Cult Shop: the plant matchmakers of Milan
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Entering Wild Milano is like stepping inside an urban-Scandi remake of The Secret Garden. Heart-leaf ferns, Spanish moss, silver vines and turtle strings (€7-€45) dangle from the double-height ceiling. Luscious foliage frames the sun-filled space – a white cube with yellow accents. Enamel watering cans, pretty pottery (€3.50-€73) and botanical tomes are stacked up on modular wooden shelving.
When Milan’s pioneering houseplant shop opened in 2018, Pasquale and Valeria Falco were afraid that people would ask, “Where are the flowers?” But they didn’t. Far from it. Tucked away down a back alley in Porta Venezia, the art nouveau heart of the city, their store quickly garnered a clientele that “hunts them down” for their indoor greenery and terrarium workshops. “People, especially those in big cities, are feeling the need to create a cosy nest where they can retreat to, but which is also a space where they can reconnect them with nature,” says Valeria.
“We want to see people leave with their perfect houseplant,” adds Pasquale. The way they achieve this, he explains, is by asking clients – the full spectrum from young professionals to proper “plant nerds” – a series of simple “perfect plant” questions to make sure even the knowledgeable can branch out into new species that suit them: “How much light does your house get? Which direction do the windows face? What does the furniture look like? What is your aesthetic? How much time are you willing to dedicate to this plant?” By answering these, the right match is found.
The couple met while working as editors at Adelphi Edizioni, one of the country’s largest publishing houses. Tired of the industry, they quit together to sell plants. First, they opened a florist, but then they turned their honeymoon into a houseplant pilgrimage – and travelled to Amsterdam, the birthplace of the houseplant boutique. It was at urban-jungle destination Wildernis that they finally realised “how it could be done”. And they brought the idea to Italy.
Wild’s e-store delivers nationwide throughout Italy (by bike in Milan), delivering “joy beyond the flowering, like living interior pieces”, Valeria says. She talks about the tropical Swiss cheese plants and splendid Chinese-money plants as if they’re people – “our daughter Tea learned to respect them”.
Pasquale and Valeria’s plant workshops include those in floral composition and kokedama – a centuries-old Asian technique of potting plants in an exposed moss ball to highlight their root systems. But the most popular course teaches the art of terraria – miniature gardens in glass. “People love terraria because they are entirely self-sufficient cross-sections of wilderness that you can see change over time, in your own home,” says Pasquale.
More plant shops across northern Italy are following Wild Milano’s blueprint. The couple aren’t surprised. Says Pasquale: “I think for many people, plants are a return to an atavistic space around them. We feel the memory of an indissoluble bond.”