If you expect to find official stories in these lines, they are not for you.
If you like untold stories about two men in an extraordinary garden, you are in the right place.
“Balbaniello’s soul is somewhat sinister…, it has something very fascinating and mysterious, especially at night.
If you think about it, all the parks and villas on the lake sort of recede and properties extend inland, as is the case of Villa Erba and Villa d’Este. Balbianello instead ‘attacks’ – a promontory entering the lake, like a hand that sinks its fingers into the water to say ‘I’m there.”
An eighteenth-century (1787) villa located on a wooded promontory next to the Comacina Island.
In the ’70s, by the will of the owner Guido Monzino, the wild garden was transformed into a charming landscaped garden designed by our Emilio Trabella (see “Viaggio con paesaggio, Emilio Trabella e il gioco nel giardino storico), thus becoming the ideal setting for films like Star Wars and the 007 series.
It is currently owned by FAI and can be visited both from Lenno and Sala Comacina.
Villa del Balbianello is the reason and the place of the meeting between Count Monzino and Emilio Trabella, who established a professional relationship based on a great and mutual respect.
In 1978 the great mountaineer and explorer began to meet the young landscaper at half past two every Monday afternoon for his “twenty-second expedition”*, that is bringing back the splendor and elegance of a unique place, where “everything is drawn by the infinite shades of green rather than by the blooms”.
And just during one of those Monday afternoons, Emilio, intrigued, risked a personal question to Monzino: “Count Monzino, what brought you here, to Balbianello? You told me about your properties in Kenya, Kathmandu, Argentina, … and now why here?”. The Count answered stepping back in time to the ’30s and telling the story of the weekends spent with his family in the villa in Moltrasio. He used to go fishing with his father in a boat in front of Balbianello, with neither of them saying a word during the whole journey.
Not saying a word during fishing. Not saying a word at lunchtime, when his father opened the food basket. Not saying a word when they resumed fishing until three, three and half in the afternoon. Not saying a word when they rowed back to Moltrasio.
So, silently, without ever entering the property, but only by observing it from the lake, the very young Monzino was enraptured and forever fascinated by that place. Many years later in New York, returning from one of his expeditions, fate allowed him to achieve the dream he had always had: to buy Balbianello.
“The count was a special person, an aesthete. I learned so much from him.
The lunches at Balbianello were extraordinary moments. The mise en place was fantastic, with me on one side of the long table and him on the other one, between crystal glasses and lots of cutlery. There were so many of them that I devised a trick with the silver soup bowl placed in the center.
The floral interior decoration always included wild flowers and on the first invitations I secretly asked the boys to arrange an enormous composition in the bowl.
As soon as I sat down, I began to speak and to his question “But, do you ever eat?” I answered “Of course, I am just finishing my speech”. It was the only way to hide my embarrassment and peek behind the gigantic composition, looking for the right cutlery to start with … He would never forgive me for the mistake!”
That is how over the years, one risotto with perch fillets after the other, a friendship was born.
The restoration of the garden has been completed and Emilio’s professional competence and advice remain an integral part of the explorer’s life.
It’s autumn: it’s time to choose which flowers to put in the entrance flowerbeds, under the loggia…. The choice falls on 10,000 pansy violets of different colors. Once the work is completed, after a few days, Trabella receives a phone call from Monzino.
M: “I tell you what, I cannot stand those violets, please get rid of them”
T: “There are so many, let’s leave them. it’s a matter of a few months, then we’ll remove them“
M: “No, no, no, no, they make me sick, I get hives when I look at them. Let’s meet and talk about it”
They meet, discuss and come to the conclusion that in Balbianello there must be very few flowers and only in shades of red. But in the meantime the violets are still there and Monzino wants them thrown away. Trabella does not feel like doing it and proposes him an idea.
T: “I am going to gather them, put them in the boxes and give them to all the parishes from Lenno to Como”.
M: “You always have beautiful ideas Trabella, do it”
Emilio does it. And instead of the violets? A sober and essential lawn.
But the stories of the two men and the extraordinary garden do not end here …
* 21 are the expeditions on the highest peaks of the world made by Guido Monzino: from the Himalayas to Africa, from Greenland to the Andes. And it was precisely Emilio Trabella who described the restructuring of Balbaniello as “the twenty-second” explorer’s enterprise.