“Of all the external forms, vegetation shows the main character of a country, it is always in harmony with the surface, with the sky that covers it, with the atmosphere that envelops it (...). These are the olive trees, citron, lemon and bay trees originating from the most beautiful portion of the Benaco region, they (...) that give the perennial garland that knows no winter (...); but among them how much wealth and variety of other plants!” (“Benaco” Giuseppe Solitro, 1897).
This poetic image from the Solitro describes Fondo Crocefisso very well. This is a family site that revives the traditional agricultural ecosystem of Gargnano and Lake Garda, which brings together citrus and olive growing and viticulture; set in a “semi-tropical context (...) that compels the admiration of even the layman and the indifferent” (Solitro, 1897). In fact, in the garden surrounded by olive trees, thrive palm, agave, aloe, citron, laurel, and cypress, and from the dry stone walls sprout thick cushions of caper plants.
This is a dream nurtured by the younger Arosio family members, in particular by Andrea, made a reality after years of local agricultural and historical research for careful restoration of handicraft, manual and experiential skills of older people in the country.
The first work, challenging and fascinating, was the recovery of the old lemon house, which had been modified years previously to become a garden terrace. The charm of this project is having involved very different types of knowledge, but all depending on a single goal, the preservation and protection of the lemon and other citrus plants. This knowledge once was not delegated to various specialists, but all assembled in the farmer to whom the lemon house was entrusted. Today, as then, it is necessary to learn the cultivation of citrus plants with passion, deeply and autonomously, but also to spend time on the restoration of the wall and hydraulic structure, with long, daily, exhausting, but very satisfying work. This commitment requires countless efforts at all times of the year.
La limonaia (the lemon house) is in fact a real house built around the citrus trees. It consists of a fixed masonry structure in that acts as a skeleton and a mobile wooden structure that is mounted on the support walls before each winter to protect the plants from the cold. The exposure is directed southeast, toward the lake, so that plants can enjoy the most light and sun possible.
However, the lemon house is not only an architectural structure where citrus is grown; it is much more. It is a completely and constantly living structure, with its own atmosphere, different for everyone. It is a collection of perfumes, smells, sounds and colors: the fragrance of lemons, oranges, citrons and tangerines; the smell of freshly dug or fertilized earth, or nearly dry soil in the August sun. The light water shower coming down from the tank runs along the canals to irrigate the plants; the birds find shelter in the branches; the wind stirs the fleshy green leaves of plants, and the plastered stone pillars that rise aloft mingling with the green of the plants. It is a blend of many colors: the yellow and orange of fruit, the blue of the sky and lake, the green of leaves, and the grayish-white and pink stones.
The life of the Fondo Crocefisso lemon house during the calendar year integrates perfectly with the times of the other two typical cultivations: the vine and the olive tree. As usual, the vineyard begins right up against the walls of the lemon house, to make the most of the space and the verticality of the walls.
Beyond the house, on three terraces, is another lemon grove. In late summer, the atmosphere of Fondo Crocefisso starts to come alive for the upcoming harvest. The table spread between the vineyards and lemon-house, under the shade of the olive trees, brings family and friends together after the grape harvest, while the children play on the lawn between the cottage and lemon house.
Now the vines are left to rest until all the leaves fall off, and we think of the wine in barrels that must never be abandoned.
Soon there were olive trees to deal with. Between late October and early November, the meadows of Fondo Crocefisso are decked with green tarps and ladders for the olive harvest. The cold and damp that penetrate the bones take some of the joy from this laborious and quieter work. The year ends with covering the lemon house, which should be completed by November 25. Traditionally, the day of Saint Catherine is meant to amaze. All the cracks between the wooden beams (mesili) and pillars are filled with straw (pàbol) to isolate the plants even more. The closing of the lemon house gives a different, but no less fascinating, face to Fondo Crocefisso, and at one time even to the entire western shore of Alto Garda: “Before, towards noon, each floor is closed by windows, from the first up to the last, to the sun's rays that are animated and spark flashes of yellow, reddish, purplish, multicolor light, which vibrates around and dazzles the eye of the beholder from afar”(Solitro, 1897). And the lemon house thus becomes a greenhouse.
The passionate farmer, in this case Andrea, knows no rest. In fact, after dealing with the lemon-house, which still requires daily attention, such as with the doors (ossére) that are opened during the hottest and sunniest times and relocked at night, the vineyard requires attention for winter pruning and fertilizing of all the plants. With the first warm days of the new year, the new cycle of activity begins: pruning olive trees, opening the lemon house, and all the attention that these delicate cultivations require.
This wealth tied to land, to the silent human work, marked simply by the rhythms of nature, is a window into the past that creates a deep connection with the important and fundamental values of healthy living. This actual experience is shared by the Arosio family members with their guests, through the simplicity of offering at any time the spectacle of nature and human effort.