Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 27, 2020

Lockdown continues

I don’t have much to report from Casa Debbio. 3 days ago my gardening wanderings ended when a fierce, freezing wind came through bringing snow flurries with it.

I have been mostly sitting by the fire watching Netflix and keeping up with virus news through BBC World News. Thank goodness Filippo chopped some wood for me a few days ago.

The numbers of people getting the virus in Italy is slowing, which is great news, but the death toll was higher today. The number of people with the virus has increased in many countries, including the USA, where there are now more than in Italy. This virus does not respect borders.

I  heard today that the prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, has the virus, joining Prince Charles. This virus can claim anyone.

All we can do is stay home to avoid catching and spreading the virus, not too much to ask.

The thing I miss most in isolation is my morning coffee and sfoglia at Bar Italia. To help make up for this I made a pastry in my kitchen. I bought some ready made uncooked puff pastry at the supermarket and some raspberries…this is the result.

It was delicious, and I only made one. If I had made two I would have eaten both of them.

This will not continue after lockdown. I will be back at Bar Italia as soon as I possibly can.

The awful wind is not keeping the wild goats from my garden. They seem to be curious about the gazanias I planted. Shortly after I planted them they strolled in at night and ate the flowers off some of the plants. Recently they have decided to just pull the plants out. Maybe they didn’t like the flowers and want to kill them. I have started shouting at the goats to go away. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. I’m hoping I sound scary to goats.

I usually prefer to leave flowers in the garden and only pick them when there are lots, but the wind was blowing the camellias away so I picked two so I could see them inside.

The cold weather has killed a few of the new plants, but on the upside I have found another 10 baby peonies which will be transplanted to a pot once this miserable weather is over and spring warmth returns.

This afternoon the sun appeared. The wind is still wild, but tomorrow may be better.

Stay home and stay well.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 23, 2020

Who will buy these pretty things?

Today there was lovely sunshine, but with it came a fierce, cold wind. The wind is blowing the blossoms from the weeping cherry. Soon the leaves will come and it will be pretty in a different way.

Because I didn’t spend much time outside today I went through some photos I took in Florence recently. The shop windows were full of spring fashion. Here is a selection of my favourites.





There are some gorgeous things, but who will buy them now that the shops are closed and there is nowhere to go to wear them? These big players will survive, but I worry for small businesses who may not cope well with this shut down.

Not all of the fashion appealed to me. I am wondering who would buy these unattractive sandals…ever.

Neptune’s fountain in Piazza della Signoria has been covered with scaffolding for cleaning for sometime. It was great to see it looking almost brand new.

Lunch today came from a recipe by Not Quite Nigella, an excellent blog I follow. I had a jar of green curry paste I brought from Australia and I found coconut milk at the local supermarket. I improvised on some of the ingredients and my green curry chicken meatballs came out very well.

It was warm enough at midday to eat outside. Lunch with a view.

The cold wind is due to persist for a few days, so there will be lots of sitting by the fire. I will still do my regular garden tours to see what is going to bloom next. The forsythia and ginestra are not far off and some wild flowers are close. All but 3 of my peonies have appeared. I have about 70, not including the 9 babies I found growing from seed. Filippo jokingly says they will take over the garden. I wouldn’t mind at all.



Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 20, 2020

Peony patrol

Day 11 of isolation and I did my usual peony patrol. I have about 70 peony plants at Casa Debbio and they are almost all on the move. Tree peonies bloom much earlier than the bush type.

Some of the tree peonies already have buds.

Some of the other type are still just shoots.

Others are zooming along.

A couple have not yet shown themselves. There is one, in particular, I have been watching. It is in a row where all the others have appeared. I checked in the morning yesterday, nothing. I looked again at midday, nothing. When I went back at 4.00pm there was a shoot about 4 centimetres high and it was as thick as my little finger. This morning another shoot appeared. How does this happen??

