It all began with an idea, courage and a vision, more than fifty years ago. And the opportunity to restore the oldest garden in Venice after the floods of 1966 had badly damaged it. We’re talking about the convent garden of San Zaccaria, of which most passers-by are totally unaware. Scroll down and come inside into Nonna Lina’s garden!
Lina and her husband bought the guesthouse of the San Zaccaria monastery in April 1968 because the nuns had decided to leave.
San Zaccaria, founded in 468 AD by Bishop Magnus, was the largest monastery in Venice until 1797, when the Serenissima Republic of Venice ceased to exist. In particular, it was famous for its sprawling gardens, vineyards, orchards and herb gardens. Until 1100 AD, the garden from Campo della Bragora to the shores of the Grand Canal.
Nonna Lina restored the ancient herb garden, recreated a small orchard and vegetable plots in the low-lying part.
In one corner, she created a wild garden for the birds (blackbirds, sparrows and merlins mostly) with a little pomegranate grove, uva fragola grapes, wisteria, figs and olives, persimmons and blackberries. There was also a pond with purple water lilies blossoming from April to October.
In the lower garden, huge courgette plants thrive next to seven garden mint varieties. Edible blossoms are so lush in the warm humidity of the Lagoon habitat. And there are eggplants, tomatoes, water melons, garden Lina is particularly proud of two projects: Her sanctuary of forgotten herbs, once the staple-diet on the sea-lavender studded islands in the northern Lagoon where she grew up.
Today, wild Lagoon herbs are used in the gourmet dishes served in luxury restaurants in Venice and the Lagoon. and green beans. Fresh produce and herbs, almost all year long, especially the soft Lagoon salad leaves. Behind the wild herb garden grows a lush blackberry grove, uva fragola and elderflowers. In winter, Lina harvests persimmons for her Christmas dishes. Pomegranates and figs go into jams flavored with herbs and pinoli (pine nuts). It is used to make fruit tarts all year long.
Lina’s sunny breakfast room overlooks the secret courtyard garden, and via a wrought-iron starecase she can reach an upper terrace hiding behind lush kitchen laurel almost as tall as herself.
This is where the sun-loving medical herbs grow, some in a red Veronese marble water basin exposed to the sun all day long. Lina’s second pride are the purple oleanders growing on the upper terraces, looking cool against the white-painted tiles and Venetian-red facade.
Oleanders and hydrangeas are her favorite summer flowers, mingling with lush yellow cone flowers and mirabilis jalapa. And there’s a yellow rose bush growing above the terraces - a rose with a very special story we’ll be telling soon ..