MILAN — Rosita Missoni likes to tell of how many years ago she was at the Chelsea Flower show in London, ordering about 500 of a special variety called Poet’s daffodils.
A picturesque older lady asked her to fill out a form and, upon catching her name, exclaimed, “Oh, Mrs. Missoni, it’s so nice to finally put a face behind all the orders you have made,” she says.
Missoni was flattered to be recognized for her green thumb rather than her fashion fame. In truth, it was her husband Tai, an equally passionate gardener, who over the years ordered the bulbs that, come spring, blanket a large chunk of sprawling land that surrounds the Missonis’ villa in Sumirago.
The Missonis are just one example of people from Italy’s fashion world who passionately turn to weeding, potting and pruning to unwind. After all, unlike the breakneck pace of fashion, only nature can control the seasons and cycles of life in the garden.
Other aficionados include Stefano Gabbana and Valentino, both rose lovers, Roberto Cavalli, Wanda Ferragamo and Brunello Cucinelli.
For Cucinelli, gardening and the peace and quiet of his park, is soothing for the soul. “A garden is a place where one can meditate, reflect and pray. Weather permitting, every day at dusk I take a long walk in my garden because it fills me with energy,” says Cucinelli.
It’s no secret that gardens mirror the taste and personality of their owners. So the dozens of acres that surround Valentino’s eight-bedroom Louis XIII chateau called Domain de Wideville, outside Paris, are clipped with the same precision the designer applied to crafting a couture gown and, conversely, the informal, self-designed garden of the Missonis perfectly mirrors the couple’s fun-loving personalities.
“I love flowers,” says Valentino. “I must have more than a million roses, from salmon to yellow, white, pink, a mass of color….I’m proud of them.”
Speaking of roses, renowned Italian rose producer Rose Barni dedicated a multicolored hybrid to Rosita Missoni while Wanda Ferragamo has a camellia named after her.
Aside from their deluge of daffodils, the Missonis also tend to a large orchard where they grow enough organic produce to be self-sufficient year-round. “When I return home from the orchard with baskets filled with peas, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and much more, the whole family stops by to shop,” says Rosita with a smile.
Gabbana is so enamored with the roses he grows in his gardens that he regularly tweets images of his favorites, alongside other plants, accompanied by captions. The words “great smell” appear over a shot of lush wisteria, while a profusion of sherbet-hued roses read “from my garden” and, lastly, a close-up of a pink and lilac rose says, “this is 1 of my love.”
Roses are such a passion for the designer that it’s a recurring print on the clothes he and Domenico Dolce design, and the name of a scent, Rose the One.
Pastel-colored roses and rosemary define the beds of Cucinelli’s classically terraced garden with gravel-filled walkways, housed in Solomeo, Umbria.
Besides the manicured gardens, half of Cucinelli’s 40 acres of land are taken up by woods and the rest by an olive grove, orchard and fruit trees. “Few things top the pleasure of eating your own, freshly picked fruit,” muses Cucinelli.
Similarly, Cavalli nurtures a passion for his vineyards in his Tenuta degli Dei estate, acquired 30 years ago. While his son Tommaso tends to them professionally, producing the designer’s wine, Cavalli uses the estate as a place to escape pressure and challenges.
When Ferragamo heads outside, she still revels at the breathtaking view of Florence from the manicured gardens of her Fiesole villa.
Camellias are her passion and over the years she has planted hundreds of shrubs, also lured by their shiny and resistant foliage. “Camellias are amazing because thanks to the different varieties, they blossom from November to April, which is a longer period than most flowers and they’re also low-maintenance,” says Ferragamo.
While Ferragamo also loves peonies, comparing their petals to wispy, pastel-colored chiffon, it’s tuberoses that bring back memories: “Salvatore (Ferragamo) gave me a huge bouquet a few hours after we met and even after all these years, their perfume still evokes his memory.”