It is considered a sublime luxury to own a garden in this city, born on an archipelago spotted with islands and bridges, where the land shares its space with its surrounding, brackish waters. And they say it’s been happening for 1600 years!
And yet, Venice boasts plenty of green spaces with blossoming flowers, trees and vegetables. And since they’re quite hidden to the public eye, most people aren’t aware of these soul-filling, secret places, hidden behind the aristocratic façades of the Grand Canal, or in the less-visited Sestiere di Cannaregio (Cannaregio district) overlooking the Northern lagoon and reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of its owners and lucky visitors. Or tucked away within the walls of old cloisters, where silent work and prayer are the foundation of a peaceful, healthy body and soul. Sometimes, however, these secluded secrets are disclosed by sneaky tufts of grass overflowing into the dense labyrinth of calli and canals, perhaps trying to be cheeky or to arouse our curiosity.
Exploring Venice’s gardens is a lovely way to discover hidden gems behind tall walls that, now as then, protect homes from prying eyes and from the Sirocco and Bora winds. Green oases, still boasting pergolas brimmed with grapes and flowers. Evergreen carpets, embroidered with seasonal patches of colour, or "scented rooms" for fresh vegetables, grown and nurtured with knowledge and passion. Or perhaps treasure troves for exotic plants that have found their new home, though still carrying the memory of ancient faraway lands, like towering palm trees, blooming roses and colourful citrus trees.
A walk through Sestiere di Castello is a journey filled with awe-inspiring, unexpected surprises. Indulge in the warm hug of a fragrant Oriental tea in the Orangerie of Hotel Metropole; gently caress the scented leaves of potted lemon and orange trees, or follow the steps of Sigmund Freud, Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust, illustrious and loyal guests of what used to be Pensione Kirsch; listen to the echoing notes of Antonio Vivaldi and his "putte", Venetian orphans to whom the “red priest” gave music lessons in the nearby Pietà.
By stepping into one of the most authentic parts of the city, you’ll reach the church and convent of San Francesco della Vigna, where ancient cloisters and convent gardens have been hosting for centuries vegetable crops, loquats, jujubes and rows of grapevines that today give life to the Harmonia Mundi wine: a peaceful space steeped in history, stories and events that take us back to the “fraticello d’Assisi”, to the first vine to blossom in the lagoon and to Mark the Evangelist’s legendary harbour after a shipwreck, greeted by an Angel who announced he would become Venice’s Patron Saint. Not far, suspended between Venice’s glorious past and the cultured, revolutionary view of a great master of contemporary architecture such as Carlo Scarpa, you’ll stumble upon the prestigious Fondazione Querini Stampalia, well-known for its historic house museum, library, Scarpa Area and for its fine "hortus conclusus", where every detail bears an evocative value: the water entering the building and flowing through the garden, the alabaster labyrinth watering the birds that break the silence with their harmonious singing, the Lion of St Mark, the puteal ornamental wellhead, the Byzantine charm of Murano’s mosaics by Mario de Luigi, oriental plants and, lastly, a pathway of variously-shaped rocks recalling musical notes and inviting us to reflect with every step, while also enjoying the wild flowers and weeds growing through the bricks. Highly recommended for those who genuinely love the truest, deepest soul of Venice.
For over 20 years, thanks to the Wigwam Club Giardini Storici Venezia, the eyes of many tourists have been captured by the beauty of Venice’s gardens, where the art of landscape painters and the skills of gardeners blissfully blend with the work of sculptures and decorators; where ancient love and passion are brought back to life through harmonious symmetries and unexpected emotions; where the magical world of botanicals awaits to be discovered with the delicious, fresh vegetables that were grown in the lagoon’s gardens and served at the tables of the dogi.
A dive into the real essence of Venetian gardens, the symbol of nature’s tough resilience and of the loving, fearless persistence of its inhabitants.
Philosophy graduate and journalist, she’s written numerous articles and books regarding Venetian gardens and is the head of Wigwam Club Giardini Storici Venezia, which she cofounded in 2000. She’s been curating garden-related projects and events for years. Published work: I Giardini Veneziani, with G. Bondi and L. Querenghi (Tamari Montagna 2004); Jardins Secrets de Venise, Flammarion 2006 (also translated in English and German as Gardens in Venice; Die Geheimen Garten von Venedig, DVA); Guida ai giardini di Venezia, with photos of Gabriele Kostas (in English: A Guide to the Gardens of Venice, La Toletta 2013).