The cultivation of lemon on the ground has as its limit the parallel of Naples: further north it is carried out in Liguria and on the Côte d'Azur, or in pots, so it needs the shelter of a greenhouse during the winter (as was the case in the Tuscan "Orangerie" or northern Europe).
It is believed that lemons were introduced on Lake Garda by the friars of the Convent of San Francesco di Gargnano at the end of the century. XIII: this is evidenced by the bas-reliefs depicting the fruit on the capitals of the cloister columns.
The mild climate of the lake surely meant that these plants could be planted on the ground, for example also in Maderno and Toscolano, producing many more lemons than those cultivated in pots: in this way up to 600-800 fruits per plant could be obtained per year. . This happens when the plant enjoys a light soil, it is well cared for and above all it does not suffer an excessive aggression of the cold during the winter. In fact the lemon at 12 ° C vegetates and, at 0 ° C for several days, dies due to its superficial roots.
Already at the end of the 1500s, particular structures began to be built on the Upper Garda to defend the plants, the lemon-houses, with increasingly higher pillars to allow the plants to grow and the air to circulate.
The cultivation and trade of lemons developed on the western shore of the lake until it became of fundamental importance for the economy of the local populations. The proximity to the Austrian border facilitated the export of the fruits in comparison with those produced in the South of Italy, strongly penalized by the duties imposed by the multiple small states that until the mid-nineteenth century made up our peninsula. The request was strong due to the high content of vitamin C, particularly required for medicinal purposes, in particular to defeat scurvy. Garda lemons were exported and appreciated up to St. Petersburg.
Following the devastating aggression of the gummy, a disease that spread from 1855, then with the unification of Italy and the consequent competition of southern lemons, with the increase in labor costs and with the discovery of citric acid synthetic (1893) cultivation became too wasteful and unprofitable; for this it was slowly abandoned.
Of the hundreds of lemon groves on Lake Garda once, today only four or five remain active and can be visited. The Pra dela Fam lemon house is the largest.
The vast greenhouse, located by the lake, upstream of the Gardesana road, between the rocks overlooking the expanse of water, in close connection with centuries-old cypress trees in groups, is of considerable landscape-architectural interest. The limonaia is the first example of a museum built by the Mountain Community of Alto Garda Bresciano in 1985 with the restoration of the three lower terraces (còle) of the Giardino Nuovo. After structural consolidation and removal of both dead trees due to the frost and weeds, the fixed roof elements were restored and, on the model of the historical ones, the windows of the solar front were reconstructed. Since then the limonaia is covered and closed according to traditional techniques.
The garden has been equipped with lighting systems, automatic irrigation and air heating, which replaced the fires of the past during the coldest nights.
At the Pra del fam there are 88 citrus plants (in the majority lemons, but also bitter and sweet oranges, cedars, pomplemi, mandarins and bergamots). The plants, arranged according to the traditional sixth plant and supported by the historic wooden frame, come from a nursery in Liguria.