The Alpine botanical garden was founded in 1897 by the abbot Pierre Chanoux, rector of the hospice of the Mauritian Order, on the Piccolo San Bernardo hill; A great lover of the mountains, Abbot Chanoux was a lover of the Valle d'Aosta mountains throughout his long life, already convinced of the need to defend the Alpine environment at that time. By founding the Chanousia Botanical Garden, he intended to cultivate the main plants found in the mountains surrounding the Mauritian hospice, with particular attention to species in danger of extinction.
Already in 1891 the abbot began to lay the foundations of the Botanical Garden, thanks to the collaboration of the mountaineers of the CAI and the Municipality of La Thuile, who offered the first funds and the land.
Surely the beginning was not easy, but Abbot Chanoux worked hard, and in 1897 the garden was inaugurated, counting about 300 species; over the years the botanical garden was enriched with many essences, originating from the Alps and other mountainous environments. In the design and preparation of the Chanousia plants, Abbot Chanoux was also substantially helped by two great experts in alpine gardens: Henry Correvon, founder of alpine gardens in Switzerland, and Lino vaccari, then professor in Aosta, later continuator of the work of Abbot Chanoux.
Over the years many were those who helped Chanousia, including Queen Margherita of Savoy.
On the death of the abbot in 1909, Lino Vaccari became the guardian and director of Chanousia, now owned by the Mauritian Order.
A bit of history
Lino Vaccari became a great scholar of alpine plants, also publishing specific texts on the subject, resulting from scientific observations on the flora of Chanousia and the Alps. In the following years he promoted the development of the botanical garden, which was enlarged, and, thanks to the patron Dr. Marco De Marchi, then president of the Italian Society of Natural Sciences, was enriched with a building, which housed the management and a laboratory; in the 1920s the garden also had a library: now the species present in the botanical garden were about 4500.
Unfortunately, during the war Chanousia was abandoned, as well as the hospice of the Mauritian fathers, the laboratory, the library.
For a long time the garden remained uncared for, and many plants were looted.
In 1947 the territory of Chanousia became French.
Only in 1964 was an agreement reached for which the Chanousia garden, the Hospice and the building with the Direction of the Garden became Italian property on French soil.
On July 4, 1976, the restoration work of Chanousia was officially started.
Today the Chanousia Botanical Garden is chaired by an Italian-French council, inside which there is still a member of the Mauritian Order.
Thanks also to the work of students and volunteers, the garden was reborn; much of the land is now used for pasture, but there are numerous alpine botanical species, native to the Alps, Val d'Aosta, but also from other mountain areas. Over the years we have tried to give an order to the plants in the garden, taking care to accurately label each species and variety, also indicating the place of origin, uses and common names.
Reconstructions of the main European mountain environments and areas dedicated to the flora of certain mountain regions are also being prepared.
In the choice of essences to be cultivated for chanousia, the endemic species of the eastern Alps, and in particular of Savoy and Val D'aOsta, are favored; Projects are also being activated to make the Chanousia garden known to the public, in order to pass on to posterity the richness of the alpine flora.
In introducing new species to Chanousia today great care is taken not to plunder the natural populations of plants that are often endangered and not to introduce species of foreign races, which could cause genetic contamination of local populations.
Chanousia: Useful info
The Chanousia Alpine Botanical Garden is located on the Piccolo San Bernardo pass, at 2170 m, between the Aosta Valley and Savoy, 13 km from La Thuile.
The Garden is open from 15 July to 15 September, every day from 9.00 to 13.00 and from 14.00 to 19.00.
For more information: [email protected]
This article was written thanks to the material provided directly by the staff of the Chanousia Alpine Botanical Garden, who kindly collaborated with our editorial staff; the photographs and information come from an extract from the volume by Raimondo F. M., 1992 Botanical Gardens, Alpine Gardens, Italian Arboretums, Edizioni Grifo, Palermo. This extract was prepared by Giovanna Dal Vesco, of the Plant Biology Department of the University of Turin.