Verdant Paradise: Where Venice looks like the Kew Gardens

Is this really Venice, you might think, looking at the brickstone pillars of the fence – to me, this is a place in Venice ressembling England. You will be find out walking along Viale Garibaldi, far east in town located in Castello. This pathway is wide and lined with linden trees, which were blossoming two weeks ago, at the same time smelling so freshly of young fresh leaves and buds. You can’t miss some very beautifully tended gardens, while other garden plots look wild, full of young palm tree shots, homes to pigeons, blackbirds and cats.

A wide avenue, filled with birdsong

Here I spent a beautiful morning in May … in a serra (greenhouse) and in its surroundings. This part of Castello is very old, the nearby ancient island of Olivolo was one of the first parts of town settled, and in the vicinity, the cathedral of San Pietro di Castello was built, plus a few convents in the 12th and 13th centuries. These were demolished, though, when the wide alley was created as a thoroughway to connect Via Garibaldi to the Giardini Napoleonici in the 19th century.

The “serra” (greenhouse) I would like to present to you today wasbuilt in 1807 when Napoleon ordered to create verdant spaces in Venice. One of the lush gardens that lead to the serra. The leaves you can see coming out of the soil are young palm trees Until 150 years ago, many small artisans, fishermen and arsenalotti lived here, as the Arsenale is near. And just round the corner, one canal (Rio di San Giuseppe) and a stone bridge away, at the end of Viale Garibaldi, the target of my walk around Castello is located, Serra dei Giardini.

This greenhouse was turned in a multi-purpose structure, used for various purposes to connect Venetians, offering yoga and ikebana courses and evening events. But of course, you get a fine selection of flowers, garden and indoor plants as well as young plants for your orchard or vegetable garden.

And there is a very nice terrace where you can enjoy the spring sun and birdsong and .. breakfast. You enter by an emerald-painted garden door, to your left you can see the racks of plants waiting for a home, to your left is the restaurant zone and the Serra itself..

Here are a few impressions of a late morning in May: The Serra dei Giardini, as you can read on their Website, at the end of the 19th century was used as “tepidarium”, a metal-glass structure, housing plants when not on show during the International Art Exhibitions. Later, the area was not really in the focus of Venetians, but in the last seven years or so, much has changed, which can certainly be attributed to the close links that Venetians are resuming with their city and lagoon .. I remember exploring this area in the 1990s, with nothing but a neglected metal structure, housing gardeners tools ..

Negligence changed in 2008 when the structure was restored, painted, enlarged, creating a Serra for selling plants and creating a relaxing place where one can enjoy the morning, choose plants in peace and quiet, and then enjoy a fine breakfast in the greenhouse. There is also a first floor with books and magazines, and restaurant-cafe stretching out onto the terrace. The weather was warm and humid, with thunder rolling faintly in the distance, skies were misty but not overcast, still the sun rays couldn’t really come across the haze. Just one elderly woman was looking intent at the plants, then I was alone again and had all the time I wanted to explore.

The Serra is managed by co-operative Nonsoloverde, supporting people in difficult times of life. Look at my pictures to discover what is on sale now in Venice plant-wise, to embellish balconies, terraces and quiet garden corners, I bought a few pots of gypsophila, which is also called fior di nebbia (literally: foggy flowers …), and some of the herb seeds inside piled up on a rack.

Entering the greenhouse next to the thick linden tree, you will find a rack with seeds to your right, and more pot plants to select to your left, including purple-leaved bougainvillea, followed by counters, a metal stairway to reach the first floor, and wrought iron garden tables to sit down with magazines and books, perhaps to spend a relaxing half an hour in this verdant paradise and sheltering from a spring shower. Finally, a counter with lots of goodies to your left and a case containing a fine selection of garden teas with healing properties, is there to enjoy – as I did that day – on the terrace surrounded by oleanders and fragrant jasmine shrubs just coming into bloom.

After enjoying a cup of fragrant green tea and crisp panino for breakfast which I chose from a menu full of nostalgic traditional Italian beverages my Venetian grandfather would have loved, I continued towards the banks of Rio di San Giuseppe, crossed a bridge and then turned left entering the Giardini Napoleonici e della Biennale.

So – this is pure Kew Gardens feeling in Venice !!! It must be because of the Serra, looking a bit like a miniature of the Kew greenhouses, and also because next to it, just across a bridge, the Giardini della Biennale spread. Mostly, these are laid out as landscaped gardens reminding one of the gardens in England (I will present the Giardini della Biennale to you in one of my next blog posts) structured with gazebos, small hills, clearings and little copses … (to be continued).

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