Venice: the secret gardens of Guidecca.

We had a wonderful holiday in Italy in May 2016, and one of my favourite days was our visit to the gardens of Guidecca.

I thought it would be interesting to re-post this, as Venice, known and loved for so many reasons…is not known for its gardens and green spaces.

Guidecca is a pencil thin island not far across the water from St Mark’s Cathedral.

As we arrived on the vaparetto, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the coffee shops opened and the touches of greenery could be seen along the canal.

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We were lucky enough to meet up with Tudy Sammartini, a long time resident of Venice, a designer and passionate gardener, and author of three books; Secret Gardens of Venice, Floors of Venice and the Bell Towers of Venice.

We began in the private garden of the Fortune Factory, an old red brick factory, that Tudy had been restoring with specialist architect Maria Forti.

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In the 16th Century Guidecca was the centre of trade and horticultural discovery. The whole region was very fertile, and full of orchids, vineyards and gardens of rare exotics.

I took endless photos of each garden, but in this post I have concentrated on the two gardens of Guidecca we had mainly come to visit…… the private gardens of Hotel Bauer, and Hotel Cipriani.

The first garden had been restored to its former glory by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the owner of the Hotel Bauer on the island.

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A very old olive tree still thrives in the grounds of the hotel, testimony to its historic past.

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Historic documents record orchards and vineyards too, and fruit trees can be seen around the gardens today.

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The lawns are cut at three different heights, the first is closely trimmed for visitors to walk along, the second is slightly higher, and the third is left to grow wild as a meadow.

IMG_2577 (1024x808)There are over 200  different kinds of ancient roses throughout the garden, and together with all the other blossoms on this sunny spring day, the birds and the bees were enjoying this garden as much as we were.

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There is a pergola with Isabella grapes and roses. At the base is lavender, and the rest of the garden is full of  Iris, catnip, columbine roses, and grasses.

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What a surprise to see these glorious gardens so close to Venice.

Small herb gardens surround the pergola.

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Here is another ”room” to the gardens. The tall trees and greenery make this a place  of peace and reflection.

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Nearby is the Hotel Cipriani where the wife of the CXVIII Doge designed her Renaissance garden.

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The vineyard of ‘Refosco’ Merlot and Cabernet grapes still thrives in the rear garden of the hotel, and the grapes  provide plenty of wine for the hotel cellars.

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Casanova was said to have courted the young novice Caterina Capretta in this very vineyard.

The vegetable and herb gardens of this hotel were well looked after……here is a member of the kitchen staff snipping herbs for the lunch time menu…. impossible to get much fresher than that!

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Around the pond is a statue of the young Sea God Triton, on his sea horse, looking out onto the waters of Venice.


And so ended our tour of the gardens of Guidecca.

Here is a last glimpse of the island as we crossed the bridge to wait for the vaparetto.

This was a day to be remembered.

IMG_2461 (1024x799)Our warmest thanks go to Tudy Sammartini, her affection and passion for the Guidecca gardens was obvious.

Salute Tudy!

Farewell to a wonderful country, and salute to the people, the places, the food, and of course….the green spaces.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.






A Sicilian Garden from a Golden Age

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Before Canberra bursts into spring, I have a couple of posts to show of our trip to Italy in May……so welcome to Villa Giulia, the first public park in Palermo, opened in 1778.

On a warm morning, after a long walk through the city, we decided to stroll around this inviting shady park rather than go to the Botanical Gardens, right next door. Botanical gardens need stamina, and more time than we had that day.

Sicily was first settled by the Phoenicans in the 8th century, then conquered by the Romans, the Arabs and the Normans. The buildings and gardens reflect this rich history.

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The wide avenues and tall palms made this park seem cool, inviting and exotic, full of flowers and shrubs reminiscent of my childhood in Central Africa, where the climate is equally hot in summer.

I loved the Lantana Cultivar, the blaze of orange flowers making a a colourful hedge. Some red Hibiscus flowers are growing between the palms, and in the background the seemingly ever flowering purple Bougainvillea.