Peonies are the perfect plants for Casa Debbio. The wild goats and the deer don’t eat them. They require almost no work, just a little pruning of the tree peonies and keeping weeds away from the others. They just come up all by themselves each spring and look gorgeous.

I found 7 tiny peony plants which have come up from seed. I have moved them to a pot where I can keep an eye on them. This morning there are 2 more…I love it!

The weeping cherry is now in full bloom.

We lose a few lavender plants each year for unknown reasons. This year I am filling some of the gaps with daisies for a change. They are not perennials, but most things in the garden are, so adding some annuals each year is OK.

I found some verbena at the supermarket.

Gazanias should do well in summer.

Some of the rhododendrons are beginning to open.

Things are gradually turning green.

I think these are grape hyacinth. They pop up all over the place.

I wish the nurseries were open. There is always room for more plants.

Yesterday I made pulla, a slightly sweet Finnish bread flavoured with cardamom. The dough just kept rising. I thought it would take over the kitchen!
It turned out well, but I think I left it in the oven about 5 minutes too long. Anyway, it tastes great and I sliced most of it and put it in the freezer. It will last until my next supermarket visit.

Today has been overcast and cool, so I am back inside with a fire. Spring came a bit early this year, but when the sun is not out it is not warm.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 18, 2020

A supermarket visit

Today I went down the mountain for the first time since the lockdown to shop at the nearest supermarket. We are not to leave our Comune, or district, to shop. Fortunately the supermarket at Gallicano is excellent.

Armed with my document to show why I was leaving home I headed off. The drive from Casa Debbio is beautiful. I can’t resist stopping along the way to admire my favourite view.


I was pleasantly surprised to find the supermarket very well organised. There was no waiting to get in, the shelves were fully stocked and everyone was keeping a good distance from each other.

The staff were gently reminding people to use the plastic gloves provided to select items and not to crowd the aisles. I was able to buy everything I needed to allow me to stay at home for at least the next 10 days. I was even able to buy a few plants for my garden.

I am particularly upset that plant nurseries are closed. I went past my favourite one today and it is fully stocked with gorgeous things for spring planting. I felt very sorry for the owners, whom I have come to know quite well. I hope things return to normal soon so all that their beautiful stock can find a home.

I cooked ricotta gnocchi and made a sauce from mini Roma tomatoes for lunch.

The trees around me are just beginning to get their leaves. I can actually see it from my terrace. It will all happen quickly now. Within a few weeks it will be glorious.

In the afternoons my neighbour, Sisto, whose house is below mine, plays music. He has 100 speakers under the eaves of his house and around 5.30pm if the mood takes him he plays tango, or old Italian records. It is quite magical. I wish he did it every day.

Here is a post I wrote about him some time ago. Sisto, the music man of Vergemoli

If you go to my Instagram (Debra Kolkka) you can hear a snippet of what he was playing yesterday.

Lockdown continues…

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 15, 2020

Monk’s beard for lunch

Today was only day 6 of the lock down but I have been up at Casa Debbio for about 12 days. Apart from not being able to go to the bar for morning coffee,  is not a trial, but I do have to plan my days to keep occupied.

One way is to cook. On my last shopping trip before the lock down I found some barba di frate or monk’s beard, also called agretti. It looks a bit like chives and taste a bit like slightly bitter spinach. It grows in sandy seashores along the Mediterranean coast and particularly popular in Tuscany.

It is only available for about 6 weeks in spring. It is easy to prepare. The bottom part of the plant needs to be cut off and the rest well washed as it can have quite a lot of dirt attatched. I then boiled it for about 5 minutes in salted water and drained it.

I fried some spring onions, a few anchovies and a couple of chopped tomatoes in olive oil. Once these had softened I added the cooked agretti. At the same time I cooked the spaghetti. When it was ready I added the spaghetti to the pan and mixed it all together.

I still had half a bunch left so the next day I made some mini frittata…also delicious. I hope I can find some more agretti before the season is over..

