It is impossible to visit Milan without noticing and photographing the urban gardens. They are hidden in courtyards which are imprisoned behind iron gates or in atriums past the front entrance of buildings of various architectural periods. Looking up at the balconies and verandas one can see hanging gardens in suspense, ready to risk a free fall, or further up, roofs towered with green forests.
I enjoy walking through the great variety of public gardens, in the multitude of squares formed around the statues of great men, commemorated for their contribution or distinction in politics, in war or in the letters & arts, a male figure usually.
The private gardens, though, are the ones that really attract me, as creative playgrounds of the houses and flats in a city. I like to contemplate these gardens, to ‘read them’ as an expression of the personality and tastes of the people who made and take care of them, like the living space of a sitting room.
Visiting the garden of a flat in Milan
I accept with enthusiasm the invitation by the landscape designer Stefano Baccari to visit the garden of a downtown Milan flat, very near to Duomo. The flat is at the top floors of an apartment building of the 40’s which houses residences and offices.
As we enter the flat, the light from the large windows is welcoming with the misty hues of the September afternoon after two hours of pouring rain.
To go to the garden, we cross the greenhouse, where the kitchen of the house is installed. It is an extension of the house and gives the possibility to enjoy the adjacent garden all year round. That’s the beginning of priorities: the garden should look attractive all year round. As one of the owners is a chef and wants to use plants for his exquisite plates, the garden should provide edible plants.
Stefano Baccari explains:
“ We mix plants, not only for decoration, for the aesthetics, but to provide food and ingredients for the kitchen, like tomatoes, eggplants, basil, rosemary, myrtle, laurel, small red peppers, (peperoni). The trees are decorative like Snowy Mespilus and others to produce figs, apples, also Loquat, Pomegranate, Murraya.
We have flowers too, like the ones you see in a vegetable garden, to make a bouquet for the house, herbs and shrubs of the mint family like sages, thyme, aromatic onions, dahlias, castor-oil plant ( ricino ), amaranth.
You see: Marshmallow plant – Swiss Chard – Lemon Verbena – Marigold Orange – Nasturtiums.
We also need plants to attract birds, like grapes, little apples & myrtle. Other plants attract butterflies and insects, like the much needed bees, an endangered species especially in the cities ”.
A countryside wild garden at the center of Milan
The landscape designer Stefano Baccari continues to guide me in the garden he created to fulfill the needs and the aesthetics of this house. The concept he worked on and applied here is ‘the edible garden mixed, like a countryside wild little garden’*.
The purpose was to arrive at an artistic statement that would please aesthetically, but not at the expense of a space meant to be lived and shared on a daily basis. The garden around me is approachable and hospitable, a harmonious shelter in the city. It awakens connotations to the life and myths in the Mediterranean nature.
Stefano Baccari inhabits the arts, architecture & design, nature. He travels around the world to create his gardens. A tireless walker he explores the outdoor environment and appreciates nature as a source of psychical nourishment,too.
He is therefore capable to reach the ‘uninhibited fusion’, as I call it, in a garden where the humble wild plants of the countryside match with the elegant finesse of the greenhouse, with the lightning. To reach this ingenious, though perfectly structured result he had to design and construct the landscape, harmonizing the ecological priorities with the functional necessities.
Art and ecology go together for landscape designer Stefano Baccari
Stepping out of the door of the greenhouse a mirror was placed on the opposite wall of the veranda, to give perspective, the sensation of extra depth for the garden. This scenographic effect was further enriched by ‘the two-step containers’: the first runs all the perimeter of the terrace garden, is 50-55 cm high, and ideal for short plants, vegetables, grasses, flowers. The second higher one, of 80 cm, is to increase our impression of being in a real garden, not a roof garden.
” The choice of ‘the two-step containers’ was designed and constructed to enhance the impression of a screen, or paravan, as the plants of the higher level are growing up to 3 meters. Do not forget”, Stefano Baccari shows around, “the flat is close to Duomo, surrounded by buildings, and we would like to ensure privacy to the garden ”.
Personally, this feeling of cordial hospitality and familiarity encapsulates me without trapping me; a place to relax, concentrate, even to meditate, to read a book, to enjoy a Sunday lunch with friends and a romantic dinner.
The illusion of the garden growing on real soil, not in pots is served perfectly by ‘the two step containers’ as the plants in the shorter and wide containers cover the vertical steel surface of the higher ones; then, the higher trees further enhance this ‘wildness’ of a forest or countryside. The containers are discreet, practically invisible, made out of rusted steel, a very warm color. It is called Cor-ten steel**, naturally rusted and does not change with time.
Stepping out of the greenhouse the floor looks like a wooden deck, at the color of dark grey ‘anthracite grey’; it is made out of concrete, cut like a parquet, and the water flows in-between the fissures and is led by them along the edges, where it is collected and transported to the central gutter of the building. The automatic irrigation runs in 4 different lines, regulated to save water, adjusted to the rain conditions, while nourishing the different plants according to their needs. It is divided in the drop-by- drop system and the one by evaporation to provide the required humidity.
The hanging garden two steps from Duomo
This meticulous study of the needs, the forms, the juxtaposition and composition of different elements is not loud; the composition feels so spontaneous, as it belongs here, to the landscape, as if it has always been here. However the garden has just finished, the apartment recently inhabited and some more furniture will probably be added to enjoy meals in their garden all day long.
I leave this oasis in the middle of the city of Milan with my energy restored and a little bit more aware about the art & practice of a landscape designer who is so conscious about environment, ecology, nature and art.
And then, I am lucky enough to be invited by Stefano Baccari to another of his creations. Have some more glimpses of green made to suit the landscape and the different ambiance of the area and this apartment at the last floor of a three-story building of 1920’s in Milan.Studio Stefano Baccari landscape designer, www.studiobaccari.com
*On the concept of the edible garden mixed, like a countryside wild little garden Stefano Baccari suggests http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s1lc8
**Weathering steel, best-known under the trademark COR-TEN steel and sometimes written without the hyphen as “Corten steel“, is a group of steel alloys which were developed to eliminate the need for painting, and form a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years.
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