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Parks in the 1700s were considered a reflection of the city’s wealth and prosperity, and were designed by artists, architects, scholars and dreamers of a golden age.

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These are exedra, and they were intended for musical performances. The colours and the mosiacs have no doubt been restored, but it still withstands the test of time, and looks wonderful.IMG_3355 (1024x693)The site is near the seafront and the park is based on a square, geometrically designed. The Dodecahedron fountain is at the heart of the garden, and the marble clock created by mathematician Lorenzo Federici – each face of the dodecahedron featuring a sundial.

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The statue of Atlas is set in the centre of a circular fountain. Atlas was the god of endurance and astronomy.

Imagine an astronomer and a mathematican being consulted on the design of a park today!

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Over time some of the plants have been renewed and the trees lining this path below look quite young and healthy.  They are known as Judas trees, and  can also be found in the National Arboretum in Canberra. The name possibly came from the French common name, Arbre de Judee, meaning the tree of Judea, the region where the tree is commonly grown, on stony arid slopes.

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The flat ripening pods turn from green to bright red, giving extra colour to the park.

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On the left hand-side of this path is the Italian pine (pino domestic) which is very common in Palermo and gives welcome shade in the summer.

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Villa Giulia is an oasis in the teeming city of Palermo, and a lasting legacy to the enlightened times of its Golden Age.

…and, as we leave, another tree to remind me of Africa and Australia…

Who could resist stopping to take a photo of a flowering Jacaranda tree?

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Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved




Venice markets and a food tour..

The band is playing, the seagull is watching……it must be market day in Venice!


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In May we spent a month in Italy, and I’ve finally sorted most of the photos ready for a few posts on Italian gardens, and some markets.

Paul and I are interested in growing food, and we enjoy seeing food at local markets when we are travelling.

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The markets are behind the stairs.

The Rialto markets of Venice (a fish market and a produce market) were built long before the Rialto Bridge was in place.

These Markets keep up the tradition of all good markets; that food is much better grown locally, and eaten fresh and in season.

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The fruit and vegetables are carefully displayed and clearly marked, a perfect opportunity to learn the names of vegetables in Italian, at the same time as buying the produce!

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Much of the fresh food is grown on the island of Sant’Erasmo…look at the amazing white Bassano asparagus.

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The purple Sant ‘Erasmo artichokes are very popular too.

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Our guide, Francesca, explains that only the white inner part of this artichoke is used for cooking.

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This happy market worker is cutting the artichokes up, and putting the white part into water, for later sales.

There are not many Venetians still living in Venice itself, and so locals all seem to know each other. In the Italian way, there is plenty of talk and laughter and good humour. Francesca has lived in Venice most of her life and considers herself very lucky. As she says, she can walk everywhere and never has a traffic jam going to work! (she says she knows how to dodge the crowds)

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The Piscaria (fish market) was re-built in 1907, and we had heard that sustainable fishing is an old tradition in Venice. The marble plaques show regulations set centuries ago for minimum allowed size for lagoon fish.

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The fish is glistening with sea water it is so fresh..

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This was our first food tour in Italy, and Francesca guided us towards a tiny bar, full of delicious cicheti (small snacks like mini Panini), and of course, a glass of Prosecco.

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I had some small artichoke balls, seen on the top of the counter, and they were delicious!

At our next stop we were offered Panini with some traditional serving of Baccala ( a dried salted cod mixture) and a variety of meats, artichoke, olives, anchovy, chilli, mixed vegetables, and beans.

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The shop window had an intriguing array of herbs and spices, all artistically arranged on the plates.

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We went to a restaurant for lunch and had black pasta made with the ink from squid.

It is testimony to the lovely food and good company on the tour, that I was too busy eating and talking to take photos of this!

The charm of Venice is not just the water and canals, but the small tempting restaurants, often tucked down alleyways, away from the crowds.

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One thing we learnt quickly in Italy, Italians love to eat, socialise, and celebrate life…

….salute to that!

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved




Padua’s Botanical gardens

Padua, a university town in Italy, is not far from Venice.