The last couple of days were a bit overcast and miserable, so the gardening was limited.

Today we had sun, but there was a mean little wind. I did venture out to inspect the latest happenings in the garden. My peonies have grown millimeters and I found a few more baby acanthus to transplant. They seem to pop up overnight.

Despite the wind it was a beautiful day.

One of the new weeping cherries is doing well.

The quince tree has buds.

The kiwi on the fence I s covered in buds.

Ginestra is about to bloom.

One of Jim’s projects, the wall behind the house, is growing like mad. The descending rosemary is looking great under the bay trees. It is going to have to go on without him. He was supposed to arrive from Australia in about 10 days, but who knows when he will be able to come to Italy.

The blossoms on the older weeping cherry are growing daily.


The lavender under the chestnut trees didn’t do well last year. When we planted it the chestnut tree was ill and we cut it right back and the lavender had plenty of sun. Now that the tree is doing well it throws too much shade on the plants below it.

We pulled them all out and planted hydrangeas which are more shade tolerant. I’m hoping they grow quickly.

The major excitement today was a walk to the village to put some rubbish in the community bins. We have no rubbish collection at the house.

The track to the village is lined with primulas and hellebores.


The villages look even more sleepy than usual.

Normally on a Sunday afternoon people would be gathered in the piazza enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine outside the bar…not today. There were a couple of people about, but everyone kept their distance. It is very sad. Everyone is doing their best to beat this thing. There are lots of older people in the village. It would be devastating if the infection found its way here.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 12, 2020

Lock down in Italy

We have just had our second day of lock down in Italy. We are asked to stay a home and leave only for essential things like buying food and necessities.

We also have to carry a form with our details and why we are away from our houses. I didn’t have a form, but yesterday I wanted to go down to our apartment in Bagni di Lucca. I bought the flowers for the bridge on Monday before lock down and could not plant them because it was raining.

I fully expected to be stopped by police before I got to Bagni di Lucca, but there was no roadblock so I went to the apartment, gathered a few extra things and planted the pansies on the bridge.

I had a quick coffee at the empty Bar Italia. Annalisa had done a great job to make sure people didn’t have to be close to each other. All the tables were pushed back from the bar and many had been removed to give plenty of space. That was the last day it was allowed to open. All bars and restaurants are now closed.

I bought some supplies from the great little fruit and vegetable shop next door where only one person at a time was allowed in.

Then I headed to the nursery on the way back to Vergemoli. Just before the turnoff to the nursery I came to a road block and was stopped by police. I was asked for the form which I didn’t have and explained that I don’t have a printer at home and did not know where to get one.

I gave him my identification and he asked me why I was away from home.  I said I had been shopping and had bought petrol. He let me off with a warning and told me to find a form.

After a bit of asking around I found a couple of forms in the village, so I am all set if I have to venture down the mountain again for supplies.

Casa Debbio is a 10 minute walk outside Vergemoli so it is easy to keep apart from people. Filippo comes up most days to help in the garden but we stay a fair distance from each other.

It is really no trial at all to be isolated at Casa Debbio. The garden is a delight and is changing every day.

There are daffodils everywhere.

Violets are popping up.

We have 4 weeping cherries. The first one was planted about 6 years ago and is about to look gorgeous.

One of the new ones already has blossoms.

Wild daisies are coming up all over the paths. They are tiny and I want them to spread everywhere.

The magnolia stellata has flowers.

I don’t remember the name of this bush, but it is covered in tiny white flowers.

Some peonies have buds. The tree peonies are the first to get flowers and the others are just poking their pink heads out of the ground. I actually have some tiny plants that seem to have grown from seed…amazing!

The rosemary is covered in flowers.

The holly has bright yellow flowers.

I hope the wisteria will soon start to bloom and cover the pergola.

The roses have buds.

One of my camellias has avoided being eaten by wild goats.

Hellebores are thriving under the cherry tree.

