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designing a paradise

June 2023- Number 23
designing a paradise

Interview by Silvana Rizzi - Photographs Nicola Gnesi

Inquisitive, always ready to see the magic in each new experience, French landscape architect Jean Mus – who has affixed his famous signature to two thousand of the world’s gardens – was inevitably fascinated by Versilia. “When for the first time I saw the deep white fissures on the Apuans,” he confesses, “I thought I was seeing early snow.” An unexpected emotion, prelude to his discovery of a small part of Italy unknown to him until that moment. Even so, with Versilia he shares an art de vivre and a sea for him so significant that he styles himself an enfant de la Méditerranée.

The effervescent designer, with his blue eyes and a matching scarf eternally at his neck, is from Grasse, the world’s capital of perfumery in the heart of the Côte d’Azur, where, recently, he applied his design principles to renovate the garden of Pablo Picasso’s villa in Cannes. Mus’ approach to nature touches the senses and the emotions; here, as always, his work bowed to the history of the site and drew inspiration from the wild intricacy of the surrounding terrain.

Jean Mus was invited to Versilia by fellow Frenchmen Alain Cirelli and Laurent Flechet for the garden of their Paradis Pietrasanta hotel, and above all to regenerate eight hectares of flat land at the foot of the historic town, “where there was nothing!” in Mus’ words. Today, those eight hectares are a paradise, and seem to have always been so. Called no less than Paradis Agricole, in April the site won the VAI (Verde-Arte-Industria) award conferred by the Garden Club Verzieri Toscani.


The genius of Mus’ plan lay in matching the ferme agricole, the busy working farm, with a “garden of delights,” a meeting place, a party venue, where dreams and reality go hand in hand harmoniously. “When I am asked to re-imagine a garden I attempt to interpret the soul of the site, in order to preserve its identity,” he says. “Versilia is a territory meriting protection, rich with history and personality.”

From the sea at Forte to the Apuan Alps – remindful of Michelangelo and marked, today, by the presence of international artists and marble crafters such as Giorgio Angeli, Massimo Galleni or Franco Cervietti – “there is nothing to revisit,” Mus stresses, “but everything to respect, keeping in mind the climate, the shadows, the light.”

“The extraordinary umbrella pines, the silvery olive trees, the cypresses reaching skyward, symbols of vitality and zest for life, planted along watercourses that are blue by day and pink at sunset; the hedges fragrant with myrtle and bay, the oleanders and the roses: all these plants have a place in a Versilian garden,” Mus notes. And his sparkling eyes, full of life and warmth, only emphasize his message.

Criticisms? Our garden architect can’t help himself. “That obsession with cutting plants,” he says, “almost as though to reaffirm the idea that man must prevail over nature. Think of the gardens at Versailles,” he concludes, miming square boxes, “domesticated by Le Nôtre in homage to the powerful Louis XIV.”