The show garden designer should not stray too far from the garden, we would imagine; it is the aim of his work but also the source of his inspiration and a detachment from the hands-on experience of working in a garden may leave the designer working in a vacuum with the danger that his creations become less relevant or out of touch with the practicalities and niceties of plants growing in the real world rather than in the contrived vision of the show garden. It is surprising then to read that Luciano Giubbilei has never had his own garden and that his gardens are more noted for their architectural design rather than for their floral content.
His career has been one of outstanding success and acclaim: His 1999 garden in The Boltons, London, was awarded “Best Residential Garden” by the British Association of Landscape Industries. He received the same award for another garden in 2002. His collaboration with artist Stephen Cox in 2003 on a garden in Kensington was a key influence which permeated for his subsequent work. A garden he designed in Addison Road, London, in 2006 earned the “Best Residential Garden Award” from the British Association of Landscape Industries. Work in the USA, in 2007, is highly acclaimed and another “Best Residential Garden Award” came his way in the U.K.
He designed his first Chelsea Flower Show garden for Laurent-Perrier in 2009. It was awarded a Gold Medal and was the first garden where he used flowers extensively – astrantias and paeonias in large numbers. A Moroccan garden he designed that year featured 14,000 grasses and 12,000 roses. Though this Chelsea garden was still architectural in nature and was in collaboration with two artists this move to the use of flowers marked a new direction in his garden designs.
2010 brought a further “Best Residential Garden award” and the publication of his first book, “The Gardens of Luciano Giubbilei” while his 2011 Chelsea Flower Show garden, again for Laurent-Perrier and a gold medal winner, is regularly listed as one of the best Chelsea Flower Show gardens of all time. He followed this with a self-published book, “Nature and Human Intervention” and, though he continued with his private practice, took a break from show garden design, and took time to reassess his approach to gardens. The return to Chelsea in 2014 brought a Gold Medal and Best in Show Award.
A conversation with Sir Paul Smith led him to approach Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter and he was given a section in the gardens in which he could experiment with plants and, as Sir Paul Smith had suggested, “get his hands in the soil”. A year working with Fergus Garret, Rachael Dodd and James Horner allowed him the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of plants, how best to grow them, how best to manage them, how best to arrange and combine them and to learn more of the craft of gardening. Fergus Garret, Rachael Dodd and James Horner each contributed a section to this book which relates this period of Luciano Giubbilei’s career.
This period at Great Dixter might best be described as a time or reflection, reconsidering and reconnecting with gardening through the practice of the basics – plant selection, growing, placing and spacing, combining, staking, maintaining interest through the seasons and all in a challenging garden in the company of experienced and supportive gardeners. So, while his description of this time recalls much of the practical, its essence is one of retreat and reflection almost in the sense of a spiritual retreat, a rest from the hustle bustle of everyday life and a time to reconsider what is central to life – in this case the life of the garden and the garden designer. There is a deal of practical lessons to be gleaned but that of reflecting on what we are doing is the most significant. Further sections of the book deal with his love of traditional crafts with following chapters on Water, Colour and Texture, Natural Landscapes and comment on his approach to design.
Andrew Montgomery’s photographs fill many pages with gentle, pleasant images which, to be accurate, might best be described as accompanying the text rather than illustrating it, running in parallel with the writing and reflecting the tone of gentle reflection perfectly.
Overall, this is a very pleasant book written in a gentle, pleasant and unassuming style. Though an accomplished and hugely successful garden designer, Luciano Giubbilei writes simply of his love of beautiful materials, the joy of beautifully crafted artwork and the enormous pleasure of working with plants. It is the story of a man happy and contented in what he does and makes for an enjoyable read.
The Art of Making Gardens, Luciano Giubbilei, Merrell Publishers, London, 2015, HB, 304 pages, 350 colour illustrations, 30.5 x 25 cm (12.25 x 9.75 in),£45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4646-7