Our Garden: Then and Now The Challenges of Landscaping on a Slope

One of our biggest challenges with the house was the landscaping. When we bought the property we underestimated the slope of the hill. It seemed like a gently sloping pasture when we were walking the property prior to buying it. We were so focused on the construction of the house we did not realize what a challenge it would be to deal with the steep (as it turned out) slope. In particular, how to get from the driveway above down to the house.

We knew we needed professional landscape design help, but it turned out to be one of the most difficult things to find. It seems that landscape design is not really a thing in Italy, except at the very high end (e.g., the villas around Lake Como). We did eventually find someone: a British woman who had retired to Italy and did a limited number of projects. We were warned that she tended to be a bit of a primadonna and quite difficult to work with, but we didn’t feel we had any choice, so we hired her.

As it turned out, she was just as described, and it took us a long time to get an actual plan. The structure and hardscape parts at the front of the house made sense and we executed most of that. That included a retaining wall up at the driveway, with a couple of terraces on the slope. There was a formal stairway leading to the front door and another, more rustic stairway leading to the kitchen door.

Retaining wall and stairs built (June 2018):

Beyond that, however, things got a little tricky. Many of the plant selections were not native to the area and/or not readily sourced. She also recommended extending our pergola across the entire back of the house, which would have obstructed both the light and the view. The plan had some other convoluted elements on the backside so we ditched those as well. In the end, we decided to let our gardens guys, Pippo and Marco, come up with solutions, based on inspiration photos I provided. That worked out quite well and was a lot less expensive than the plan that the fancy landscape architect had recommended.

By the time our yard was ready to be planted, it was already too hot, so we had to delay planting until the fall. I returned solo to work with Pippo and Marco on plant choices and placement in October.

Ready to plant (October 2018):

Newly planted:

How the slope looks today:

 

As it turns out, some of the plants have fared better than others. Some have thrived. Others have either died or struggled, especially in this summer’s extreme heat, leaving some bare spots. So at this point the plantings on the slope look a bit haphazard and will need some adjustment. When the weather gets cooler we’ll replace some of the casualties with plants that do well in this location. At any rate, it’s nice not to have to look at a mountain of bare earth. I don’t mind the wild and carefree appearance of the slope.

I do love the casual look of the back stairs with the lavender, roses, verbena and other flowering plants along the border. The hungry bees seem to be very pleased with the tasty smorgasbord.

I

I’m looking forward to the continued evolution of the garden.

Note: For anyone wanting to know which plants did well on this hot, dry slope with poor soil, here are some of them:

Lavender
Laurel
Rosemary
Russian sage
Santolina pinnata and chamaecyprissus
Cotoneaster
Potentilla frustosa
Rosa rugosa
Guara lindheimeni
Verbena
Butterfly bush
Narrowleaf firethorn
Artemisia Powis Castle
Golden euryops (Golden shrub daisy)
Threadleaf fleabane

Casa Avventura: Then and Now From 2017 to 2021

Back in the fall of 2019 when we were hosting my college friends at Casa Avventura, we had no idea it would be the last time we would be able to visit Le Marche for almost two years. Finally we are here and it has been fun to see just what has changed and how much things have grown in the interim. It’s also fun to revisit old pictures of the construction and compare to today.

We began the project at the very end of 2016. We visited in May of 2017 and then again in July to see how the house was progressing and to make selections for kitchen and bath finishes, floor tile, stain for the wood beams, etc. This is what it looked like then:

house under construction - May 2017

 

And this is what it looks like now:

While the house was being built we also started construction on the swimming pool:

Pool - summer 2017

The pool in all its glory:

poolI

Numero Civico We Finally Get a Street Address

Our house had been finished a few months when I went over to furnish it last June. I realized when I ordered some things online that I didn’t actually know what our street address was. Since our house was in what had been just a field with no road to it, it did not show up on any map. All we had to indicate where we lived were GPS coordinates, so that’s what we provided as an address when ordering things online.

Last June before leaving for Italy I ordered a whole load of stuff for the house from Amazon, thinking it would just be easier to have it delivered to our door than schlepping all over the place to find basic household goods.

As it turns out I still had to schlepp to town every day to get my stuff. I’d get a call from either the mail carrier, DHL or some other delivery guy saying they had a package for me and I needed to come meet them in the piazza to get it. Although we had specifically provided our GPS coordinates to Amazon and other vendors, no one was willing to even try and find our house without a house number.