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Basilica di Santa Guistina and in the foreground the new greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens of Padua

We visited Padua for a few nights, and had the good fortune to book into the most hospitable hotel we have ever stayed in..  Andrea and her lovely staff gave us suggestions on where to go, where to eat, and tips on Italian phrases… nothing was too much trouble…(I wish I had taken a photo of them). Breakfast was a treat! The name is …Hotel Belludi 37

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We also had a chance to see the Botanical gardens in Padua. It is the world’s oldest university garden of its kind. It was founded so that students could research and recognise medicinal plants.

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The morning we visited the garden, it was just recovering from a heavy storm the night before. However, the old garden layout is much the same as it was in its founding days of 1545.

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This map shows the plan of the garden, the plants are divided by category in beds organised into geometric shapes. There are, rare and endangered, poisonous plants, and medicinal plants and an Alpine rockery

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The greenhouse on the right hand side of the previous photo holds Goethe’s Palm, planted in 1585.

The Saint Peter’s palm (chamaerops humilis) inspired the German poet to write theories on nature in his Metamorphosis of Plants.

It was impossible to get a photo of the whole palm tree while standing inside the temperature controlled greenhouse.

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Nonetheless, it was a very humbling moment to stand beside a tree that has continued to grow through so much history, and still survives.

To think Elizabeth 1 was on the throne at this time, and Sir Francis Raleigh was sailing around looking for colonies!

IMG_2887 (1024x746)The gardens were founded by the Venetian Republic, and exotic plants were brought from countries that traded with Venice.

IMG_1857 (1024x765) (1024x765)The design of this very old garden is still very easy to see and follow.

IMG_2912 (1024x768)This Ginkgo Biloba tree dates back to the mid 18th century, and is considered to be the oldest specimen in Europe

IMG_2942 (1024x824)The gardens have new greenhouses, which run on solar and water-power. These gardens are designed to take us on a journey through the Earth’s climate zones and for us to see how plants have adapted to their various habitats.

IMG_2941 (1024x810)The trail in the Greenhouse has five parts, a tropical rainforest, a sub-humid tropical rainforest, and temperate, Mediterranean and arid regions..

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Renanthera Coccinea

This plant (a type of orchid) was almost covering one of the entrance doors…I have never seen anything quite like it.

If you ever get to Padua, I would suggest allowing yourself two days for these gardens, because the three greenhouses were packed with wonderful and diverse plants (as you can imagine)

We were almost overwhelmed by the amount of treasures just in the greenhouses alone..

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The Botanic gardens of Padua have been Unesco World Heritage listed (1997) for its exceptional universal value in the birth of science. It has, and continues to contribute, to modern science, botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology, and pharmacy.

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In the very turbulent world we have today, I take heart from the amount of school children we’ve seen on excursions to places like the ancient Padua Botanical gardens. These gardens are showing children our history, some of the wonders of the world, and the positive contribution that has been made to our world over time.

Salute to the teachers and parents who take children to such places. My next Prosecco will be a toast to all of you!

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved.






Florence Markets

I have turned Canberra’s Green Spaces into Italy’s Green Spaces for a month or so to show some of the wonderful green spaces we found in Italy.

(I mentioned Villa Giulia in my last post, and I do intend writing about this park in Palermo later)

Parks are always a welcome sight for me in new city, and Paul and I also share a love of markets….the food that people eat and grow and the produce for sale is so much part of the flavour of a country.

Here we are in Florence, even on a dull day, who could resist such a beautiful city?

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We have organised to join a food tour of the markets in Florence. We did this tour, and many others through The Walking Tours of Italy, and they were all good.

Anna, our vivacious guide told us that tripe is a special, much loved, dish in Florence, and indeed when we arrived at this stall Italians were stopping off for a dish of Lampredotto (spiced tripe), in the same way we would stop off for a coffee.

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Anna said in her charming Italian way that, usually, men were much more prepared to try this dish because it was the manly thing to do to try dishes that may not appeal immediately. That was me off the hook, I have to confess, I love food, but I’m not very adventurous. All the guys on the tour tried it…how could they not try??

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I don’t think Paul was that thrilled, but he finished most of it. This was a great start to the tour because everyone began to talk about their favourite dishes back home.

