What attracted you to land­scaping? “My grandfather inspired me from the beginning. He had a big vegetable garden outside Bologna [in Italy], with peach trees. As a young boy, I’d spend my summer holidays with him. He was a stone mason so he always worked with his hands. Everything he planted – tomatoes, zucchini, aubergine, melons – came out beautifully. I’ve never had peaches like the ones he grew.”

What was your route into landscaping? “I was an industrial designer. But I knew where to find all sorts of fruit trees. I had the inspiration to live the days outside; to learn about and live in nature, and try to bring nature into every­day life. I now have 280 people working with me – gardeners, engineers, stone masons. We work as a big team to produce outdoor spaces.”

Tell us about your Beijing project. “It’s a multi-use development [that will open in stages, beginning this year]. It will have a museum of modern art, the new Bulgari hotel [scheduled for completion in summer 2017], and two office towers that will hold 10,000 people. There is an outdoor theatre and space for restaurants and shopping. We had to embrace the whole concept and connect it all using outdoor spaces. We are creating an intimate garden and a river with lotus flowers. We brought people from China to Switzerland to show them how to lay round stones. We have transplanted 46 trees from a nearby forest. The air will be filtered by the trees, and so be of better quality. That’s very important. When I was there recently, the pollution was so bad my eyes were burning.”

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So you use plants that are local wherever you work? “We like to use plants that grow naturally. Sometimes it’s a big challenge. So we find out first what is growing nearby and then we decide on the design. Plants that are growing naturally usually don’t need a lot of water. If I see a tree nearby that I like, or a certain type of grass, I’ll use that for my design. It’s important to be responsible, given issues with drought. We don’t want to be silly and get big water tanks just to water plants. That doesn’t make sense.”

What else are you working on? “Palazzo Del Sol, on Fisher Island, near Miami, is a big [luxury residential] project. Again, we are using as many native plants as possible, to make the place integrated. Fisher Island was built up in the 1980s, so we have a certain architecture to work with. We want to bring elements to refresh the area while keeping to the colonial style.”

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Is there a part of the world where you’d like to work? “I’m keen to do something in Los Angeles. For me, it’s interesting working in different climates, from Russia to tropical countries. We’ve done schools, hospital gardens, private gardens, hotels, wineries. The key is simply to understand how to use what is already there.”