Gardenproud Blog

Archive for September, 2014

The Secret Gardens of Venice

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

By Tim Sykes, 1st September 2014

When you land at Marco Polo Airport and jump on a Riva to whisk you into the metropolis of Venice, gardens are a long way from your thoughts. The exhilaration of sitting, or standing (holding on tight) to a fast boat speeding between lush islands towards a water bound roman city is truly surreal.

This was our second trip to Venice and I was determined to find those secret gardens I’d heard so much about.

Unfortunately we also had to fit in few other things, some shopping and a visit to the Venice film festival! All in 3 days!

The guide books suggested a few gardens we might investigate. Top on the list was the Royal Gardens, particially because if their close proximity to our hotel – Hotel Splendid – and it was, I do recommend it.

The Royal Gardens were originally conceived by Napoleon. The Giardinetti Reali was created in the early 19c to give him an enhanced view from his nearby offices.

Old photo of the Royal Gardens, as they were intended

I was expecting great things. The structure was certainly there and potential for an amazing experience. Unfortunately the reality was far from it. Instead, a well conceived structure was ruined by lack of maintenance, lack of investment and miss use. They had decayed into a shadow of the gardens Napoleon must have conceived.

I felt like getting out our hedge trimmers, flying over our top gardeners and tasking them to weed the beds and clear the pathways!

Let’s hope that the Venice Municipality regain their vision and next time we visit somebody has restored the gardens to their rightful glory.

Back onto the search for those secret gardens………

Despite the initial impression you get of very little appreciation of the flora, there is actually quite a lot going on in the  passageways , rooftops, balconies and courtyards of many private houses. As we found when we visited nearby Lido and Burano islands……

Not only have we discovered signs of greater things, but so have many much more celebrated gardeners and journalists. In fact there’s a new book (which I have ordered from Amazon), The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto, by Jenny Condie, with some fantastic photographs by Alex Ramsay.

If you go to Amazon and pop in the search against ” The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto” and up will come the book. You can pick it up for £22.75. You can also get a sneak preview of the pages and appreciate just how many gardens you can gain access to from the Venice basin.

The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto draw together an amazing variety of spellbinding garden retreats, from monastery gardens quietly cultivated in the islands of the lagoon to magnificent villas on the Brenta Canal, and baroque masterpieces in the hills beyond. Highlights include an eerie Masonic garden complete with gothic chapel and cavernous grottoes, a pleasure garden made for his workers by a benevolent nineteenth-century industrialist, and a flower-filled delight by the banks of the Grand Canal.”

So it’s well worth a look before like me you hop onto a plane!

From our island visits we returned to Venice and carried on our search. As you turn each corner you gain glimpses of many private gardens and courtyards through wrought iron gates and over the tops of terraces and walls. Some garden adornments are quite bizarre…

One of the nicest gardens we visited was linked to the Guggenheim Museum.

Well actually it was Peggy Guggenheim’s garden.

Peggy bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in 1948, where she lived. The villa is in fact an unfinished palace begun in 1748, designed by Lorenzo Boschetti.  It stands today at the entrance to the Grand Canal and the house and gardens are now home to her extensive collection of modern art and sculpture. Among the famous artists work on display are  Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Henry Moore, Magritte, Francis Bacon and Jackson Pollock.

From inside the gallery there are stunning views of the Grand Canal and even the odd rather nice courtyard garden!

Peggy amassed a huge collection and lived in Venice for 30 years. She died aged 81 in 1979 and her ashes are buried in the garden, alongside the place where she customarily buried her beloved dogs.

After our visit to see Peggy’s collection we treated ourselves to a real Venetian food experience.

We came across Al Vecio Forner by chance in a narrow street just around the corner from the Guggenheim. And it was a great find. Simple italian food served a bustling environment, with good affordable wine and pleasant service from a very busy italian waiter. We shared a table with a very friendly Canadian couple which helped make the experience. We both chose a seafood risotto, which we washed down with a nice bottle of italian sauvignon.

Trip Advisor also gives Al Vecio Forner good reviews. ” This is a small busy Osteria located close to the Peggy Guggenhiem museum. We enjoyed lunch twice here. We ordered the mixed plate (selection of appetisers chosen by waiter), veal steak, grilled squid, and squid in ink with polenta. Everything was tasty but in a heavier/heartier way; as expected of a good bistro/osteria. I think the owner is the chef as it show with the care taken in the kitchen (not always a given in tourist towns). Service was spot on (ie. efficient, non nonsense, but some wry italian humour thrown in) despite there being only one guy serving the room and one guy behind the bar. Price was very reasonable. Please note reservations are not possible.”

A very enjoyable end to a super holiday.

It’s amazing how quickly 3 days can pass! Before we knew what was happening we were packing our bags to return to Marco Polo Airport and a flight home.

Still I plan to read Jenny Condie’s book, and return soon with renewed vigor and focus. That’s of course if my wife can bear going to Venice again!

For further information about Venice, the gardens of Venice, or garden design contact Tim Sykes at Gardenproud on 07725 173820, or via email at reallygardenproud@btinternet.com