Wild at Heart

A PASSIONATE GARDENER CREATES A PRIVATE PARADISE IN TANGIER.

As a boy in Milan, Pasti dreamed of someday becoming a florist or a writer; he grew up to be a gardener and an author, not only of several gardening books, but also of a translation of Proust’s letters to his mother, and an outstandingly original novel, The Age of Flowers, a maximalist fantasia about a young man’s botanical obsession.

The novel is an homage to Pasti’s private garden, itself a maximalist fantasia: 5,300 species of plants, flowers, and trees — plus whatever snakes, rats, birds, lizards, and frogs choose to reside there. He’s been tending it for 30 years, ever since he and his partner, fashion designer Stephan Janson, took a trip to Tangier, Morocco, fell in love with the place, and soon assumed ownership of their mountain paradise.

Pasti takes inspiration from the English and French gardens of Tangier in the 1920s and ’30s, blending antique roses with tropical flora and fruit trees — quince, apricot, pomegranate, peach. But more than anything, he adheres to his own philosophy: radical inclusivity combined with an absolute reverence for nature’s intelligence. Before starting a commission for a client, he asks to spend at least several days walking the plot alone to best observe the interplay between soil, light, shadow, water, and creature. «A garden is the visible aspect of an invisible process,» he says, «and animal life will tell you a lot about what you can and cannot do on the land.» He is particularly partial to frogs: «Frogs enchant me. They make me completely happy. When people come for drinks at night, their voices can hardly be heard over the singing of the frogs.»

Pasti’s own garden is a riotous celebration of fragrances and textures — «smooth next to rough,» he explains — and every hue under the sun. «Each color is beautiful, and all colors go together. Just look at Renaissance paintings, or Matisse,» he says. «What I hate in gardens are stereotypes and easy solutions — what I love are thought, freedom, and joy.» At night he walks the garden paths, losing himself in the sumptuous scents of jasmine, ipomoea (morning glories), three species of honeysuckle, datura (angel’s trumpets), and philadelphus (mock orange), to name just a few.

Pasti’s open hearted ness extends from the plants he cultivates to his adopted home. Unemployment is a major problem in Tangier; to counter this, Pasti has been training young men from the nearby village to garden and make furniture. He then employs them in his gardens in other parts of the city, to help him keep up with his work. Meanwhile, he has also devoted himself to the cultivation and preservation of the local flora, much of which is threatened by unchecked development. «All these species are in danger of disappearing,» Pasti says. «I am trying to save as much as I can.»

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