The beginnin of the decline

In 1855 after 15 years from the constitution of the Lake Garda Society, in the period of greater expansion and productivity, a terrible plant epidemic called “Gummosis” (foot rot desease) appeared, destroying the lemon gardens and reducing the production to 1/3 with the consequent ruin of many families.

Notwithstanding the various attempts to remedy such heavy damage, even grafting lemon trees upon bitter orange trees, the production had a 70-80% slump in less than twenty years.

The outbreak of the First World War worsened the situation. The inhabitants of Limone sul Garda, for security reasons, had to abandon their houses and land. Much of the wood needed to cover the green-gardens was commandeered by the military authorities and used for the huts and trenches for the front-line soldiers on the mountains bordering Trento.

In autumn 1931 the section of road between Gargnano and Limone was completed at last. Gabriele D’Annunzio, who strongly supported the building of the “Gardesana”, named it Meandro. This winding road along the west shore of Lake Garda, with 77 amazing dark tunnels bored into the rock of the overhanging mountains broke the long isolation but the economical situation did not improve much, especially for those villages that relied most on the citrus fruit cultivation. There were many reasons for the abandonment: the raised cost of manpower and materials, the changed management of the country-estates, the drop in the value of citrus-fruit due to the competition of the more economic produce from Southern Italy or from abroad, the discovery of the formula for the chemical synthesis of citric acid, the increased amount of goods from Southern Italy after the Italian unity, thanks to the improved railway and road network. The inhabitants of Lake Garda were obliged to abandon the citrus fruit cultivation, choosing other more profitable crops, looking for a job in factories or even emigrating.

In 1939 the commercial organisation and relative exportation controlled by the Lake Garda Society in Gargnano ended. After the 2nd World War in order to reduce costs, many owners risked keeping the lemon orchards open during the winter.

In January 1985 sixteen days with a temperature far below zero caused the death of most trees. The second half of the 20th century was characterised by rising mass tourism, with a substantial change in landscaping.

The old fishermen’s warehouses near the ports and the houses in the historical centres have been remodelled, little by little concrete has nibbled part of the coast; in the olive groves new houses have been built; most of the old rural buildings, the “caselli”, have been modified more or less carefully and have become summer residences; swimming-pools have been dug into the “cole”; many winding roads, once large enough only for animal drawn carts and barrows, have been enlarged and asphalted. Most lemon gardens, for the main part abandoned for decades, show the signs of time, but something is changing.

A part of the book "The Lemon Gardens of Lake Garda from the past to the present" of Leila Losi