The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto by Jenny Condie Photographs by Alex Ramsay

Book Review by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

I have spend many happy hours wandering round Venice in search of its secret gardens so I was delighted to see that this book features one of my favourites on its cover. It always astonishes people to learn how many gardens are hidden behind walls, along canals and in the twisting calli of the city – some say as many as 500. Almost more astonishing is the fact that these gardens exit at all in this city created on moving water.

The title of this book however, is Gardens of Venice and the Veneto and in fact it devotes four times as much space to gardens out of Venice along the Brenta, in Padua, Verona, Treviso and other surrounding areas, as to those within the city. The author clarifies remit of this book at the outset saying of city gardens that, ‘others have explored the fascinating subject of hidden or private gardens.’ (The book Venetian Gardens by Mariagrazia Dammicco with photographs by Marianne Majerus does just that.)

The Veneto obviously offered more space and increased opportunities for the development of gardens than the city. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Palladian villas were built amid agricultural land which gradually gave way to more elaborate gardened surroundings until, in the eighteenth century when the Venetian elite set off in boats laden with holiday paraphernalia bound for their summer villas, magnificent gardens had been created as a background for masques and balls and even open air theatrical performances – and it is some of those which still exist and have been well maintained which feature here.

Within the city, which at one time contained more botanical gardens than the whole of the rest of Italy however, time has not always been so kind. Some have been lost and some struggle on in depleted condition. One which continues to flourish is at Palazzo Cappelo Malpiero Barnabò situated right on the Grand Canal. It belongs to Contessa Anna Barnabò, a true gardener and a delightful person, who has spent 30 years perfecting her creation. This exquisite garden is perfectly captured in the ravishing photographs of Alex Ramsay which beguile the reader throughout this sumptuous and beautiful volume.

The book starts with an introduction which provides a sound overview of the garden history with interesting details of the changes in style. This is followed by individual sections on Venice including the Guidecca, The Brenta Canal, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Verona and Vincenza in which the 21 gardens featured are well described and others mentioned en passant. It is a pleasure to read – extremely well presented and rich with fascinating detail.

The author makes it a criterion that the gardens featured should be accessible – important as there is nothing more frustrating that reading about somewhere wonderful which is not open to the public. Here details of each garden together with websites where available, are listed at the back of the book and the authors express the hope that the reader will be inspired to make the journey in person – something which is definitely achieved. Within its pages I have had the pleasure of revisiting many of my favourites; Villa Pisani ( where I got hopelessly lost in the maze) Villa Barbarigo Pizzoni Ardemani at Valsanzibio with its magnificent water gate and rabbit island, the elegant Villa Emo, Giardino Giusti in Verona and the Giardino di Pojega with its open air theatre amongst them – but I have also added a significant number of new ones to my wish list.

The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto published by Frances Lincoln @ £35.00

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