The secret gardens of Venice

Venice is surrounded by water, there is water everywhere. Canals, fondamente, lagoon, everywhere there is water lapping at your feet. At first glance the city appears to be stone, every kind of stone, a landscape of brick walls, white paving stones and every architectural man-made detail imaginable. However on closer inspection you start to notice here and there, an ivy-covered wall, an abundance of wisteria or even a rose garden, perfumed and colourful. Venice reveals herself gradually as a city of hidden greenery, with courtyards, window boxes and balconies brimming with verdant greens and subtle perfumed fragrances.

Once you start looking for the gardens and plants of Venice you discover them everywhere. In 2019 I was an assistant to a Venice-based Wedding Planner, a delightful lady with decades of experience organising events in the city. Both weddings took place in the summer months, May and June respectively. It was sunny and hot, very hot, and both ceremonies took place in flower filled gardens, pictures below. Venice is indeed a city of gardens if you know where to look.

Fairy-tale wedding in the garden at Cipriani, Venice – ph: Toffolo

Many of the palaces that line the Grand Canal have their own private gardens, some of which can be seen from the water’s edge. Others are hidden in courtyards behind monumental facades. Many of the churches and monasteries have gardens too, ranging from a productive vegetable garden known as an ‘orto’ to small, flower-filled spaces designed to offer shade and tranquillity. The Church of Sant’ Eufemia on Giudecca has a charming garden filled with tomatoes and peppers, roses and even a few grape vines. The garden is open to church-goers after mass on a Sunday, as a place to enjoy a refreshing drink and perhaps a little snack. Just round the corner from Sant’ Eufemia is a traditional Venetian campo (square) which is still grass-covered. The Sant’ Eufemia campo is a storage area for the local fishermen, nets dry in the warm, dry air. Wellington boots hang upside down on the handles of a trolley, ready for their next outing. A vine clambers up a scaffolding framework, perhaps this will be a vine-covered pergola one day offering shade on hot, summer days.

Whilst many of the gardens in Venice are traditional, with statues and fountains, some are much more contemporary. A perfect example is the Palazzo Querini Stampalia, a contemporary art centre and library open to all. The lower floors of the palace and garden were re-imagined in the 1960s by architect Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa’s garden includes narrow trenches carrying water and an interesting range of Japanese plants, and bamboos.

On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore a new box hedge labyrinth has been built honouring the literary achievements of Argentinian writer and poet Jose Luis Borges. Borges was an early exponent of the literary style known as ‘magical realism’. Appropriately, he published a collection of short stories and essays called ‘Labyrinths’ in the 1960s. This modern labyrinth offers visitors the challenge of making their way through the maze, which has been created in the shape of Borges name, revealed in an aerial view, if you look carefully enough. The reward as you leave the maze is the wonderful view of San Marco viewed from across the water!

Borges Labirinto - Venezia, Summer 2020
Borges Labirinto – San Giorgio Maggiore, Venezia, Summer 2020
Giudecca - Venice Sant'Eufemia gardens
Giudecca – Venice Sant’ Eufemia gardens

Many years ago the charming General Manager at Cipriani, Venice’s exceptional 5-star hotel, gave me a book called ‘The Secret Gardens of Venice’ the author listed at least one hundred, maybe more, gardens throughout the city. I’d guess today, 30 years later there are probably more gardens in Venice, perhaps as many as 300. Next time you are visiting Venice let me know and I’ll arrange a special garden tour just for you – from the Biennale Gardens and the newly restored Giardini Reali near St Mark’s there’s sure to be a planting arrangement that will inspire and impress. Probably my favourites would be the simple cloisters at San Lazzaro degli Armeni (below) and the charming and slightly straggly gardens at Sant’ Eufemia. I’ve never actually visited the Fortuny gardens, located next to Molino Stucky, that’s going to have to be next on my list.

Giulia and Carlo in the gardens of the legendary Cipriani Hotel, Venice - June 2019. Photo: Mirco Toffato
Giulia and Carlo in the gardens of the legendary Cipriani Hotel, Venice – June 2019. Photo: Mirco Toffato

Notes:

  • This article was inspired by the recent Monty Don programme on the BBC.

10th January, 2022

Venice - panorama - view from the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore www.educated-traveller.com
Venice – panorama – view from the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore www.educated-traveller.com

www.educated-traveller.com

Miramare Castle and harbour, Trieste www.educated-traveller.com
Miramare Castle and harbour, Trieste http://www.educated-traveller.com

5 thoughts on “The secret gardens of Venice

  1. Hello My dear Janet, another fine and inspiring piece, thank you …… so glad to see how inspired you were by my own very favourite gardening man!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, what beautiful gardens you have discovered! I love to sit in a garden and paint the beauty I’m surrounded by.

    Like

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