The Urban Gardener

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The Urban Gardener

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge | Photography by Mr Bill Gentle

17 November 2016

Mr Derek Castiglioni designs outdoor spaces in Milan and beyond. He’s just the person to show us around his hometown .

It’s the end of a long week, and Mr Derek Castiglioni, is enjoying a hard-earned glass of vermentino on the top-floor terrace of the ME Hotel in Milan’s Piazza della Repubblica. “This is what you don’t notice from down on the ground,” Mr Castiglioni, 33, says, casting an outstretched arm towards the snowcapped peaks of the southern Alps, which lie in gentle relief against the afternoon haze. “People don’t tend to think of Milan as a green city; you need to see it from above.”

He has a point: Milan can seem rather grey and industrial in comparison to cities such as Florence or Rome, with their magnificent, Renaissance-era Giardino all’italiana. Wander the streets around Milano Centrale, the vast and imposing central railway station, and you might reasonably surmise that the entire city was hewn from a single lump of stone. From up on high, though, a different picture begins to emerge: one of abundant balconies, jungle-like rooftop terraces and vertical living walls. This is the Milan Mr Castiglioni knows best.

As an outdoor space designer for his family company, Vivai Mandelli, he specialises in the design and creation of green spaces in urban areas – in other words, the aforementioned terraces and roof gardens. Recent projects in Milan include the creation of a garden terrace for Boglioli, a suspended garden for the Stella McCartney boutique and work at the Expo pavilions, as well as for private houses. Outside the city, he’s worked on the landscaping of the grounds of a Barolo winery and a vertical living wall in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, for a luxury residence complex. Most projects can be seen in all of their glory on his (equally well-manicured) Instagram account.

Born in Varese, a small city in the shadow of the Alps, he originally moved to Milan to study architecture, and began work in the family business after graduation.

“To be honest, I didn’t originally want to design gardens. I wanted to design buildings,” he admits. “But I knew it would have been a shame to turn down the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather.” Instead, he set out to carve a niche for himself within the business, forging creative partnerships with the likes of Campari and Dolce & Gabbana. “Now,” Mr Castiglioni says, “I’m in the position of being able to say that I truly love my job.”

A garden, he says, is one of the best things that you can give. “It might seem obvious, but we live in a world of great change. We spend our lives immersed in technology and constantly in a hurry. I’m not saying that we should all switch off our phones and meditate all day, but… a garden can help to slow you down. It gives you a sensibility and it teaches you to care a little bit more about the world around you.”


Fiori & Piante Fratelli Filograsso

“I have a very close family. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my father coming home with a bunch of freshly cut flowers for my mother. He used to do it all the time.

“It’s something that has stuck with me ever since, and I think that’s why I’ll find any excuse to do it now. Usually it’s for my family, but there are one or two girlfriends I buy them for. This tiny kiosk in Piazza Giovine Italia is somewhere I try to visit as often as I can. There’s a simplicity to this place: it’s just all about the flowers.

“Usually, when I’m out and about, I’ll dress very simply: a white T-shirt and a pair of blue chinos is something of a uniform for me. But if I’m going out to dinner, for instance – then it has to be Saint Laurent. It’s the sort of brand that makes a big impression without ever seeming too flashy or extravagant.”


Fioraio Bianchi Caffè

“I don’t consider myself materialistic, there are only a few objects that I’m really attached to. This Vespa is one of them. It has been a part of my life for more or less as long as I can remember. My father bought it at the seaside, and we used to ride around on it when I was five or six years old.

“I like to think of it as a vehicle for my creativity: I’ve changed the colour of it three times, and that’s just in 2016. I often park it outside Fioraio Bianchi Caffè in the north of Milan. I find this Balenciaga bomber jacket perfect for getting around: it’s cropped at the waist, so it’s really comfortable for riding, the shearling on the body keeps you warm and the contrast sleeves give it that little point of difference.”


Dimore Gallery

“Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci of Dimore Studio are good friends. I met them when we were working on the design of a new restaurant, Ceresio 7 on the top of the Dsquared2 building, together. Since then we’ve gone on to collaborate on a number of projects. They’re such creative guys.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much from them about art and design. They have this amazing ability to create spaces that immediately feel like home as soon as you walk in. That’s something that has very much informed how I approach my own work. I helped to design the terraced garden of their gallery, which is in central Milan’s Brera design district. It’s such a relaxing place – even when I’m here to talk about work, it still feels like I’m just visiting friends.

This Gucci coat is practical for men on the move, especially when you spend a lot of time outdoors, as I do. It’s casual with a natural elegance. I’d throw it on over a rollneck if it was any colder.”


Giardino Delle Culture

“I often find it helpful to begin the day with a brief moment of calm, especially if I’ve got a busy day ahead, so I’ll often come here in the morning with an espresso and a pastry and just think.

“This area used to be abandoned and derelict. Rather than redevelop it, though, the Milanese council converted it into a free park that opened in 2015. The mural on the wall is by Italian graffiti artist Francesco Camillo Giorgino, known as Millo; it makes a nice change to find graffiti in Milan that is not only legal, but actually commissioned by the city council. The Milanese authorities can be very progressive in that way compared to the rest of Italy.

“For walking around, I absolutely love these boots. They almost feel like military boots – they are tough.”


Aldo Coppola

“This is right outside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, next to the Duomo. It’s a very significant place for me. The Duomo represents Milan: it’s the ultimate symbol of the city I studied in and where my career began. Wherever I finally end up, I’d like to think I’ll always come back here.

“The best time to visit is in the evening, when it’s not so busy and the lighting illuminates the dome. There’s a secret rooftop terrace I know that has the best view. It’s at a hairdresser’s salon that I occasionally visit, called Aldo Coppola… of course, you have to book an appointment if you want to pay it a visit. I class this Maison Margiela coat and Tom Ford denim jacket as my man-about-town look: warm, functional and understated.”