Monday, December 31, 2018

From a Painful Past Beautiful Irises Thrive

By Sabrina Penteriani

In the garden Le Iris di Trebecco, in the village of Credaro, Cristina Mostosi overcame the pain of her sister's violent disappearance 17 years ago.

Beauty is everywhere, all you need is your eyes to see it, and according to Dostoevsky [it] "will save the world". It can even be cultivated, as Cristina Mostosi does in her garden, Le iris di Trebecco, in Credaro, [near Bergamo, Italy] taking care of the flowers of her father Luigi — it is a demanding and tiring but powerful job, because over time she has treated the deepest wounds of the heart, making grief sprout, turning it into something different. The irises are gentle and fragile looking flowers, they are found many in the meadows, along the streams, and on the riverbeds. Not everyone knows, however, how tenacious and robust they are. There was a time when the peasants had sown them on the steep ground, because their thick rhizomes made a natural fence.

At the beginning

For the Mostosi family irises played an even more important role. In difficult years they have served as a barrier in the despair and void left by young Paola, the "little one," daughter and sister, barbarically killed seventeen years prior, when she was only 23. "A splendid girl," Cristina remembers, "intelligent, full of life."

The iris garden is in the country house, a small and cozy space set in a medieval castle. When the Mostosi family bought it, beneath its windows it layed, rugged, uncultivated, full of weeds, but still fascinating, well exposed to the sun, with a priceless view of the Oglio River and the Castle of the Count Calepio. "The idea of ​​the iris was my mother's,"  says Cristina. "Originally from Grumello, she remembered that the peasants planted them in the ditches because the rhizomes in time formed real dams and also compacted the ground."

The iris dedicated to Bergamo

That house is full of happy memories: Cristina and her brothers spent carefree summers of their childhood together, running through meadows and woods and bathing in the river. "Here the soul of my family is preserved. I still remember when we planted the first irises, of the most common type, which they call "Germanic". Over time, on their travels, my parents discovered other species, other stories related to these irises. My father was very passionate about gardening, he followed a hybridization course, he learned to create new species and colors for himself. He dedicated an iris, red and yellow, to the city of Bergamo. He also managed to obtain a particular shade of red, a very rare color for iris, and in 2004 he won a prize from the Italian Iris Society's Florence Competition. He was in close contact with other hybridizers throughout Europe. This passion supported him in the years that followed the death of my sister. Faced with such a great pain, impossible to express and overcome, one must still cling to something beautiful. My father really believed in it; he was a creator of beauty, and it helped him to survive, to get away from the horrors of the world and to find peace again. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., he was already in his garden. He considered it an open-air laboratory, his shelter, and then he returned home to Torre Boldone, at 7:30 a.m., just in time to be next to my mother when she got up. My mother, instead never managed to overcome her daughter's loss, and went from one exhaustion to another; nobody was able to console her, and she took refuge in a world of her own, where she remained until her death."

Paola's void

The life of the Mostosi family was hit hard by the murder of Paola, and everyone reacted differently. Cristina, who at the time had two young children, after a short time separated from her husband: "Such a great tragedy leads one to question one's own life. This can strengthen a relationship or hurt it by exposing its fragility. I rolled up my sleeves and went ahead." In the past, Cristina did not spend much time in the garden: "Sometimes I helped my father, with love but without a particular desire to do so. But, he knew me well, and he knew how he had chosen a positive activity for me." 

When Luigi died a few years ago, he chose, in fact, to entrust Cristina with the care of the iris garden: "It happened suddenly," she explains about his death, "from a heart attack; I stayed for a long time wondering what to do, saddened and lost. I enjoyed the bloom season, then left Castello Trebecco for a few months because I had to mourn — my father was my rock, my safe harbor, and now he was gone. By that time, my brother had lived in Monte Carlo with his family for over twenty years, so suddenly, without my father I felt really lonely. When I came back to Castello Tebecco the garden seemed like a deserted, abandoned place. I realized that as his age progressed, my father had neglected the maintenance work and so a radical garden restructuring was necessary. I called several gardeners, but no one wanted to accept the task, because it was a task too tiring, on a steep slope, with many steps to do. I understood that I would have to deal with it alone. I did not know enough, so I started studying, creating a small library. I realized that taking care of a garden does not only mean keeping the plants alive but also nourishing the garden's character and spirit." 

