Trovare Verde Venezia (Finding Green Venice)

I won’t lie, my job takes me to some fascinating places. I don’t always get to see a great deal of the cities and countries on my itinerary, but I generally experience enough to decide whether I’d want to return under my own steam. This week’s business trip was to the Veneto and Fruili in the northeastern corner of Italy. I went in search of wine, and I found it by the barrel full. And it was good, very good, the local Refosco and Prosecco especially. Even without the pleasures of wine, I can say without question that I’d want to go back, albeit when the weather is cooler. The Frustrated Gardener rapidly becomes the Hot and Bothered Gardener if the temperature rises above 25ºC, and at 35ºC he turns into a pool of boiling green slime.

We arrived at Venice Marco Polo Airport on Sunday evening. Even at 11pm the temperature had barely fallen below 30ºC. We were greeted by a fug of hot, muggy air that clung around us until we returned to Gatwick on Wednesday. Overnight in our cosy Agriturismo, I was visited more than once by the local zanzara (mosquitos).

Venice has long been on my bucket list, but for some reason I’d never got around to making the trip. I feared the worst – too hot, too crowded, too expensive, too smelly – which can often be the making of a pleasant surprise. Yes it was hot, but not as crowded as I’d imagined. Away from the main attractions the canals were positively tranquil. Venetian shops were certainly expensive, but, unusually, there was nothing I wanted or needed to buy. There was a salty, seaweed-laced tang in the air, but none of nasty whiffs I’d heard complained about. Perhaps we just picked the right day for our whistlestop tour. As a first experience it was a good one. It left me wanting more.

It’s hard not to imagine you’re in an enormous film set wherever you find yourself in Venice. So many of the scenes are familiar from the big and small screen that you can mistakenly believe you’ve been there before. The view from Ponte Rialto is utterly timeless and completely mesmerising; the same bustling scene I’ve marvelled at in paintings by Canaletto and James Bond films. Elegant palazzi, fluttering awnings, chattering gondoliers and glittering water make for a heady concoction, one I’d experience nowhere else. Had it not been so unbearably hot I could have stayed there and watched the world go by for hours.

Venice is not a green city. If it were it would not be Venice. Those gardens that exist are either hidden away behind high walls, cloistered in the precincts of expensive hotels or restricted to narrow alleyways and rooftops. Like me, most residents are limited to growing in pots, often small ones, arranged around the edge of a balcony or beneath a window. Petunias, calibrachoas, sedums and geraniums seem to be the order of the day, perfectly at home in dazzling sunshine and exposed to the sea air. Where there’s space to plant in the ground, campsis (trumpet vines) are allowed to climb up and spill over the ancient city walls. Cool green foliage and blistering orange flowers provide the perfect adornment for mellow red brick.

Elsewhere the ubiquitous Mediterranean oleander is heavily relied upon for screening and colour. A tutti-frutti tumble of blossom greets travellers as they exit the gloom of the main station into the glittering light of the Grand Canal, a frivolous, temporal cloud of loveliness amidst all the serious antiquity. There is nothing uglier than a unhappy oleander (which accounts for most of those seen clinging on in English gardens) but when they are happy there’s little to rival them for the enthusiasm with which they bloom.

Would I return to Venice? In a heartbeat. During our scorching saunter I failed to scratch the surface of the city. I’d like to return when the streets are a little cooler and quieter, perhaps in late April or May, and travel there by train if I could. I’d want to visit the islands of Torcello and Sant’Erasmo which are known for their market gardens. What a luxury it would be to spend a few weeks at leisure, pottering around without the intense pressure to experience everything at breakneck speed like most other visitors. A Venetian soggiorno. I already like the sound off that. TFG.

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33 thoughts on “Trovare Verde Venezia (Finding Green Venice)

  1. Until you return, get yourself a copy of A Garden in Venice by F. Eden, London 1903 but recently reprinted. A bit too arch (read: closeted) in places, but a fascinating window into expatriate culture in Venice at the turn of the century, and an enviable garden. If you don’t want to invest the money, there’s a so-so scan of the whole thing on Google Books.