Acanthus is zooming along. This year for the first time plants are popping up all over the garden. Seeds must have been spread about. Tiny plants are growing where they are not wanted so I have been digging them up and putting them where I want them.

There have been some pretty sunrises.

We were very excited to spot the first bee 🐝 in the garden today…life goes on regardless of this horrible virus.

Stay healthy everyone.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 9, 2020

Italy now

Right now, in Italy, I am sitting in my house on the side of a mountain, in a cloud.

The view from my terrace.

It changes constantly.

The rain means no gardening for the day. I am hopeful for tomorrow.

As in most of the rest of the world, the Corona virus is causing chaos all around me. Our area is unaffected right now, but that could change at any time. I’m pleased I went to Florence last week. I might be grounded for a while.

As the Italian government announced the area around Milan in Lombardy would be in lock down, thousands of people ‘scappata’, escaped, or fled…great word.

They ran for trains, causing chaos at Milan Central Station. They jumped in their cars and headed south. Many came down to the Versilia Coast and the nearby ski fields of Abetone. The slopes were crowded. So much for staying one metre apart.

This caused a ‘coda’, another delightful Italian word which means tail, or, in this case, a traffic jam lasting hours at the autostrada pay station in Pisa.

The upside is that the coastal towns had a boom weekend. The downside is that Tuscany, Lucca province, including the Garfagnana, where our house is, are now coming close to being locked down. If the escaping people have helped to spread the virus it may happen.

I am happily sitting in my mountain house. I have minimal contact with anyone. I went down the mountain briefly today to get supplies and now I will stay at home and hope it all calms down soon.

It is no trial to be at our lovely mountain house. Here is the evening sky a couple of nights ago.

If the sun comes out tomorrow I will have a happy day in the garden. Filippo has pruned most of the lavender and the enormous fig tree in front of the house. The lavender that was struggling under the chestnut trees has been replaced with hydrangeas and we have planted a few new things…life goes on.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 7, 2020

An Uffizzi visit

The Uffizzi Gallery or Galleria degli Uffizzi is Florence’s famous art museum right in the heart of the city, beside the magnificent Piazza della Signoria and overlooking the Arno river and the Ponte Vecchio.

The museum holds a large collection of priceless art, much of it from the Italian Renaissance. It is the most visited museum in Italy and one of the most popular in the world.

I would not even try to get in the busy seasons, but right now in winter and with the corona virus affecting tourism I was able to walk in with no wait at all.

The name means “offices” and the building was begun in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo 1 de’ Medici to accommodate the offices of the Florentine magistrates. It was completed in 1581. The top floor was made into a gallery for the family and their guests.

The gallery has been open to visitors by request since the 16th century and in 1765 it was officially open to the public…amazing!

I walked up the wide staircases to the top floor and was immediately entranced by the long corridor with exquisitely decorated ceilings. I am always tempted to rush home and paint all of my ceilings…if only I could paint!


The art is presented in individual rooms, one leading on to the next and occasionally taking you back to the corridor. There are some especially beautiful rooms.

The views of the rooftops of Florence from the windows are excellent.

Best of all is the view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno, even on a rainy day.

Of course the art is the main reason to visit the Uffizzi…there is much to see. Here is a tiny selection.

Expect to see the liberal use of gold.

This panel was painted for the altar of St Ansanus in Siena cathedral in 1333.

This one dates from 1414, commissioned for a monastery in Florence.

This altar piece is Gentile da Fabriano’s masterpiece created in 1423 for the Strozzi family chapel in the church of Santa Trinita.

These 2 portraits are particularly famous. They are the Duke and Duchess of Urbino painted by Piero della Francesca around 1472.

On the back of the panels the ducal couple is borne in triumph by Christian Virtues.

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus commands attention. It was painted in 1485.

These beauties were in the same room.

I liked this one for the vibrant colour.

…and this for the monster, Piero di Lorenzo illustrating the legend of Perseus in 1510 – 15.

This because I liked his face.