Cristina decided to keep the footprint her father Luigi had established: "I cleaned up the paths he had traced, I rebuilt the dry stone walls that supported the terraces and steps with the same material he had chosen. What I have chosen, volcanic tuff, comes from Tuscany, it is natural, it camouflages a lot, you almost do not see it, it gives the whole path a pleasant, harmonious look."

The bricks, however, are heavy: "It was a huge job, and I have yet to finish it. Fortunately, I had my friends and family with me. An incredible chain of solidarity has been activated. My cousins ​​helped me above all, and the company has become an opportunity to get together, keep in touch, do something together. Thus our bond strengthened."

The iris garden transformed Cristina's life: "I changed my life rhythms to follow those of nature. I earn a living working in a bank, so I live in the city, but for some years I obtained a part-time job that allows me to move to Castello Trebecco from Thursday to Sunday and get my hands on the ground. I get scars from the work, my skin gets cuts, I wear the marks of this work on my skin, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction. Every April I open the garden to the public, offering guided tours; and I started to participate in some trade fairs, like Orticola in Milan, an important and beautiful experience. I'm only at the beginning of this process but I've already had visitors from many parts of Italy, and even from abroad. Now my children Giulia and Fabio attend university and live in Milan, which means that I have more time available, and I dedicate it all to gardening. I am gradually discovering new possibilities. I have created new relationships with cultural associations, and tourist organizations in the area."

Important encounters

Thanks to meeting Mariagrazia Dammicco, president of the Wigwam Club Historical Gardens of Venice, Cristina participated for two years at the Festival of the Gardens of the Serenissima, where she brought her irises. On one occasion she met Luciano Cecchetti, curator of the Vatican Gardens and Castel Gandolfo, who transmitted the most important requirements for a good gardener: fertile soil, strong hands and a lot of patience. "His advice has helped me to revive the garden, trying to give it a personal touch, putting the emphasis on beauty and wellness, pushing me to enrich it with all that makes me feel good. Then, the garden has revived me, offering me new perspectives, unexpected thoughts and opportunities."

New ideas

Cristina never stands still: she organizes lectures, meetings, workshops of botanical and traditional watercolor in the open among the Iris of Trebecco, she lectures at school. "I talk to students about the care of plants as a way to take care of themselves, to reappropriate personal traditions and habits that are often lost by living in the city, where it is difficult to notice even the passing of time and the seasons."

The garden of Castel Trebecco is fertile, because it generates beauty in many ways, stable, thanks to its flowers, and symbolic: "I continue to generate ideas, for example I am thinking of starting some collaborations with community associations. I would like my garden to become a beneficial source not only for me but also for others."

The ground that — almost  collapsed

And to think that all began with the need to contain a land that was in danger of collapsing: "In Greek mythology iris is the name of the messenger of the gods, a winged girl who rides the rainbow. My flowers are sturdy, resistant and rustic, and at the same time spread delicacy and charm with their appearance, bright colors, and their beautiful scent. I tried to recover all the species of my father's, and in the future I would like to follow a hybridization course and maybe an internship in Holland or France. For now it is only a dream. I will realize it when I retire and I can devote myself to irises fulltime. The garden has changed my horizon, it has taught me that I need very little, it has brought me back to the essential, to what gives meaning to life."

[Editor's Note: Posted with permission. Originally published on Sunday, November 28, 2018 on L'ECO DI BERGAMO, which coincided with The United Nations General Assembly's  designation of November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Translated by Andi Rivarola]

The original Italian post on L'eco di Bergamo:

Le Iris di Trebecco on Instagram: @leirisditrebecco

Giardino Le Iris di Trebecco Facebook Page:


  1. Thank you for the reminder as we begin 2019, that even though our grief follows us, there is still beauty ahead.
    Best wishes for a bloomin' good new year!

  2. I lost my mother, but I can find her essence in her garden and what she gave to us through flowers...


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