In 1885, Richard and Antoinette Fleming St. Leger purchased the Brissago Islands. At that time, the islands were covered with rarefied savage vegetation. There were also the ruins of a monastery that the couple renovated. After this, they dedicated themselves to the creation of the garden. By boat, they brought earth and manure to the island, with which they built alleys and planted subtropical species. In 1897, the baron abandoned the Islands and his wife moved to Naples. After the First World War, she was deeply in debts and in 1927 she was forced to sell the property. She moved first to Ascona and then to Intragna, where public assistance supported her until her death, which occurred on January 24th, 1948.

1928-1949: Max Emden

Max Emden was not really into botany and gardening. He preferred to cultivate the art of living. It is to his credit that the rich dwelling, overlooking the lake from the top of the Big Island, was created. The imposing palace was built on the site of the ancient monastery with the noblest building materials; from the Carrara’s pure white marble of the Sala degli Specchi e degli Scaloni, to the Florentine inlaid flooring of the Sala Rossa. Max Emden takes credit for not having modified the garden and its vegetation. Actually, architects were asked to adapt the palace to the majesty of the garden. Max Emden dwelled on the islands until his death in a clinic in Locarno in 1940.

Since 1950: canton ticino’s botanical park

In 1949, Emden’s heirs made an offer to Canton Ticino to purchase the Brissago Islands. Thus, Canton Ticino, together with the municipalities of Ascona, Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, plus the Swiss Nature Protection League (known today as the Swiss Heritage Society) decided to purchase the Islands and the Palace. The purchasing contract, signed on September 2nd, 1949, states that the islands and its buildings have solely conservation, culture, scientific and tourism purposes that have to respect the primary purpose of conservation and enhancement of natural beauty. On the morning of April 2nd, 1950, on Palm Sunday, the Brissago Islands were finally opened to the public.