul found himself gradually becoming accustomed to this new routine, however I failed miserably to stir myself into getting up at such an early hour.  Everyone knows I am not renowned for being an early riser!!!

I remembered that Mario had said that his two sons, following a reasonably good education, had chosen professional careers instead of following in their father’s footsteps of working the land.  To Mario his work was a craft, a skill, which the youth of today did not value, preferring to seek jobs in which they need not dirty their hands.  It suddenly struck me that Mario saw Paul as his young apprentice or understudy, and that he was eager to pass on the tricks of his treasured trade to a younger generation.  At times Mario seemed a hard task master and found our mistakes very frustrating.  I think  Guglielmo really didn’t know quite what to make of us.  The olive chaps worked with us for a total of 6 days over two weeks and incredibly managed to prune 120 olive trees. 

The downside was that we were left with all the mountains of olive prunings to deal with.  We had to start tidying up all the severed branches and twigs, conserving as much wood as possible for the log burning stove during the winter months.  The remainder needed to be raked up and burned.  This seemed a really daunting task as there was so much to clear, especially as there was a deadline to meet as from the middle of June all fires are banned by the Forestry Police and Comune.



02 – The Risk of Fires


Canadair Fire Fighting Plane

Canadair Fire Fighting Plane

Next Paul threw himself into taming the wilderness of our olive groves, getting up at the crack of dawn to strim the grounds to keep the grass and weeds down in the cool of the day.







By the beginning of May there had already been two wild fires nearby, which was very odd so early in the season. One was on  the slopes of Monte Marano, just behind us, and was so severe as to require a Canadair water bombing plane plus a fire-fighting helicopter to finally get it under control.  The Forestale Police suspected that this fire had been started intentionally and were said to have a suspect arsonist in mind, however they did not have sufficient evidence to get a prosecution.

Monte Marano

Monte Marano

Then, just a few days later yet another fire started in close proximity to our neighbour’s olive grove, in the scrubland next to the woods and a strong gusty wind eagerly fanned the flames. We were really concerned that if it continued to spread it could potentially consume our woodland thus we immediately alerted the local Forestale.  After 30 minutes a fire-fighting helicopter flew overhead and hovered over the fire and commenced dowsing the flames by  releasing the water contained in its suspended bucket. The crew undertook 10 or so such trips before finally succeeding in extinguishing the flames. 







Thus we were reminded that we must always be on our guard and that we needed to maintain a decent fire break around our olive grove.


01 – The Beginning of a New Chapter

Since dear Dad’s passing time seems to have just flown by.  We were inundated by so many messages, letters and cards of sympathy and were very touched by the love and kindness that surrounded us.   It was very strange not having him about the place, but we slowly adjusted to the change as best we could.  We take comfort that Tina and Hugh are now reunited and no doubt watching over us all, and our progress here at “Tre Cancelle”. 

"Ugo" and Tina

Hugh and Tina Celebrating Their Golden Wedding Anniversary - October 2005

For a time I felt totally exhausted, both physically and emotionally and my head felt very muddled – I think at last the stresses and strains of the last difficult months had finally caught up with us, which was natural I suppose.  There were still too many recent, vivid and painful memories, but we were sure that these would fade in time as we will began to heal ourselves.

So once again we were able to make plans for the future and resume our adventures in Bella Italia“. We soon found that we had plenty to keep us occupied. 

We were receiving a pleasing number of enquires and bookings for our holiday accommodation.  Our first guests at “Tre Cancelle” for the 2008 season arrived at the beginning of April.  A lovely couple with two lively boys, who absolutely loved our doggies, so much so that the boys were up at 7.30 each morning, knocking on our shutters, as they wanted to help Paul serve breakfast to the hounds. 

We realised that we now needed to fully support ourselves financially, so we unanimously decided to go ahead and rent out both the upstairs and downstairs apartments during the summer months.  We could “rough it” again and live back in the old caravan !!!  The upstairs apartment was by now virtually complete, however downstairs was a different story, as there were some larger jobs to complete before it would be of a sufficient standard to advertise it as holiday accommodation.

* photo by a. nerstu

One morning our nosey neighbour “10 times Teresa” came to inspect her land and found that someone, for the second year running, had nicked all of her prize artichokes.  She wasn’t too pleased I can tell you !!!  We have named her “10 times Teresa” because every time we have an encounter with her she seems to tell you everything about 10 times over, in “Itrana” dialect, which is pretty hard going sometimes !!!  We keep nodding and “Sì, Sì-ing” sympathetically,  hopefully in the right places.  Every evening she sits on the same bench by the old fountain in Itri, and watches out in case our car should pass by.  On seeing us she waves madly and tries to flag us down.  We have been caught out several times, by pulling over, and end up having to go through the long procedure of Sì, Sì-ing” for another good half an hour or so !!!

* photo by alfred nerstu