I visited the comune (town hall) and asked what our street number (numero civico) was, assuming it would be straightforward request. I was told that we needed a certificate of occupancy first before they could process a request for a street number. Once our geometra submitted the paperwork we would have our numero civico within six weeks.

Jimmy, our geometra, got on it right away, so we figured we’d have the number by the time we came back eight weeks later in August.

But no. August came and went and no numero civico. It’s hard to furnish a house when you can’t get anyone to deliver furniture to you. Some of the stuff we ordered ended up at our neighbor’s house and some of it was delivered only because Ed waited up at the main road and led them to our house. Some of it never showed up at all.

Finally towards the end of September we received this very official looking document from the Comune of Colmurano:

 

So it’s official. Our numero civico is Contrada Monteloreto, 19.

But we still had a problem. The street sign up at the turn-off from the main road says that the houses on our road are numbers 20 through 28:

Street sign with numbers

The delivery people seem to be very literal, so unless the sign is changed to include number 19, I am not convinced anything we order will show up.

I asked a couple locals how long they thought it might take for the comune to change the sign and all I got were eye rolls. The chances of getting a new sign were slim to none.

It was time to take matters into my own hands and fix the sign myself. A visit to a nearby hardware store yielded some adhesive numbers (though they were so old the adhesive wasn’t sticky anymore). So I bought some glue.

Number 19

The numbers weren’t quite the right size but they would have to do. I threw my step-stool into the car and headed up to the main road, where I glued my numbers to the street sign.¬† Not very subtle, but it should do the trick:

street sign with number 19 added

Alas, it doesn’t seem to have made a difference. Our latest Amazon order was delivered to another house up the road. On the plus side, it did give us an opportunity to meet the neighbors who had our stuff, and they were very welcoming. So we’ve made some new friends.

Our Kitchen Is Finished!

When we started designing our little house, the one thing we wanted was an open floor plan … we wanted one big room with the kitchen at one end, the living room at the other and the dining table in the middle.

And we wanted an American-style kitchen, with an island, a decent-sized refrigerator, plenty of storage and counter space and a wine fridge. Most of the kitchens we had seen in existing farmhouses (at least in our price range) were cramped, with not enough storage or counter space. And with curtains instead of doors on the lower cabinets. “No curtains!” was my first direction to Angelo, our kitchen designer.

And Ed wanted an ice-maker. Not just an ice-maker in the freezer (which is rare enough in Italy) but a stand-alone ice-maker (what can I say, Ed is into ice, and lots of it). Angelo looked at him as though he had three heads. Needless to say, Ed did not get his ice-maker.

We spent most of the day at Angelo’s showroom in Civitanova going over our extensive list of needs and wants and picking out the cabinet design and counters. I was tempted to pick something safe and classic, like white, but we ended up going for a greenish-gray color for the cabinets.

OK, not the best picture, but here’s how our kitchen turned out:

I think our full size refrigerator and freezer might be overkill for Italy…. in fact I think our whole kitchen might be overkill…but at least we can stock up with food and wine before a big snowstorm.

Despite designing our American-style kitchen we still ended up with a microwave that is tiny on the inside and an oven that will not fit a big roasting pan with a turkey. But I’m sure we’ll adapt.

Now that the kitchen is done we are starting to think about all the stuff we’ll need to bring or buy to outfit it. I’ve already started filling my cart at Amazon.it.

Building the Fireplace

We are getting close to the end of construction. One of the last things to do is build the fireplace.

Although a pellet stove would have been a more effective source of heat, we thought an open fire would make the place feel cozier, so we opted for that.

Given all the doors along the backside of the house, the only place that made sense to put a fireplace¬† was in the corner of the living room. That actually works well because it means we can see it from the kitchen and dining area as well as the living room. Here’s the design we came up with.

However, the corner location restricted its size and we found we couldn’t make it as big as we wanted. Not the end of the world.

Since we wanted the fireplace to fit with the rustic character of the house, we decided to build it out of brick and stone using an old wood beam for a mantel and a space to store wood below the firebox.

Here’s the stone we found for the front of the firebox:

fireplace stone being lifted on crane

Here it is in place:

Here’s the old beam we found for the mantel:

The chimney pipe is covered in plaster:

Ta-dah! Here’s the finished fireplace:

Now all we need to do is test to see if it draws properly and then we’ll be ready for a cozy fire.