The beginning of spring and autumn are important times from a Venetian gardener’s point of view. You need to know the laws of equinox and harness its signs. You need to recognize the changing patterns of the tides occurring during Equinox in the Lagoon if you want to be a successful gardener :-)
In this article, we tell about the secrets of the tides in Venice and how Venetians have always used this knowledge. Here we need to know the moon phases shaping tide patterns. We choose plants for the gardens accordingly. After all, Venetians have always loved creating gardens for the senses – giardini sensuali.
The pictures in this article show you Venice around 21-25 September which is the time equinox occurs. The concept of deciding on how, when and which plants to grow and harvest during Equinox, when days and nights have the same length, seems to be outdated today. It was important when Grandmother was young, learning a lot from living on a Venetian estate in the northern fringe parts of the Lagoon during the second world war.
Venetians always had to create orchards to survive in the midst of a Lagoon. They soon recognized that including herbs helped grow fruit trees, attracting even more bees. The first gardens belonged to cloisters, enabling monks or nuns to live completely self-sufficient on their islands. On La Certosa, each monk even had his own private garden ! In addition to orchards and kitchen gardens, monasteries in the Lagoon owned saline and often surrounding islands and territories (dossi, barene, velme).
The giardini dei nobili, the gardens belonging to noble families of Venice overlooking the Grand Canal, also enabled their owners to lead a self-sufficient life. These gardens were little enclaves and private farms where noble families specialized in growing fruit, herbs and vegetables. And spices, by the way.
There are countless lembi di terra, tiny gardens in Venice. Horti conclusi, so to say. They were used to grow plants, chosen according to exposure to sun, wind, and salinity. Yes, salinity is an important topic, for those low-lying parts of Venice (le sechere’) need close monitoring if you want to grow a garden. They are prone to flooding during high tides, and the patterns of the tides are shifting right now in September.
After spring equinox (equinozio di primavera, around 21 March), high tides happen less often. After fall equinox (around 22 September) there will be four changes of the tides a day. In addition, you need to know how the tides are affected by plenilunio and novilunio (full and new moon).
For example, if you plan to grow spinach and rosolina herbs now, you need to take into account the expected time of germination and number of high tides during the day. In the summer, low tide starts in the early evening and the water doesn’t return until the next high tide at noon on the following day. So that’s why in August and September, Grandmother plants seeds in the late afternoon ! In addition, high tides are most intense around new moon and full moon, so planting seeds isn’t recommended as the new seeds may be flushed away or affected by the rising tide due to an increase in salinity in soil … So you can see, there are quite a few “natural laws” to take into account when growing anything in Venice !
Now that we know a bit about the laws of the tides, this knowledge enables us to view the tradition of Venetian moon gardening in a new light. Call it creating a giardino lunare – moon garden in line with the moon phases. It’s a concept applied for growing succulent vegetables, luminous plants and invigorating herbs that we harvest in order to flavor food and drinks.
Finally, take a look at the visual impressions in Venice during this season. We call it the Fifth Season, another term coined by Grandmother, comparing traditional family knowledge on cooking and gardening to concepts stemming from other parts of the world, like China and India. But then, Venice had been in close contact with these countries for 1,500 years. This ancient knowledge seems to be present in the Venetian subconscious, lifestyle and recipes to this day. You can recognize la quinta stagione – the Fifth Season, lasting sometime from 20 August to approximately 05 October, also by its colors. According to the time of day, the Lagoon is glowing golden, or emerald as you can see below. And what we eat and grow is based on the amount of light we get in a season …
Nature in Venice during autumn equinox is lush and so overwhelming. Imagine crossing a dark hallway and dining room and venturing out into the luminous moon light bathing the quiet garden located in the courtyard. Or, up on la Terrazza – the terrace bordered by white blossoms, fiori rampicanti, hanging gardens, looking around this lush green paradise across the quiet courtyard garden, crisscrossed by gravel paths bordered by hydrangea, roses, figs and oleander bushes. Looking up, we can smell the zesty fragrance of oleander bushes growing on the sunny terrace above, even encroaching upon the balconies. They are white and during the day, attract so many bees ! So yes, that’s a moon garden whose blossoms illuminate September nights.
I got a wonderful opportunity to describe the look and feel of September in Venice for The Simple Things Magazine. About three years ago, I came across a copy of this British Lifestyle Magazine at an airport kiosk and was immediately drawn to its design and contents. We were so honored when approached by the editor to write a personal guide on Autumn in Venice. Click here to read an excerpt of our article on The Simple Things Website.
Our next blog post will tell you more about Venetian gardens in September – Gardening with a Contessa is actually a book review. It’s about a book published a few months ago, telling you about the life of a Venetian countess and her garden in campagna veneta – the Venetian countryside. She lived in Venice and near Padua during the 19th century, and you can still visit her garden which became very famous in the meantime.1