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Traveling into a landscape: Emilio Trabella and the play in the historic garden

EMILIO TRABELLA

The golden goose, an automaton in the Nymphaeum of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta

For Renzo Piano, he is the man who whispers to plants.
An experienced landscaper and botanist, he is a fundamental member of the Scientific Committee and the Creative Group of Orticolario.
And for us, it is Emilio.

A chat with him about play, which in the historical garden has always had a very important role

“The garden itself was considered a play, or rather, a way to marvel”.
This was precisely the purpose of the villa’s layout where, in fact, the entrance was placed in the less picturesque location. The guests walked along the avenue leading to the back of the residence, where they were welcomed by the owner, who accompanied them to the large hall from which they could enjoy the view of the lake, the park, or the mountains.

At Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta, the purpose was in fact to amaze, be it with the water plays and jokes of the Nymphaeum or the “carpinata” (a path made of a double row of hornbeam trees) for the afternoon or evening walks carrying torches or as a space to play Blind Man’s Buff.

“It may be said that playing in the garden allowed to please oneself and amaze the guests. When the botanist and the gardener created the garden, they were already ‘playing’ with the available plants and elements, arranging the specimens so as to make it a place of leisure and wonder”.
When designing, therefore, it is first of all necessary to amaze oneself and consider the importance of involving senses, for instance perfumes or the sound of water. One of the finest examples can be found in the Japanese gardens: “In a garden I visited near Kyoto, I could hear 18 different sounds made with water”.
And then the light, solar or artificial, alternated with shadows and creating different effects in the daytime. “At the lake of Monate, for example, when the sun sets, and but for a very short moment, the shadows cast by the hills on the meadows outline two kissing figures, and the very fact of seizing it is a play in itself”.

Play, amazement, wonder: the garden in the heart of Emilio Trabella.
“I had the good fortune of being among the first professionals involved in the recovery of historic gardens. One of my first interventions took place at Villa del Balbianello, on Lake Como, which has remained in my heart for various reasons”.

A garden full of wonders, where every avenue or path has a view on the lake, and plays of colors and lights are offered to the visitors. Then the sounds, when the breeze ripples the water surface and generates the typical lapping against the rocks. And the fragrances in the evening, when the essential oils of the plants are better perceived.

Play in the historic garden, the furnishings and the forms.
“For the restoration of the historical garden, I would use also playthings and equipment, but only of natural materials (…), particular and very resistant woods, hemp ropes. I would also try in every way to take inspiration from modern games developing them with materials that are compatible with the style and the era of the garden in which they are placed. (…)

As to the forms, among the different solutions, there are hills with through holes, or with paths that allow even motor impaired children to reach higher altitudes and watch the surrounding landscape. (…). A solution I tested consists in preparing a large boulder with a crack through which the garden can be seen (…)”.

The garden elements themselves can turn into a play, discovering particular views and new environments, listening to the spirit of the place and observing nature and landscapes with different eyes.

Source:
‘I giardini della ReGiS – Interview with Emilio Trabella’ from “Il Gioco nel Giardino e nel Paesaggio” edited by Laura Sabrina Pelissetti and Lionella Scazzosi (ReGiS – Rete dei Giardini Storici, 2017)