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  2. As you said Venice is so familiar yet other worldly. I am happy to hear that it didn’t stink. I had a friend go there a couple of years ago and they had a good experience. I have been reading The History of Landscape Design in 100 Gardens. Of course they highlight several gardens in Italy.

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  3. Venice is easily the most romantic, ethereal, magical place I’ve ever been- and I was there with my Mom! Would love to go back as well, it was perfectly lovely in May- warm days (sans bugs) and cool evenings. It was perfect!

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  4. I die to talk to you about Venetian gardens – I go regularly, and have written about Venice for years (I’m a travel writer). There are many, many gardens in Venice and gardening can be a challenge, with the soil often having to cope with salination. Roses do spectacularly well, as does wisteria, bulbs don’t like it much. Lots of terrace and rooftop gardens, and next time hit Sant’Erasmo for the fields and fields of artichokes. Love the blog.

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    1. Thank you Sally. I take that as an enormous compliment coming from a travel writer.

      How wonderful that you’ve done more than skim the surface of Venice. I feel that’s what most visitors do. I have ordered a book on Venetian gardens so that I am better informed next time. If you have any other tips I would be delighted ….. including on how to grow wisteria. I think I might be close to killing off my fifth, after which I will be reluctant to try again!

      Do drop me a line if you’re ever in London and want to talk to me about gardens. What a treat that would be. Dan

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      1. We’ve been in May and the height of summer. May was a bit less busy and less hot – though we did have a bit of rain ☔️ Imagine a romantic gondola ride wearing disposable plastic macs! 😧 But the magic is always there! Nothing beats wandering around the back streets, finding a gem of a local restaurant , and getting lost! Blisters were worth it!

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  5. Ah, Venice. I was there in 2012 in May or June and it was incredibly hot then too. Only had 6 hours (day trip from Lake Bled in Slovenia) but had a good look around. I’d definitely go back, would love to visit the islands. Love your photos! The Oleanders are fabulous 🙂 I am tempted to grow some here (in pots), but maybe Cornwall is not hot enough.

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    1. Personally I think oleanders work best in the Mediterranean or somewhere hotter than the UK. I suspect they might not like the amount of rain and humidity you experience in Cornwall, but if you happened to have a sheltered, sunny terrace and somewhere bright to stand the pot indoors over winter you might succeed.

      We spotted one with huge, peach-coloured blossoms edged with magenta and that was a beauty. When I can afford a holiday villa in Italy I shall plant one 😉

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    1. Thank you. I didn’t have time to do the tourist thing – just a quick scoot around to get a sense of the place and to see a couple of food & wine shops. Hence the quick snaps and the focus on what I spotted in the way of plants. Definitely requires a more thorough exploration next time!

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  6. Venice is supposedly where window boxes were popularized, not only because of such limited garden space, but for ivy geranium, trailing rosemary and (later) nasturtium to repel mosquitoes, back when window screen would have been very expensive.

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  7. I visited Venice in December and it was fabulous. Hard to believe that was 25 years ago now!

    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it – and presumably didn’t turn into green slime.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am thinking that winter might be a nice time to go back, albeit on a nice sunny day. It sounds like you are definitely overdue a return trip.

      Thanks to the cooling effect of white wine I narrowly avoided slimeageddon. Happy Days!

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  8. Wonderful! I love the plan of returning by train – also as the reduced pollution would be more in line with safeguarding the climate and postponing the extreme heat juggernaut. The French meteorological service expects temperature peaks to reach 48-55 degrees C in France by 2050, depending on the region (https://www.lejdd.fr/Societe/en-2050-des-pics-a-55degres-dans-lest-et-le-nord-3410342). I don’t imagine Italy would stay cooler.

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