Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Have you visited a lemon garden before? Are you interested to see one? If you are, continue on reading because I will share my experience at Limonaia Antichissima Malora!
Lemon gardens can be found all over Italy, but I choose to visit and know the lemon history at Limonaia Antichissima Malora because it is located in Gargnano.
Gargnano is the place on Garda where the first experiments on the lemon orchards took place. The Franciscan brothers in the 12th century constructed the first "greenhouse" to protect the delicate citrus plants from the cold winters. It had an enormous success with many followers. The area has mild microclimate which is favorable for cultivation. Terraces are transformed one above the other, with stone walls and pillars to hold the windows and wooden roofs that closed the "greenhouses" during winter months. So expect to see majority of these structures in Garda.
After the end of 14th century, these lemon orchards/greenhouses became neglected because of the development in communications which helped the cultivation in the south of Italy where it was less labor intensive.
The property has a brochure which is very informative and it contains a map for directions in case you choose for a self-guide option. Shall we begin?
I am about to visit the lemon garden “La Malora” (or, in the local dialect, “La Malura”), a citrus grove dating back to the sixteenth century, still kept in perfect condition respecting ancient traditions. The lemon garden (limonaia in Italian) is one of the few still in full working order. Its name comes from the small stream Rio Malora (in modern times called Rio Molini) that runs on the north side of the garden and that once also fed the wheels of the mills. The garden was acquired by its present owner, Giuseppe Gandossi, in 1978 after it had been completely abandoned for about 15 years. At that time, only six of the original plants remained alive.
2. The Citron Tree
This is a citron tree. The fruits were destined to the Jewish community for use during the ceremony of Sukkot.
In my introduction, Gargnano became completely dominated by hundreds of gardens, however around 1870-75, gum disease along with the improvement of communication routes and discovery of the chemical synthesis of citric acid, contributed to the gradual abandonment of the gardens. La Malora is made up of three terraces, called còle.
4. Covering the Limonaia
Lemon trees are very delicate: they do not like the cold! For this reason they grow more easily in Mediterranean climates further south. The peculiarity of the lemon gardens of Lake Garda is precisely this: to ensure the productivity of the plant, the garden is transformed into a winter greenhouse.
This operation, called copertura, usually occurs around mid-November. High stone walls permanently enclose the left and right side of the garden. They protect lemons from the winds that blow throughout the year.
The procedure begins with wooden planks that are brought out and arranged horizontally on the beam structure. These are nailed in place, becoming the roof of the greenhouse. Windows and shutters are then positioned vertically on the three facades facing the lake, so as to completely enclose the garden. Finally, every remaining fissure is plugged using special straw, in an operation called stupinatura that requires considerable patience.
But if the outside temperature falls to exceptionally low values, extra precautions must be taken, such as starting controlled bonfires inside the greenhouse.
In early March, the limonaia is uncovered. Boards, windows and shutters are removed and carefully stored away. The garden can take again its summer appearance, which is happening in this photo.
The irrigation system consists of canals carved in limestone. Water is brought to the trees simply by gravity. The gardener, by means of suitable diverting mechanisms, directs the flow to the chosen plant and then positions a sand bag to block the flow.
The water is forced to overflow the sandstone canal and reaches the plant by means of a portable wooden gutter.
At the lower end of the wooden gutter a bunch of twigs is positioned to ensure a more gentle dispersion of the water at the base of the plant.
6. Storage House (Casello), Ground Floor
The storage house (casello) is the place where the gardeners’ tools are kept and where boards, windows and shutters for the covering are stored away during the summer.
Each limonaia had a storage house built next to it, rising as a tower and made up of several floors (normally one floor for each corresponding terrace).
The old tools of the gardeners, including the nails, el grumial (bag for the collection of lemons and olives), baskets and gauges for measuring lemons, are still used today and are displayed here.
7. Stone Base of an Ancient Olive Press
The stone is probably few hundred years old. It was found in tis very place during restoration work, completely buried by debris and dirt.
8. Storage House (Casello), First Floor
Usually a casello had a number of floors equal to the number of terraces. Here you can see all the material, resting dry until mid-November, when it will be transported outside and used to transform the limonaia into a greenhouse.
9. Lemon Trees
The lemon trees in the garden belong to the variety called Madernina, native of Lake Garda. This variety is characterized by medium-sized fruits with a light and fragrant skin. The juice is very sour, whereas lemons that grow in more southern locations are normally sweeter, so much so that they can even be used in salads.
Until not long ago, the fruit of the lemon was crucial to cure scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C. This disease particularly affected sailors and, until the middle of the nineteenth century and the invention of the chemical synthesis of citric acid, could only be cured with lemons.
10. Caper Shrubs
The caper shrub (Caparis spinosa) is a small plant that can be found throughout the Mediterranean basin. It grows very well in the climate of Gargnano, especially on the sunny walls of the lemon gardens.
11. Water Tanks
The tanks were not used to store water (of which this limonaia had a continuous supply), but rather to helps its allocation of neighboring gardens which have now disappeared.
Sorry, I don't have a nice photo of this stop.
12. Mill Wheel
Originally, a wooden wheel was positioned here to power a mill that was installed inside the building. The mill was used to press olives.
13. Resting Area
Place where you can taste and buy Limoncello and other typical products made with their citrus fruits! The owner served us with a shot of limoncello and lemon water which were very refreshing!
I grew up with the abundant presence of calamansi, not with lemons, so for that reason, I find this experience interesting and informative for me. If you happen to be in Gargnano, I encourage you to visit Limonaia Antichissima Malora!
To complete my visit in the garden, I bought a lemon jam! It can be costly than a regular lemon jam sold in the supermarket but this one is homemade. Tastes better!
Limonaia La Malora
Via Libertà, 2 – 25084 Gargnano (BS)
From 1 March to 31 October: open EVERY DAY: 10:00 – 12:00 / 15:00 – 18:00 (closed Tuesday morning) Guided tours are possible at other times by appointment
From 1 November to 28 February: visits only by appointment
Entrance : € 5,00 per person
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