Orchards and gardens as places where the word care takes on a new and inclusive declination.
If you have not yet read the book Salvarsi con il verde published by Giunti, get ready to immerse yourself in intense, hard and tenacious, tender and fragile stories, like the marginalized humanity that is told to you.
What is most striking in the book is the profound relationship between plants and humans and the approach so attentive to the fragility of Andrea Mati.
We met him to go over the principles with which he plans and carries out his hortotherapy interventions.
Let's start with your story, how do you come to measure yourself with the discipline of horticulture?
I come from a family of historic nurserymen from Pistoia, the Mati nursery was born in 1909 with my great-grandfather.
The work of producing plants has expanded, from generation to generation, with a research on garden design. I've always been more attached to the creative and planning part, but my great passion was looking to others and how to reach out to those who are weaker.
At the age of 12 I was struck by the writings of Raoul Follereau who influenced my life, encouraging me with his words to engage in social work and get busy for others.
During my civil service I was lucky enough to meet Vincenzo Muccioli and the activities of San Patrignano. I therefore began to combine the social trend with that of green care: planting thousands and thousands of plants in San Patrignano and seeing up close how the community benefited from experience in the green.
My work today - with the social cooperative founded more than 20 years ago - confronts me with psychiatrists, gardeners, landscape architects, agronomists, therapists as well as people struggling with addiction, depression or suffering from Alzheimer's and disabilities that require different ways of relating and caring.
Let's get into the topic of fragility: how can nature become an instrument of care?
First of all, I like to underline how nature places all of us at the same level. An oak does not ask who is the person who is giving it water: nature offers us a true definition of 'normality' by eliminating what in society would be a reason for differentiation. A vegetable version of Totò's spirit level.
Another aspect that is central to me is working with run-down plants, plants that are discarded due to a defect, because they are at the end of flowering or because they are a little run-down.
Therefore, a parallel path of care is established, in which people who need attention and care - often left on the margins of society - learn to dedicate it to other beings that no one wanted and yet they flourish, grow.
What characteristics are indispensable in designing and creating a therapeutic garden or vegetable garden?
There are two aspects to underline: the first is that horticultural therapy is a integrative form to traditional medical and psychological care, the second is that rather than talking about therapeutic gardens, I love to talk about green spaces for care.
But let's go in order.
Understanding that integrating medical paths with experiences that create new ways of relating, understanding each other, communicating, treating oneself is absolutely innovative. However, I prefer to work in places where you have experiences, where you get your hands dirty.
There is a trend that also looks at therapeutic gardens as sensory places. Although experiences are absolutely valid in their results, I aim to work on places where experiences are made and everyone gets their hands dirty together. Even at the expense of an aesthetic and design research.
Putting the shape into the background, another fundamental characteristic of my projects is that they are eco-sustainable: no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used.
We pay attention to waste, we watch what we take care of grow, with all their imperfections and their times. How else can we help addicts detox if we 'dope' the earth?
Expressions such as 'force of nature' are completely turned upside down in this approach, fragility seems to be the real wealth to reconnect with.
We see a planet put to the test by the human impetus to consume, to noise, to speed, to pollute, to waste.
Instead we are an ecosystem: we must learn to save each other. When we go to a nursery we no longer just look at the beautiful plants on display, we go to the back: we go look for the waste and start again by taking care of them.
This reminds me of when in the book you talk about the Square Meter Revolution, can you tell us what it is?
My idea is to promote a revolution in which each of us has an active role and responsibility for care.
If we think we have 1 square meter around us - inhabited by animals, plants and other organisms, by land and water and touched by our neighbors - we approach an idea of care that looks to the little ones to reach a planetary dimension .
I take responsibility for the place where I live and protect it. Not only for me but for the complexity of inhabitants and relationships involved.