L’orto in città – Urban Gardening in Venice

Urban gardening plot at San Giacomo dell’orio: tomatoes, zucchini, squash .. grown next to flowering shrubs: not just for optical effects
It’s harvest time in Venice … good news for all giardinieri appassionati, now that urban gardening has also arrived in / returned !! to Venice. All those little vegetable garden plots are now at their annual peak, with the largest variety of vegetables and herbs available.
Even though “urban gardening” has become somewhat trendy as well as a necessary and useful response to the crisi, in Venice, growing vegetables and herbs in the city has always been an intrinsic part of life, for centuries. Tody we are merely “re-discovering” the ample possibilities we have to grow vegetables in our town. What it does to our city is adding new touches of color and another hundred shades of green to the Istrian stone-built and rosso veneziano-painted houses. And – the principle the farmers used at their cottage gardens, by mixing ornamental plants with vegetables and herbs, has quite a few advantages .. they are well-known here in Venice, too.
I have been watching this “trend” called urban gardening (giardinaggio urbano) closely now for the last three years or so, and I encountered various forms of urban gardening all over Venice. It does not come in the expression of “guerilla gardening“. Here, it is not “politically motivated” ..But it comes in a very special kind, whose main characteristic is creating half-public, half private vegetable gardens.
Figs are ripening on Rio dell’Osmarin – by the way, we love making fig tarts and fig jams ..
Follow me on a special itinerary through Venice to take a look at what urban gardening in Venice looks like. On my way to the eastern part of Castello, I follow down the direttissima running along Rio dell’Osmarin, where there is a landmark fig tree. Figs are ripe in Venice now, and by mid-August, you notice the blueish-green figs getting riper every day. When I was a child and loved to take a time-out on summer afternoons in the quiet and cool courtyard of San Giorgio dei Greci, the Greek church in Venice, I remember this tree here as so well, providing shade with such a nice view.
Standing under, or next to, the fig tree, you can see the Chiesa San Giorgio dei Greci just in front of you. The rampicants on the walls announce the entrance to the “green courtyard” of the church. Read more about that in a blog post I published last summer.
Here we cross the canal Rio dei Greci, but continue past the courtyard ..
So crossing the Ponte dei Greci, you have a nice view across Rio dei Greci and the quiet and more or less secret courtyard of the Greek church. But we walk on towards Campo San Giovannin in Bragora, from here it is just a lane away from my first example of what urban gardening looks like here in Venice ..
Here you get the complete picture, from one bridge farther away, which includes the trees announcing the courtyard and the campanile of San Giorgio dei Greci next to it.
I love walking in the quiet eastern parts of Venice, and Campo della Bragora is so typical for it. A few red benches in the center, cafes are located on the edge of the campo, a group of trees and oleanders and other flowers, all providing welcome shade in summer. Plus .. a novelty, we are growing .. herbs and vegetables ..
The white oleanders in Campo della Bragora. Oleanders here in Venice may exceed 3 meters in height, so they are really trees and make for a cool environment. The Church has also got a homepage, click here.
Just a few steps from Campo della Bragora, walk along a calle and turn into Campiello del Piovan. Not so well-known to our guests in Venice, but this is what Venice can look like, too .. like some town in the Venetian countryside must have looked like 400 years ago ..
Turn into the Calle della Malvasia Vecchia (where wine arriving from Dalmatia was sold), next to the church of San Giovanni in Bragora, and after a few steps you arrive in Campiello del Piovan
How Venetians live in a half-private space. The September lights are bright and the sun is glittering amongst the leaves of Campiello Piovan (piovan, at the times of the Venetian Republic, means a person having the key and thus access to the pozzo, the fountain in the midst of a square used for collecting rain water, and thus the piovan had the right to distribute water to the residents).
And here is the pozzo (fountain) hidden behind the green areas where not only oleanders but also herbs are grown
Next to a small mirabilis jalapa plant, so typical for Venice as from mid-summer onwards, it opens its flower buds AT NIGHT, herbs are grown in this pot – a strong bush of rosmarin ..
From Campiello del Piovan, Riva degli Schiavoni and Hotel Gabrieli Sandwirth are just a few more steps away. And guess what you find here in one of the most crowded zones of Venice.
This is Riva degli Schiavoni, with one of the best views here in Venice .. where most day-trippers to Venice stop for coffee
Riva degli Schiavoni is getting greener and greener, combining not only decorative plants resistant to the parching sun ..
.. using thyme plants to shield restaurant guests from the rest of the world
Turning back towards Campo della Bragora and following Calle Crosera, you find another example of how kitchen gardens separate private from public places – a south Italian restaurant also using kitchen herbs as bordering their restaurant zone from the public area.
ivy twigs grow next to kitchen herbs .. the mint is even flowering
mint and chives, two shade-loving herbs grow next to shade-loving ivy ..
Salvia plants, ivy
My “conscious” attention was drawn to “urban gardening” this spring: I noticed a doorway, right on the Zattere quai, adorned with sun loving herbs like lavender, thyme and curry plants. Then, as is the case in the first two examples of half private-public urban gardening, so many restaurants here cultivate pots of kitchen herbs amidst flowering plants in pots arranged next to the tables where the guests eat.

Campo San Giacomo: the quiet and intimate corner of this sprawling square. One corner is overgrown with lush plants, and ..
The church of San Giacomo dell’Orio, seen from the vegetable garden

One corner of this square has been dedicated to ornamental plants, plus .. under a platano tree, providing shade to the vegetable plants, a green corner, providing beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, squash, and herbs.

Tomato plants  and squash ..
A young rosemary plant amidst wild rose plants (roses can be used for syrup !!)
“Bauerngarten” Mediterranean-style: The advantages that a mixture of ornamental and vegetable plants provides: Roses and oleanders make good company for the vegetables. Mixed cultures help avoid pests that may harm the vegetables by shifting their attention upon the flowering plants. Sometimes that works, this is the principle of the “Bauerngärten” you often find in South Tyrol.
Another unsual view of the church from the “public” vegetable garden
Hidden vegetable garden on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio
Next to the palm trees on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio ..
There is also aSagra di San Giacomodell’Orio, taking place every year at the end of July:

Of course, the flower shops here in Venice have always “encouraging” this trend to green the cities. Given the right light and a windstill spot, we can grow herbs and vegetables on balconies, window sills, altane, courtyards, terraces …

Autumn salads seeds now for sale at Fantin’s
New arrivals: An impressive collection of tomato seeds
Peas, garden cress, herbs ..
..the herbs rack, including anice (anis)

These days, Fantin, my favorite flower store, has set up a few more racks with seeds on offer, now that the hottest days of the year are over. In Venice, there is still time to plant the seeds of insalate da taglio and rucola and to harvest them later in fall.

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