Yesterday I popped round to my local nursery, not so much to buy plants but out of intrigue; I am in Venice and until I watched Monty Don’s trip the other day I did not imagine that such a horticultural space existed in this unique city.
It is terribly easy to get lost in Venice but part of the joy was trying to find the nursery. So, with no TV crew to guide us, we relied on the map on my phone which confidently took us down delightful narrow alleyways, over little bridges and along watery canals in the Cannaregio district, and we arrived at Laguna Fiorita Onlus, where the gates, hanging between crumbling pillars, were wide open.
Through the gates we followed the paved path with troughs on one side planted with the beautiful but unattractively-sounding Trachelospermum, (the Italian name of Rincosperma is no better) and colourful tool sheds on the other. The doors are left wide open and I wonder that nothing gets stolen, but of course why should they, Venetians don’t garden.
Nonetheless the sheds are well stocked with all sorts of equipment for a decent days work, and the charming girl in the nursery explains that they are also employed to attend to some of the private gardens around the city. You never see these gardens for they are tucked away behind high walls.
An ingenious outdoor rack is fixed to an ordinary chip-board, brightened by a brush of blue.
It is not the handsome tree Pittosporum that I am amazed at but the site of soil, it is so unusual to see the bare earth anywhere in this watery city.
Walking on through another gate our Covid pass is checked and even though outside, the wearing of face masks is compulsory. We find the customary display of spring bulbs and I am surprised to find snowdrops still in flower.
‘Margherita’, along with its charming little cousin ‘Margherita piccole’ and yellow Euriops combine with evergreens to look so familiar and reminiscent of home.
No doubt the usual collection of herbs will find their way to someone’s Venetian kitchen.
Yet, it is the decaying walls which surround the nursery that make it so unique. In her book on Venice Jan Morris refers to ‘the scent of crumbling antiquity’, and it is just that.
Barrows and ladders are propped against artful brick walls with secret doorways.
and from somewhere beyond, a saint rises up, if he could just glance this way for a moment, but up there he is perhaps a little too precarious,
and busy keeping an eye on his church door over on the other side.
I wonder at how many nurseries have their very own campanile.
From this neighbouring window you not only must look down on an array of plants but over to the lagoon beyond. Down on the small patch turf, I spy another rarity in this city; it is a clump of daisies.
Who in this city will buy these spring blossoms of pink and white?
Nothing beats the bright sulphur yellow of the mimosa, standing by the assistant in blue it is surely a sobering nod to the Ukrainian national flag.
The two long poly-tunnels are a reminder that this is a working nursery.
In one, bedding plants stretch out in lines, with a solitary petunia just reminding us that summer will be here soon.
In the other a variety of pots, plants and paraphernalia is for sale.
Over the years the nursery has broadened its services to specialise in forestry which probably accounts for the pile of tree cuttings gathered from the gardens which use their services.
There is no room for composting here and no call for wood chippings either, so they will be loaded onto a boat and taken away.
This nursery is about 500 square metres and not only raises and sells plants, maintains private gardens, but it is also a co-operative which was established thirty years ago when some parents and professionals got together to bring people with disabilities closer to a real working environment within a protective space.
It has been an interesting diversion from the churches, museums and galleries of this glorious city. I purchase some seeds as a little reminder of my visit and wonder if i might regret not acquiring this little gem.