Lemons are fruits that originated in China and India and were imported to Europe by the Arabs.

Cultivated in southern and central Italy they arrived on Lake Garda brought by St. Francis of Assisi and his friars who founded a monastery in Gargnano on the western shore of Lake Garda.

This is also evidenced by the bas-reliefs depicting the fruit found on the capitals of the columns of the cloister of San Francesco in Gargnano.

The mild climate of Lake Garda allowed the plants to be grounded, and they began to be cultivated in increasing numbers throughout the lake area but mainly on the western side that receives the warm rays of the morning sun.

To protect then from the winter cold, the characteristic lemon houses were built, allowing the plants to be covered with tarps, protecting them from night frost and wind.

Guaranteed from the danger of cold weather, the cultivation of lemons became more intense, and the Brescian shore of the lake from Limone to Salò became famous as the northernmost citrus growing place in the world (46° north latitude).

Thus began the business of trading lemons to Germany and Russia, where they were in high demand mainly for two reasons, the first: their great richness in vitamin C, which was very useful in combating scurvy, a disease that was then widespread in Europe. Secondly for the citric acid, which at that time was extracted solely from lemons and was used as a food preservative and disinfectant.

This activity led to a radical change in the economy of the area, fishermen, ranchers and farmers devoted themselves to this far more lucrative trade, this also led to the displacement of entire families from the mountainous hinterland to the lake.

The northernmost states, which were the main importers of citrus fruits, preferred Garda lemons to those of southern Italy because of the lower number of crossing duties between the various municipalities of the still ununified Italy and because of the fruit’s characteristics that were more resistant to cold climates.

Things changed when in 1861 with the unification of Italy, inland customs were abolished and lemons from southern Italy grown in the open air year-round with lower production costs began to compete with Garda lemons, industries discovered ways to produce synthetic citric acid, and scurvy was eradicated.

Production began to decline to disappear almost completely with the arrival of the tourist economy on the lake.

Citrus Gardens Festival “I Giardini d’Agrumi”

In Gargnano, the festival ” I Giardini d’Agrumi” held every year in April, (April 13 and 14, 2024) is the event dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of the beautiful Upper Garda lemon houses and the citrus fruits that are still grown in them, for productive or decorative purposes.

At the Cloister of St. Francis, a pomology table of the more than 50 varieties of citrus fruits grown in Upper Garda is set up, as well as a display of tools once used for citrus farming in Garda.