For centuries, architecture, art and gardens have influenced each other, helping to create some of the most famous tableaux on earth. It is a tradition that is being continued by a select few, of which renowned designer Luciano Giubbilei is one. After 18 years as a designer, Giubbilei changed his focus to gardens, training in London and establishing his practice here in 1997. In less than a decade he had won his first gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show with a show-stopping garden for Laurent Perrier in 2009, following this up with a second gold medal for the sponsor in 2011. For Giubbilei, becoming a garden designer has realised a lifelong dream and started an education that will continue until the end of his days.
In the run-up to the presentation of his latest garden at Chelsea, again supported by Laurent Perrier, Giubbilei reflects on his direction, influences and future as one of the most renowned garden designers and creators working today.
The gardens of Italy rank as some of the finest in the world. What enticed you to train in London?
Italy is renowned for great designers but the UK has the finest plantsmen. Nowhere else do people possess such a finely tuned interest and knowledge, sometimes taking years to understand the growing habits and life cycle of one individual species.
Why is this, do you think?
The British are really connected with the outdoors and nature. You are encouraged from an early age to embrace and revere the countryside and to explore what’s outside your door, even in the city. There is a real freedom to just be and I think this stays with people for their whole life. If you choose to work with nature, you naturally take that interest and understanding to a much deeper level.
Gardening is an art form. Do you consider yourself a gardener or an artist first?
I would have said an artist to begin with and it was a love of art, architecture, form and structure that influenced my early work, and certainly my collaborations with other artists. Ever since I started designing, I have been fascinated by the interplay between gardens and art. Designing for me is different from being an artist. It is more about the arrangement of space and composition, about the combination of colours and textures to create a response from those who experience it. Gardens can give such a dramatic backdrop to works of art and, in turn, these objects inject new emotions and reactions into the space. Lately, I have been looking for a mentor and a place to learn more about flowers, and so I have spent considerable time at Great Dixter in East Sussex where head gardener Fergus Garrett has continued the work of the late Christopher Lloyd and his father before him, under the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. The dedication and knowledge of the team at Great Dixter has taken my desire to understand the language of plants to a much deeper level. I am so much more heavily influenced now by this approach and the colours I want to work with.
How is this resonating in your work?
I have been working in the UK for more than 20 years and have now expanded into the US where I have two projects in different parts of the country. One is in Idaho which has a high-altitude desert climate, and the other is in Texas where the coastal location makes the air very saline. In both, the surroundings inform what you do and you have to work with what the land can take. There is no other way. Designing in different places encourages complexity and individual discovery. It is a cultural exploration and a template for experience, responsive to each locality, promoting the engagement with the natural processes and enhancing the relationship between people, culture and place.
You will exhibit again at Chelsea Flower Show this year. What was the inspiration for your previous gardens at the show?
My first garden was exhibited in 2009. It was 12 years in planning and I wanted to show what I was capable of and what I had been doing in my work over the previous decade. I have always been interested in the relationship between collaborative artistic forces and so in 2011, my second garden for Laurent Perrier, I teamed up with the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and British sculptor Peter Randall-Page to open a dialogue between art, nature and architecture.
What can we expect from you at Chelsea this year?
I think this year will be the best garden I have ever created. I have the great privilege of working with Brooklyn-based sculptor Ursula Von Rydingsvard, ahead of the opening of her most extensive exhibition yet, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We are using 70-year-old trees, the same age as Ursula, and my garden will focus on their character, personality and sense of place. Ursula has created a strong cedar-wood sculpture that will nestle amongst the trees and will contribute to the garden’s exploration of texture while stimulating the enjoyment of observation and contemplation by visitors. The entire design expresses my ongoing fascination with form, light and texture.
How important are sculpture and lighting in a garden?
For me, very important. I have had the great privilege of working with some of the most inspiring artists in these fields over the past twenty years. It helps me to develop and stretch my creativity and imagination; collaboration is essential to what I do. Establishing myself and my work in other countries opens up even more opportunity to work with established and emerging artists and see how our work can be united.
Which is your personal part of London?
A few years ago I moved west and now I live on a pretty garden square in Holland Park with a church at its centre. It is the kind of quintessentially English view you would yearn to have from your window. I love the sense of local community that exists where I live, despite the fact that we are in the middle of a busy city.
How do you use the city and what do you enjoy about it?
In London I enjoy walking – it’s a great place to explore. I use the parks a lot and love the variation that comes with each one. What I love most about London though is that whatever I want to do at the weekend, it’s available. Music, dance, film, art, exhibitions and food, it’s all here and there is an amazing cultural diversity that drives the introduction of each new thing. I travel a lot and love New York but I also love coming back to London. It’s now my home.
Do you have any ambitions that are still unfulfilled?
After working for so many years in city spaces, I am now working on projects in the wider landscape where the horticultural underlying aspect is much more at the forefront. This transition requires great attention and a much more in-depth level of collaboration. I am just starting; I love the challenge of moving from the house to the horizon.
What does the future hold for you?
All of the different experiences I have continue to influence my work – the places I visit and the people I meet. I couldn’t say where those influences will lead me or how the direction of my business will change. I see what I do as a lifelong vocation and journey and will continue to learn as I go.
Tell us a secret about Luciano Giubbilei?
I live a relatively simple life, working and spending quality time in London when I can. I love football and feeling great when the Italians teams win against the British!
Discover more about Luciano Giubbilei on the Domus Nova Garden Guide.
Luciano Giubbilei, Studio E6, The Imperial Laundry, 71 Warriner Gardens, London SW11; lucianogiubbilei.com