Nineteenth century: a garden for a stately home

Built in the residential suburb of Ravecchia, the edifice which today houses the Villa dei Cedri Museum dates back in all probability to the first half of the nineteenth century in an agricultural environment. The first confirmed transformation of a part of the spaces adjoining the building into a garden took place between 1868 and 1880 or thereabouts. In 1868, the property was sold to the Farinelli family which – after Bellinzona had been linked to the St. Gotthard railway line in 1874 –
decided to set aside a part of the site extending over more than 25,000 square metres as a garden and park, indispensable adjuncts to a stately home.
The Villa dei Cedri complex bears significant witness to that epoch as an expression of the development of private society, bound up with technical, political and industrial progress, but with its own typical aesthetic.
This era saw the creation of an axis running westwards linking the facade and the main gate, highlighted by planting two cedar trees – lost in the meantime – on either side of the gate and the two magnolias opposite the facade.
The axis running eastwards, which opened up a vista of the Guasta valley within the vineyard, in the 1930s very likely also dates back to this period.



1930 – 1970: The Villa dei Cedri


The property, which also comprises cottages, greenhouses, vines and fruit trees, was sold to the banker Arrigo Stoffel in 1930. The villa was then restructured and enlarged and the garden took on a new aspect based on a unified and comprehensive design for the whole sector. This was the time when the “English” garden was created with its meandering pathways and tree stands laid out to initiate a dialogue between the garden and the surrounding countryside. Taking his inspiration from the majestic conifers, the new owner renamed the residence “Villa dei Cedri”, making reference also to the symbolic and ethical value of these trees, which are appreciated for their vigour and longevity.

The trees that were present when the garden was redesigned, or at least a good many of them, were saved and integrated into the project. The Douglas firs in particular, opposite the southern facade of the villa, date from the early 1930s and are structuring features of the “Italian-style” garden, typified by geometrical flowerbeds.



1970 – present day: from private garden to public park


In 1978, the City of Bellinzona acquired the property previously owned by the Stoffel family to convert the villa into an art museum. The preparatory work that had to be done before opening to the public involved the construction of the water drainage system by means of a side canal following the main walkways with their granite paving, the provision of benches and the creation of a play area in the north-eastern zone.

Another important alteration concerned the vines. Between 1977 and 1983, the layout of the rows was altered and densified. Previously parallel to the villa, the vine rows are now laid out obliquely relative to the building facade and the axis that previously ran through the centre of the rows is no longer in the middle of the facade of the old part of the villa but further to the south.
Some of the trees on the south side of the “English” garden have been lost in recent years owing to both natural causes and to disease, mainly fungul infestations. Replacement by new plants is slow and difficult. The first Wollemia nobilis was planted in 2018; this is an ancient conifer which made its appearance at least 90 million years ago and was thought to have become extinct. However, it was rediscovered, alive and well, in 1994 in the Blue Mountains of Australia. Botanists are currently working to guarantee the survival of this species. Since 2023, the garden has been home to two Wollemia nobilis trees.
In the “English”garden on the eastern side, the row of plants, mostly fruit trees, that were distinctive features of the frontage between the villa and the vines had disappeared. In 2021, thanks to an initiative taken by the organisers of Bellinzona Green Day, namely the STSN – Ticino Natural Sciences Society – work began to reestablish an orchard with local and traditional species of apple, pear, etc. A new fruit tree presented by the Green Day is now planted each autumn.



We are working on the future


In May 2022, the museum's management asked a group of interdisciplinary researchers at the ZHAW – Life Sciences and Facility Management, IUNR Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources – to develop a vision for the future of the Villa dei Cedri garden. They were to answer the fundamental question: “How can this garden be transformed from a historical asset into a dynamic and ecological public space?”

Analysis and research focused on a project that envisaged the garden as a setting for a dialogue between art and nature. The central feature of the overall vision is that of always treating the Villa dei Cedri Museum and its garden as a single entity. The authors recommend this strategy because it enables effective use to be made of the garden in the context of the museum and of its exhibition programme; the garden can then play an important social role for the local population.
The project was completed in the summer of 2023. Opportunities to improve the experience of visitors drawn from a new or existing public, and to assure the positive involvement of the natural world, were identified. On that basis, the museum team, together with the City of Bellinzona’s urban and environmental services, are working on the development of a number of projects designed to enhance this aspect of cultural and ecological interest.

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