This Venus by Lorenzo di Credi in 1490 looks quite masculine. I wonder if the artist had ever seen a naked female.

An unusual monochrome from 1500 by Luca Signorelli, possibly a part of a bedstead in a nuptial bedchamber…sweet dreams.

One of Raphael’s best loved works, Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted in 1505.

I liked “Portia” painted by FRA Bartolommeo in 1495. Unfortunately she was about to kill herself by eating the hot coals at her feet.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation from 1472 – 5 is set in the garden of an elegant Renaissance palazzo. Archangel Gabriel’s robust wings owe a debt to Leonardo’s study of bird flight.

Michelangelo was commissioned by the merchant Agnolo Doni probably to mark his daughter’s birth in 1507.

Leonardo da Vinci never finished his large altarpiece Adoration of the Maji…1481 – 2. Some figures are barely sketched.

This quietly elegant, if somewhat dour, couple was painted in 1503 – 6. Elisabetta Gonzaga, wife of Guidubaldodo Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, was renowned for her humanist learning. The jewel on her forehead in the shape of a scorpion may allude to her interest in astrology.

Giuseppe Maria Crespi painted “Scullery Maid” in 1720 – 5. He rejected academic precepts in favour of a more direct interpretation of reality.

There are dozens of stunning sculptures lining the corridors.


“The torment of Marsyas” was one of the first to enter the Medici family’s collections. The body, carved in Pavonazzetto marble, is classical but the head was carved by Mino da Fiesole(1429-84), who added the sculpture’s missing parts.

The statue shows the Satyr Marsyas  just before he was flayed alive for losing a musical contest with Apollo. He looks quite cheerful. I have no idea why.

“Nereid on a sea-horse “ is Nereid Galatea, lover of Cyclops Polyphemus. It was taken to the Villa Medici in Rome in 1731 and may be attributed to a Roman workshop.

This lovely lady, the Virgin Annunciate, is by Domenico di Nicoli and dated 1425 – 35. There is a similar wooden statue in the San Frediano church in Lucca. I must take another look to see If they are by the same artist.

Hermaphrodite, Roman art from the 1st century BC, has its own room. The character comes from Greek mythology and was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. The youth is lying on a lion pelt placed over a rocky surface. Half man and half woman, the bisexuality of Hermaphrodite is based on its union with the nymph Salmacis, who asked the gods to keep both their bodies in one in return for eternal love.

The Uffizzi is a must if you have an interest in Renaissance art. It is possible, and a good idea, to book online in advance to avoid the usual long lines to buy tickets.
I have been a couple of times in winter and have not had to queue, but for most of the year it can take hours to get to the ticket office. There are better things to do in Florence than wait to get into an art gallery, even one as remarkable as this one…be prepared.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | February 25, 2020

The joy of travel

Travelling doesn’t always go to plan. One of my flights to Italy was cancelled which meant I had 15 hours at Hong Kong airport. I paid to go to a lounge to wait in relative comfort, but it was a long wait!

My stop over in Helsinki was cut short as a result but I managed to have a great day despite the freezing wind and bursts of rain.

I left the hotel the next morning at 5.00am to take the bus to the airport. There was a bit of a delay at check in because of a luggage conveyor belt problem, but eventually all was resolved.

It seems it may not have been completely resolved as half of the luggage did not arrive in Milan. I waited in line for nearly 3 hours to leave a delivery address for my suitcase.

Because of a recent derailment some trains from Milan were cancelled and others were full. I waited 2 hours for a train. It came on time but managed to be 35 minutes late arriving in Bologna. Fortunately the train to Florence was also late so I didn’t have to change my ticket.

The delay meant I missed a connection in Florence for Lucca and had to wait for the next train. A lovely friend picked me up in Lucca for the last leg to Bagni di Lucca where I arrived at 9.00pm…a very long day.

Fortunately my suitcase has been delivered a few days later. The one good thing about the mishap was that I didn’t have to drag mysuitcase all the way here.

