The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto

Also reviewed in Country Life, the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday and elsewhere.

A word about Jenny Condie’s writing style: it is always erudite but still light and informative and not overly didactic. It is always interesting without being self-conscious. It may sound easy to strike this balance in a serious work for the broader public, but it is not, and Condie carries it off with an admirable and consistent ease. This book does not showcase flowers and plantsmanship. Rather, it focuses on the garden structure as a horticultural extension and complement of the architectural scheme of the properties it explores. This is what you might expect, given Condie’s training as an art historian with a specialty in architecture. So it has a different point of view from a lot of garden books, but one that is fascinatingly set out and may be considered required reading for an understanding of how the garden relates to the house. And Alex Ramsay’s photographs, well, they are just superb, intoxicating. Take this amazing book in small doses; too much and you are likely to be overwhelmed. My favorite garden profile was the Giardino Giusti near Verona; you may choose your own from this stunning collection. (Extract from a review by The Garden Interior - USA)

Gardens Illustrated - November 2013

The Gardens of Venice and the Veneto by Jenny Condie, with photographs by Alex Ramsay (Frances Lincoln Ltd)
It is really exciting to be given the opportunity to review this book, in that I’ve visited over half the gardens featured, in the course of organising holidays exploring the gardens of the Veneto and feel waves of nostalgia just thumbing through it. Jenny Condie is a long term resident of Venice and that and her art and architectural background really come through in her approach, as does her friendship with Helena Attlee, whose first book on Italian gardens was my starting point in exploring the gardens of the Veneto.
She is partnered by Alex Ramsay as her photographer, whose ability to capture the essence of gardens and particularly Italian ones, is second to none. Garden photography, like garden history is really a specialism or art in its own right, but here his extensive images are all exceptionally fine in bringing to life both the general atmosphere and panorama of the garden as well as the telling detail. In her essay on Villa Trento da Schio, Condie starts by talking about the local Costozza stone, its quality, colour and the quarrying conditions which resulted in caves, useful for storing local wine, and creating grottos capable of being incorporated into the garden. Ramsay beautifully captures this in his photos, particularly the variation of colour in the Orazio Marinali statues (though it has to be said that in one of the photos the variation of colour is enhanced by the present owner’s cleaning and restoration programme!) the various grottos and the fantastic interior of the cave that was formerly Marinali’s workshop, but which is now converted into a small independent villa, which members of one of my group found extremely difficult to photograph. In fact many people in my groups were very competent photographers, but totally fell short of the quality of Ramsay’s photography.
Condie’s long introduction is a triumph in that she conveys the essence of the topographical variations found in the Veneto, traces its history, including the rise of Venice, then its expansion into the Brenta area and beyond, and the rise of the ‘Villa Culture’. Early on she puts into context the rise and rise of the Palladio villa, there are in excess of 4000, and how they must once have had gardens, though many now have gone and all of this gives one insight into how she made her choice of 21 very differing gardens, chosing rightly between the more famous Villa Capra (‘La Rotonda) at Vicenza and the more rewarding Villa Valmarana ai Nani, just up the road.
Through tracing the history and the various factors that have shaped the society and economy of Venice and the Veneto, she introduces us to all of the gardens featured in a way that I appreciated and have not experienced in my extensive reading of books on Italian gardens. This introduces some fairly ‘ungardenesque’ information, but equally gives insight into the development of the gardens.
The rise of Venice as a trading nation, saw the introduction of spices and new plant introduction and the development of Italy’s second Botanic Garden (arguably first) at Padua. There is an emphasis on Venice’s need to feed itself, hence gardens are never purely ornamental. At Villa Barbarigo Pizzoni Ardemani there is a rabbit island, where rabbits (for food) are kept on an island, safely penned to keep them in and predators out. This is one of my favourite fun features of Veneto gardens, I only wish there could have been a modern photograph to compliment the Rosetti’s 1702 engraving. Palladian Villas were designed as working farms with accommodation, so the magnificent panorama of Villa Allegri Arvedi includes an industrial chimney higher than the Villa and its towers. Two of the late
nineteenth century gardens, Giardino Jacquard and Parco di Villa Rossi, at Schio were the result of Alessandro Rossi, a philanthropic industrialist’s desire to create recreational spaces for his workers near to his wool mills.
Though not foot noted, better for the flow of reading and obviating huge problems in laying out the text and illustrations, there is a very comprehensive Further Reading list, including many Italian sources, some of which I have read and are very erudite. There is also an indication of opening hours, and where it is necessary to make prior appointments for groups.
Condie concludes her introduction “Although Alex Ramsay and I have attempted, in our different ways, to get in close, it is our hope that, beguiled by these pages, the reader will undertake the rest of the journey in person.” I could not agree more, I want to go back , not only for visiting those gardens I have not seen, but to revisit the one thing lacking in this admirable book, the pleasure of meeting the owners and sharing their knowledge and passion for their gardens.
Polly Burns, Suffolk Gardens Trust. September 2013.

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