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Here we are at our next stop, an Enoteca (wine shop). The shopkeeper had some Bruschetta with tomato and basil, bread with olive paste, some with fish paste, and some with extra virgin olive oil.

Anna explained that Italians traditionally have a drink at this time of day (about 11.00 am)

We had noticed this tradition in Venice, in fact I had seen a woman strongly resembling my Mum with a shopping bag stopping off for a Prosecco one morning.

I wondered about the wisdom of having something like this to drink at the beginning of tour, but Tuscan Chianti and the Sicilian wine were very light, and most enjoyable.

IMG_3144 (1024x927)I always love the colour and movement in markets. There were more varieties of tomatoes than I had ever seen here…

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Zucchini flowers are very popular and stuffed with vegetables and/or meat mixtures, often seen in restaurants.


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There were plastic tops on these plants, and I have no idea what their purpose is.

IMG_3173 (1024x768)The choice of cheeses and meats was amazing. The sellers pride themselves in all their produce, and love describing the cooking and curing of these cheeses and meats.

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Many of the butchers, fishmongers, cheese sellers in Italy belonged to families who had been doing this for three or more generations. There is real pride in their product.

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We ended the tour at a gelato shop. The gelato was wonderful, but I was too busy eating and talking to even think of taking a photo at that point.

However, we did visit another fantastic gelato shop before we left Florence,and I was attracted to it because it appeared to have chocolate streaming down the walls.. …what can you say….

reader…I ate more gelato!

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Have a happy week of gardening, growing and eating!







Palermo’s English garden

 Paul and I have been in Italy  for a month, and we have enjoyed many wonderful Italian green spaces, so I’m turning Canberra’s Green Spaces into Italy’s Green Spaces for a month or so.

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this stunning Cathedral in Palermo was built in 1184 and has been transformed and re-built many times over the centuries.

Two years ago Paul retired to begin a PHD, and eighteen months later he was accepted to give a paper at an International Conference in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily. He is a good example of how retirement can bring a new and rewarding chapter to your life…and I’m very much enjoying being his support team and blogging about green spaces at the same time!

Palermo is a teeming colourful city with a grand history reflected in its buildings. It was once known as ”the garden city” because of its parks. These parks are centered around the city and are well used, and much needed with a population of city dwellers.

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Whenever we travel, I look for the parks to restore my energy….no more so than in  Palermo. This beautiful and well kept park is named The English Garden (Giardino Inglese) after a style of landscape that emerged in England in the 18th Century and spread across Europe.

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This style, typically, presented an idealised view of nature, and usually included, a lake or water feature, and gently rolling lawns set amongst groves of trees.

In the background of the photo below, a gardener is hand watering the lawn. Palermo has very hot summers and water must be precious.

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In the 18th Century parks were a sign of power and wealth, and were designed to compete and impress. Plants from all over the world were imported to create an exotic environment.

The banana trees do look exotic in this park, and fig trees are wonderfully sheltering and cool on a hot summer’s day.

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This English garden has many sculptures and a temple designed by Ernesto Basile, inspired by Arab-Norman architecture.

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Unfortunately, not all the fountains were active the day we were there, but what a peaceful cool place to sit..

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There is an impressive statue of Guiseppe Garibaldi  on the opposite side of the Viale della Liberta sculpted by Vincenzo Ragusa in 1891.

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I often notice people reading in parks, and this fig tree is giving wonderful shade and protection to its readers.

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In cities teeming with millions of people, where living conditions are often cramped, parks are such a vital part of the city. Here in Palermo  they are used all day long …

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And here we have a group of young school children, being brought to the park by a wonderful young teacher and her assistant…as the children held onto a rope, the teacher sang a song all the way across four lanes of crazy traffic….what a class act!

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We visited many parks in Palermo, not all as well kept as this one, but all being used and enjoyed, probably more today than at any other time.

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved.


I hope you can join me again soon to look at Villa Giulia in Palermo…this park had many plants very similar to the ones of my childhood home in Zambia (Central Africa) Nothing like plants to bring back memories!