It is great to be back in this part of the world. Bagni di Lucca is wearing its winter coat and I love it!

The winter view from Casa Debbio is lovely.

Our garden has survived the winter and the daffodils are looking fabulous.

This may not look like much but I am excited to see my peonies beginning to appear.

The weeping cherry is about to blossom.

There are buds on the rhododendrons.

We have lots to do in the garden. First of all the areas dug up by the wild boar need to be smoothed over and the lavender needs pruning.

…bring on some sunny days.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | February 11, 2020

Tasmania, a short visit

We have just returned from a short trip to Tasmania to attend a party to celebrate the birthdays of some lovely friends. We began our visit in beautiful Binalong Bay on the north east coast where the weather seemed to forget it is summer.

Our first morning was overcast, but the beach still looked wonderful.

There are some stunning flowering trees.

The next morning the sun made a brief appearance.

We drove along the Bay of Fires to a place called The Gardens. The land is parched and dry…rain is needed badly.

I think the area should be named The Rocks. These gorgeous rock formations are the best feature.

After Binalong Bay we drove to Hobart, stopping along the way at Devil’s Corner winery. We were almost blown off our feet by a fierce wind on the way to the viewing tower.

The view made it worthwhile.

Our main reason for the Hobart visit was to go to MONA, the museum of old and new art. The museum is owned by David Walsh and is the largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere. The first version of the museum was founded in 2001. This closed In 2006 for renovations and was reopened in 2011.
We visited the first time before the renovations and were stunned by the size and stunning architecture of the new museum.

We took the ferry up the Derwent river to MONA. Tickets in the Posh Pit are $55 return. This includes, wine, coffee and snacks. The regular tickets are $22. We bought our tickets at the booth in the Brooke St Pier along with entry to MONA, $30.

The trip up river is just 30 minutes with excellent scenery all the way.

There is an enormous zinc refinery on the river bank. The Nyrstar Hobart refinery was established in 1916 and is one of the world’s largest zinc smelters. I imagine that when it was built it was quite a long way out of town, but now it occupies prime real estate on the river, surrounded by suburbs.

Soon we arrived at MONA and walked the 100 steps up to the museum.


The buildings and installations in the above ground part of the museum are fascinating and require as much time as the gallery exhibits.

The views from the museum are stunning.

The Moorilla Winery was on the site before the museum. It was established in 1958 by Claudio Alcorso and the first Moorilla wine was foot crushed and wild fermented in 1962. David Walsh bought the site in 1995.


Rain drove us into the gallery. There is a lift or spiral staircase down the 3 floors to the beginning of the exhibition.

The huge space has been carved out of the rock.

You can begin with refreshments at the bar.

…followed by a walk to the first exhibition.

A water wall with random words projected onto it.

Here is a selection of exhibits. You really need to visit to really appreciate what is on offer.

This one stood out. I think I need to make something similar as a scarecrow for our garden at Casa Debbio.

There are 3 floors to explore, allow plenty of time. The building is stunning, quite often more impressive than the art.

We had lunch at The Source, the on site restaurant. The food was delicious and the service excellent.

MONA is a great reason to visit Hobart.

We later drove to Frogmore Creek, a fabulous winery 20 minutes out of Hobart. The vineyard is spectacular and the winery and restaurant amazing. The winery shop is the best I have seen. What a pity we had already had lunch.

We called in briefly to Richmond, home of the oldest bridge in Australia. It was opened in 1825, 10 years before any similar structure in Australia. The bridge was built by convict labour to enable reliable transport of people and goods to the east coast and Port Arthur, the convict settlement.

The town is very pretty and full of lovely old houses. Unfortunately rain and wind chased us away before we could explore properly.

We don’t complain about rain after the horrific fires this summer. We have now had torrential rain in many parts of Australia. The good news is that the fires are out, but now we have floods causing damage. Let’s hope it settles down soon.

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