You will be focusing finding your way amongst the crowds when you come to Venice in August. Looking somewhere for refreshing shade and quiet. But even in the center of town, along those beaten paths, there are secret oases of verde rigoglioso, lush green private gardens. Not just the semi-private corti courtyards you cross or look into. I mean the little gardens off-limits, hiding behind the walls. Almost one-third of Venice consists of these little secluded and private gardens.
Venetian buildings, the so-called l’edilizia della Venezia minore are rather structured, consisting of several levels on and above the ground. There are, for example, a first-floor terrace, in-between loggias and top-floor altane (roof terraces). All are natural extensions of the inner courtyards often used as gardens. Paved and terraced, covered with mossy lawns. Hiding behind red brick stone walls and facades painted in Venetian Red, the rosso venexian hues.
In this post, I would like to show you my grandparents’ garden in the midst of Venice, which is spreading on several levels as I mentioned above. On ground level, there’s a rectangular garden plot. Towering above the buildings surrounding it, you can see the facade of a cloister. Part of this garden belonged another convent, suppressed in the 19th century.
Spring and harvest time, from end-August what we call the fifth season, through mid-November, is the most “active” time we spend here. I mean there’s much work to do while in summer the terrace is used to relax and find shade, peace and quiet from the crowds passing by beyond the walls.
It’s this place I grew up with and that I miss most when I’m not there. A place tended by Grandfather where he taught me about his kitchen garden and other evergreen bushes, fruit trees and flowering plants.
About the problem zones of Venice – salt water filtering through in case of acqua alta. Where the grass is covered by a sticking salty, thin white film. He planted purple azaleas and light pink hydrangea, and they are still there. He loved to experiment, he was a superb gardener. That was very contagious, for ever since, buying anything offered on plant seeds racks in town has been my hobby. The vegetables grown from these seeds usually took well so we enjoyed the finest and softest insalate da taglio and rucola in the terracotta pots. Even melons grow well. Up to now, though, I ‘ve been unsuccessful in growing hibiscus and banana trees from seeds.
Late April and September have always been my favorite seasons to spend time on the terrace.. There are fruit trees (pomegranates, figs, pears) growing in the soil and in terracotta pots. There’s something to harvest all year long. A short time ago, it was time to harvest fragolino grapes, the juicy black-blue grapes growing exclusively in the Lagoon and on its northern fringes.
Currently, we can enjoy all colors in the garden. Now in early autumn, we harvest raspberries (which go into a basil-cream-flavored pancake for breakfast). There’s a kitchen garden corner below the terrace, and another angolo reserved for them, in the sun. There’s a Passiflora growing in another sunny spot. Sometimes, there are as many as 30 blossoms on the Passiflora bush.
Those herbs and plants loving shade grow downstairs on a little raised flower bed. The mints, for example. Our water mints go into a syrup or we make pomegranate-mint tea from them. Autumn is also a second prime time for our roses. We use them to make rose-marzipan muffins as you can see in the picture below. Also, the lavender bushes are regaling us fresh blossoms. These go into our lavender syrup and are dried to make tea from.
In the winter, we mix lavender blossoms with lemon juice and local honey from eucalyptus and pine trees. It helps prevent or cure colds and also influenza.
There’s always something to taste, cook with and marvel at during the year. Figs and grapes and raspberries. Kitchen laurel, parsley, mints, rosemary, basil and curry herb. Lavender and roses, wisteria and kumquat, tangerine and lemon trees on the terrace. Plus, a nice collection of oleander with white, red and purple blossoms. It’s a garden that Grandfather had been tending since 1968, which is now regaling us lots of colorful blossoms and fruit-bearing trees.5