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A Garden in Venice

Garden art & lifestyle

HOW TO PLANT A SPRING HERB GARDEN IN VENICE


Spring is breaking out in Venice ... After rainy times we are now happy that the weather has turned mild and sunny again. So you may have wondered how Venetians prepare their flower beds (aiuole), little vegetable plots (orti and orticelli, located in private courtyards and small garden plots), and window herb gardens.
As you may have guessed, with regard to private vegetable plots for everyone, or at least for every family, we have some shortage here, as the custom of keeping broli (orchards) in town has long been abandoned. Broli were places in the 10th-16th century, where Venetian families were growing their produce next to their houses, even spreading out into campazzi (squares). These days, the islands of the lagoon are ready to deliver all the bounty we need for cooking with fresh spring greens. But despite difficulty to find space to grow herbs, Venetians don't give up and use their ... window ledges, provided these are neither exposed to the blazing soon at noon, nor looking into northern direction with no sun available at all.
Ready for spring dishes, from the vegetable plots of Sant'Erasmo and Cavallino: New herbs at the Rialto market: Aneto (dill), santoreggia (savory), timo (thyme), cipollina (chives), coriandolo (coriander).
So window sills in Venice are often embellished with plants (flowers, green plants, herbs, salad herbs), so both herbs and ornamental plants are combined to create a little piece of green art work. But also, the different height of the plants is providing welcoming shade to the smaller ones.
In the first half of March - a cavallo tra inverno e primavera - between winter and spring, there is a very nice selection of lush herbs and salads at the markets in Venice, and not only at the Rialto: these days, you still get the late radicchio variants (radicchio tardivo), or even green radicchio - radicchio verdon di Roncade, but also the early spring vegetables variants, and of course lots of bunches and pots of freshly grown herbs from the serre in laguna (lagoon hothouses and vegetable plots).
Herbs and salad herbs grow on these islands in the midst of the lagoon: View towards Sant'Erasmo
These plots are located out in the lagoon, and herbs and salads are grown in salty marshes and vegetable plots on islands called Sant'Erasmo, Le Vignole, le Mese, but also on the Cavallino shores and in the area bordering on the lagoon (like Scorzé). 
Rosemary and basil plants, and of course artichokes
Now that Carnival is over and quaresima (lent) has begun, with only few tourists about town there is enough leisure to take care of one's green decorations: From window sills to terrace spots and balcony corners, to quiet spots in shaded gardens on ground-floor level, tucked away between shrubs and bushes. But also on altane (roof terraces) like the one you see in the picture below.
Mixed flower beds arranged artfully on the altana: This one overlooks the Rialto market, Grand Canal and Campo delle Beccarie. Later on in spring and summer, you would need some shading to enable plants to survive the blazing sun
From early February, many Venetian flower stores also offer a new range of seeds which are then used to grow salad herbs. But you could also look for new plants at the markets, or at the Vegetable Boat moored near Campo San Barnabà, look what it is offering:
New rosemary, basil and thyme plants ..
The usual ones growing easily here in late February and March are all types of rucola and rughetta (the smaller, wild variant), and insalate da taglio (lettice - lattuga). And window sills exposed to either west or east are ideal to become little herb gardens. Windows exposed to the sun only tolerate piante grasse (succulents), like you see in the picture below - no chance to grow any edible plants here, or else flower plants. They would invariably die in the hot spring and summer sun.
Window exposed to the south - succulent plants are the only ones that survive
So from the islands, the first new picks of insalate da taglio come into town. Their leaves are flimsy, sof tot the touch and taste at the same time slightly salty and sweet like fresh peas. Also, lots of fresh spinach leaves are now coming onto the markets.
Spinach paradise, Rialto market
Soft new herb salads from the lagoon islands
Yes, spinach and other herbs and salad herbs are available all year long, we are lucky that the lagoon's rather mild climate is treating us to all these delights all year round, but there IS a special feel and taste to those harvested in spring, on the lagoon islands Sant'Erasmo and Le Vignole, and the Cavallino and Laguna Morta area towards Iesolo and San Donà di Piave.
Typical Venetian mixed window sill herb garden: Lavender grows next to thyme, chives, savory, and flowering shrubs, all year long
So to grow salad herbs in Venice, imagine you have a corner in the terrace on first-floor level, which is partially shaded by the surrounding houses and other higher plants like oleanders, figs, pittosporum and pomegranates, where you can put some herb pots, or else even keep a tiny plot of orto (vegetable garden). And below, imagine there is a quadrangular garden, about 10x10 meters, where herbs and vegetables also grow, depending on sun exposure and soil quality (salt water and acqua alta my filter through, though, so this garden plot may sometimes need "intensive care").
Thymes (timo) and chervil (cerfoglio) growing on a Venetian terrace amidst rose bushes
On a carefully tended spot in a corner of a Venetian garden, rughetta  plants keep growing, next to a small bush of creeping thyme ..
So according to sun and wind exposure, there are definitely various climate zones to take into account in Venice. No herbs will grow unprotected on altane, and the composition of soil is also crucial (this varies according where you live in Venice, as salt patches may penetrate into soil, so it takes a lot of preparedness and careful tending of garden plots located on ground-floor level). Altane are usually intermingled with higher plants and even sorts of roofs so that wind and sun exposure will be mitigated. 
Terrace herb garden overlooks a small quadrangular garden plot
I love growing herbs and salad herbs from seeds and buy them at Fioreria Fantin on Campo San Salvador, one may say this is the leading flower store in Venice and has been around for some 80 years.
Garden centers (or even sort of garden concept stores) in Venice are Laguna Fiorita or La Serra dei Gardini where you can buy and learn more about flower and vegetable cultivations in Venice, as it is a nice place looking like a sort of green concept store with a nice coffee shop and delicious seats to enjoy breakfast in the midst of spring plants and lots of sunshine ..


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MARIANNE ha detto…
Thank you again for sharing these interesting infos about the beloved Venice :)
Furbiziahs ha detto…
Dear Marianne, thank you for your comment !! I am glad you like the post. Please, if you would like to read about a topic on Venice, related to gardening, culinary, history or environment, do tell me :-)
Unknown ha detto…
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