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A paradise in our homes

A garden is not just a functional space, it is meant to generate emotions and bring well-being. Sicilian architect Angelo Vecchio tells Stephanie Fsadni about his love affair with gardens, the principles of landscape architecture and how dedication to your green space will pay off.

Angelo VecchioAngelo Vecchio

“A beautiful garden is never an accident; it is always the result of a profound love, accurate design and assiduous care,” maintains Angelo Vecchio.

The Sicilian architect is considered an authority in his country in the field of garden landscaping and is currently the regional president of the Italian Association of Landscape Architecture for Sicily. He recently began his working relationship with Malta, through a refurbishment project of a typical Maltese house.

“The main function of a garden is that of a space of rest,” says Mr Vecchio.

He refers to Islamic culture which “perpetuated the tradition that gardens were designed as areas in which to sit in the sun or the shade, and listen to birdsong and the murmuring of water, while sim-ultaneously enjoying the perfume of jasmine, roses or orange blossoms. This may be a passive idea of the garden that, however, continues to be a source of immense inspiration”.

This concept of gardens as areas of relaxation perhaps is more significant today, when people lead such hectic lives.

“The speed of the information society has accelerated the rhythms of our lives. For this reason, the idea of the garden is very different than it was 20 years ago, or even 20 years ago. In the past we looked at status symbols, today we seek a rediscovered paradise, a cathartic space in which to forget the stresses of daily life,” says the architect.

We create spaces, architectural and landscape sensations in which the garden’s soul, the atmosphere of the site, vibrate and communicate joy, serenity and well-being

“So, we create spaces, architectural and landscape sensations in which the garden’s soul, the atmosphere of the site, vibrate and communicate joy, serenity and well-being that ensure the blissfulness of both plants and man.”

Some of his projects have recently been captured in a book titled I giardiani che non c’erano (Gardens that did not exist), which features renovations of buildings of varying dimensions and of different uses, followed by the realisation of new landscaping projects.

Mr Vecchio, who owns the firm Scau Studio, starts off a new project by tackling practical aspects – the problems he will have to resolve.

He considers the needs of the client, the home space and its relationship with the exterior; and considers the garden in its intimate and private dimensions.

Once he gathers the necessary information, he evaluates it and translates it into spaces and volumes.

His first priority is, however, to understand the site in which he is working.

“My professional experience has taught me to begin with an attentive research into natural materials, typical to the traditions of the site and I work to redefine their meanings and formal properties.

“To create a landscape requires, above all, the capacity to listen, to understand and experience a site, the materials of which it is built, the climate, the light and anthropic traces.”

Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult for gardens to flourish in Malta.

“The dry summers, the often salty winds make the design of gardens difficult and the life of plants very arduous,” Mr Vecchio points out.

“The secret to developing a luxuriant space thus has less to do with combating nature, and much more to do with adapting to it and knowing how to valorise its best aspects.”

Various elements are at play in the aesthetic aspect of a garden, which goes much beyond being just a functional space.

“Raw materials, light and shadow, coloured planes and rich, pleasing and harmonious plantings are intended to create emotional relationships: straight walls, the ground plane that appears to extend, openings that are passages for man and light all unfold within a welcoming and fascinating garden where nature becomes man’s companion.

“Light also acquires a fundamental role between the walls that reverberate with it, and the ground that absorbs and reflects it. The walls that glow with light are either in half-shade or fully shaded, rendering an environment lively, serene or sad; creating planes and spaces that can be perceived in a different manner with the passing hours of the day, the seasons and the years.”

The layout must also be in harmony with the space of the house and the surrounding environment, but this is not always easy to achieve.

“A correct layout is, above all, the result of numerous and ongoing adjustments. Gardens are not static environments, but dynamic entities in continuous development.”

There must also be a good balance between plantings and other elements such as water, stone and colour.

“Water in all of its forms is a highly suggestive element, though for me it is equally important to offer an unexpected view, a mysterious shadow, or a perfume that wafts in the air,” says Mr Vecchio .

As regards vegetation, he attaches particular importance to the selection of trees – “the most characteristic and long-lasting vegetal elements in a garden”.

Once Mr Vecchio decides on their position , he turns his attention to flowering plants.

“The best way to begin is to choose one or two families that one is particularly fond of and which will grow well in a particular site.

“Annual flowers constitute an ephemeral and costly decoration, and thus they must only be used when one knows for certain that the garden will be the object of particular care and attention. Today, the maintenance of a garden today is a major issue to consider.

“For the Maltese salty wind, grey leaf plants such as oleander give colour and can be a good substitute for azaleas and rhododendron.”

Home owners often make the mistake of placing too many plants in the same area, or in the wrong place, such as growing bigger plants in a crawl area, or choosing plants that need too much watering.

As high-rise buildings increasingly take over urban areas, gardens may not enjoy much natural lighting. This does not pose a problem for Mr Vecchio, who admits that he is not a big fan of light in a garden, but instead prefers “darkness, mystery”.

In such cases, however, it is fundamental to select trees and plants that do not need much sunlight, such as fern species.

“One must consider trees’ and plants’ adaptability to the environment, in addition to their beauty and behaviour,” he recommends.

A nice garden does not need to be costly, as long as one chooses low-care plants such as oleanders, hortensis and mesembryanthemum, which should withstand long, dry periods without irrigation.

All this may seem to involve a lot of work, but Mr Vecchio ensures that the end result should be very rewarding.

“A garden is a result of much work, but it is also the source of immense pleasures for those who know how to appreciate and love it. And always remember that love is the best tool for a good garden.”

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