Rivista, 2016-2017, 75th Anniversary Issue, artikel af Eugenio Bosco

It could only happen in Venice. You go to visit your friends and come across the gates of Eden. However, things are not always what they seem and finding the key proved to be quite a challenge. This secret garden in the Giudecca near the Redentore church was too intriguing not to be drawn into it. But it took the Danish translator, writer and lecturer, Annemette Fogh, two years and over a thousand emails to gain access.

With a touch of magic, she transported us from the heart of Mayfair to the heart of Venice, with the fascinating tale of the Garden of Eden and a wonderful evocation of a special place and time. We could vividly see a multilude of writers, poets, artists and royalty populating the garden. We could almost hear their conversations.

But let’s take a step back to the beginning of this adventure. It all started in 2008. A chance encounter of Annemette Fogh with a mysterious gate, bearing the number 138 on Fondamenta Rio delta Croce and giving a tantalising glimpse into a secret world. The very long red brick wall turned out to be the boundary of the Garden of Eden, a nine-acre garden/jungle completely inaccessible and entiely closed to the public, a national monument but a private property. It was not easy to understand who owned it and what its history was. This fascinating tale, accompanied by beautiful pictures, is narrated in her book The Garden of Eden – A Secret Garden in Venice.

Hearing the tale directly from the person who managed to get access to this extraordinary place was intriguing. We learnt that this garden – located on the island of Giudecca between the Redentore and Zitelle churches – was created from 1884 onwards by an English couple who lived in Venice for 50 years, Frederick and Caroline Eden (née Jekyll). They never actually lived in the palazzina at the side of the garden but used to go to the garden every day by gondola from their apartment in Palazzo Barbarigo on the Grand Canal. The former orchard turned garden, became – throughout the Belle Epoque – a meeting place for artists of all kinds and the centre of anything cultural in Venice. Henry James, Robert Browning, Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet were all frequent visitors to this place as was Baron Corvo, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Eleonora Duse were well acquainted with the garden where D’Annunzio was inspired to write his novel Il Fuoco.

Frederick Eden fied in 1916 but Caroline stayed on until 1920. In 1928 the garden was bought by Major James Horlick who was close to the exiled Greek royal family and gave it to Aspasia Manos, the former princess of Greece. She lived in the palazzina for most of the rest of her life. During the 1930s, Aspasia employed the well-known designer Norah Lindsay to make improvements to the garden, which was visited by many European royals. Aspasia’s daughter, Alexandra, returned to live there after the war with her husband the former King Peter II of Yugoslavia and remained there after their divorce until 1970.

After suffering severe damage from the 1966 flood the garden was never the same again. The American scholar Elisabeth Gardner began the restoration of the garden in 1970 and tried to do her best to return it to its former glory.

In 1979 the well-known Austrian architect and artst Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who new Aspasia, bought the garden having been apporached by legal representatives of Alexandra asking whether he wanted to take it over.

Hundertwasser has an ecological indset and apporach and believed nature should be left to take its course. When he took over the garden he ordered that nature should not be interfered with and that the garden be allowed to grow wild. He never spent long periods of time there and did not live in the palazzina but in the small gardener’s old cottage that our speaker described as “frozen in tme” when she eventually visited the place.

He died in 2000 and the garden is now owned by the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna. Its doors are closed to the world and this “sleeping beauty” is left undisturbed. Annemette Fogh had the privilege (but described by her as a “sad and melancholic experience”) of being allowed to stroll in the garden and imagine its golden era, a privilege she shared with us.