In 1885 Richard and Antoinette Fleming St. Leger acquired the Brissago Islands, at that time covered by a rarified indigenous vegetation and hosting the ruins of a convent.
After the convent's restoration they engaged in the creation of the garden. With large boats they carried soil and manure on the Isola Grande, where they created walkways and planted subtropical plants species.
In 1897 the Baron left his wife and moved to Naples.
Because of debts, after the First World War, the Baroness found herself in a precarious situation. In 1927 she was obliged to sell the property. She moved first to Ascona and then to Intragna, where she lived until her death on the 24th January 1948.
Max Emden was not passionate about botany and gardening. He especially cultivated the art of living.
He had the merit of creating the magnificent residence which from the top of the Isola Grande dominates the blue expanse of the lake.
The grandiose palace was built where the Baroness' villa stood, and it was made with the most noble materials: from the white Carrara marbles of the Mirror Room and grand staircases, to the Florentine inlaid floor of the Red Room.
Max Emden should also be credited for not having changed the garden layout and its vegetation.
Max Emden will sojourn on the Islands until 1940, year of his death.
In 1949 the State Council of Canton Ticino receives an offer from the heirs of Emden for the selling of the Islands.
The State of Canton Ticino, the three coastal municipalities of Ascona, Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, the Swiss union for the defense of the national heritage (today Swiss Heritage Society) and the Union for the protection of nature (today Pro Natura) acquired the Islands and the Palace.
The purchase contract, subscribed on the 2nd September 1949, established with foresight that “the Islands and the buildings will be devoted exclusively to purposes of conservation and valorization of the natural beauties for cultural, scientific, touristic scopes”.
On the 2nd April 1950, on Palm Sunday, the doors of the Botanical Garden of the Brissago Islands were opened to the public.
The signing of the notarial act followed the approval by the Grand Council of the Government Message concerning the ratification of the Conventions signed between the Canton and the Municipalities of Ascona, Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, and credit for the urgent renovation of buildings, technical installations, external structures and for the design of interventions and measures to make the two Islands more functional, available and attractive.
The acquisition of the Brissago Islands by the Canton of Ticino has thus made it possible to reorganize the administration and management of the Islands, in order to preserve and further enhance the legacy that this place represents in the cantonal and national context.