For visitors who won’t be scaling the highest peaks, this garden offers access to a varied panorama of alpine plants and lichens, all against the backdrop of the Gran Paradiso National Park.
Covering some 10,000 square metres at an altitude of 1,700 metres above sea level, the Paradisia Alpine Garden was founded by the Park Authority in 1955 near the village of Valnontey, not far from Cogne. The name refers to Paradisea liliastrum, a liliaceae very common around these parts. The garden’s collection of alpine species now extends to over a thousand different specimens from the Gran Paradiso massif and other alpine areas, for the most part planted from seed by the in-house nursery. Like other alpine gardens, it is organized by thematic area, featuring reconstructions of specific natural environments characterized by particular, well-determined flora. Pseudo-steppe, peat bog, detrital environments and meadowland all feature, characterized primarily by subalpine-level plants that grow along slopes susceptible to landslides, detrital cones on north-facing slopes, or along the banks of watercourses. Because of the breadth of these different plants’ origins, they are distinguished by colour: yellow labels refer to autochthonous Alpine and Apennine plants, white labels to exotic plants from massifs all over the world, and red labels to medicinal plants. The garden also features a remarkable petrographic display, along with an impressive collection of lichens that grow spontaneously on certain rocks.
A themed path in the garden’s upper reaches offers a chance to admire various species of butterfly accustomed to high-altitude life. These creatures fulfill a vital role in pollinating the garden’s plants. Besides butterflies, this garden is home to other alpine insects.
A recently-opened new area of the garden showcases medicinal herbs that have traditionally been part of a pharmacopoeia, or used to produce fine infusions. In addition to more commonly-known plants, the collection features an intriguing number of poisonous species, which are more widespread in nature than we generally assume.
For many years, Paradisia has renewed its collection of seeds on an annual basis, drawing on the garden itself and through swaps and exchanges with other gardens and botanical establishments all over the world. In partnership with the Aosta Valley’s other alpine gardens, Paradisia is a custodian for a catalogue of species: the Index Seminum.
The National Park
The Botanical Garden is located within the Gran Paradiso National Park, which covers some 70,000 hectares of terrain. Established in 1922, it is Italy’s oldest national park. Larch, spruce, stone pine and white fir line the forests on the valley floor. At higher altitudes, the trees initially give way to alpine pastures – a blaze of flowers in springtime – and then to rocks and glaciers. In recent years, the Park has seen an increase in fauna, including the return of the wolf and, for the first time, lammergeyers nesting in the Western Alps.