Tuesday, May 16, 2017 – My first full day in Venice meant walks and reconnaissance on the island of Guidecca, tracing the perimeter of the locked away Eden Garden that had so captured our imaginations during our 2015 visit.
The Garden is bounded by the abandoned men’s prison to the north, the narrow canal of the Rio della Croce to the west, public greenspace to the east, and of course the open lagoon to the south. Water is such a feature of Venice, not just the main means of transportation (other than walking, for those of us on land) but also a factor in cultivation. The water here is salty. The salt air is glorious and pungent and of course has impact on the plants that grow here. The foliage is green and luxuriant — and astonishingly aromatic: there’s a form of jasmine that’s exceptionally heady — but must withstand the impact of salt in the air and salt in the very boggy soil. Roots can’t grow down very far before they hit salty water and, in the case of some plants, recoil. The Venetian ecosystem is thus very different from that of our home soil and waters, in the freshwater basin of Montreal’s St. Lawrence River.
Caroline Eden, when she began her work on the Giudecca property (purchased with her husband Frederick about 1880), reportedly hoped for a wide range of plant and animal life. Grapevines would co-exist with rosebushes, artichokes and other vegetables with beehives and cows. Mariagrazia Dammicco’s inspiring A Guide to the Gardens of Venice (2013) remarked that at the height of the Edens’ residency,
The garden in bloom was extraordinary, with pergolas and trellises of roses, lilies, carnations, tulips, clematis, honeysuckle and lilies-of-the-valley.
None of that seems to still exist now, more than a century later, as changes in ownership and gardening philosophies have resulted in a less luxuriant style of cultivation. When during our 2015 visit I climbed the 10-foot wall to the east side of the garden and peered through the foliage, I could see that the trees and grasses were trimmed, but the garden showed not much other deliberate intervention.
That said, from a public dock along the Giudecca’s southern perimeter, the Garden’s lagoon-side growth appears lush and vital.
Mariagrazia Dammicco seems to have the inside story on the latest substantial efforts in the Giardino dell’Eden:
“…recent maintenance work cleared [the garden] of an inextricable tangle of thorn bushes, exposing the wall with the original entrance, before the sacca on the southern lagoon was filled; new plants were added to the vineyard and an arcade covered in splendid pittosporum was preserved along the shore.”
We still hope to see for ourselves. If we can’t secure permission to visit the Garden’s interior, we will take a boat around its two waterside perimeters and document our foray. Stay tuned!