128 LUCIANO GIUBBILEI THAT’S AMORE
Flowers alone don’t cut it for the Italian landscape architect. His works are rooted in design and respect Mother Nature’s time
2019 risks being a golden year for Luciano Giubbilei. In close succession, he will sign off: his first public park at Raby Castle (northern England), set inside monumental three-hundred-year-old hedges; a «major cohesive design» that will bring together lots of small plots at a private foundation in Dallas; an estate among the rolling vineyards of Formentera; and a residence for ceramicists in Majorca, aiming to encourage dialogue between creatives and, as a bonus, to enhance his green thinking. Then, in September, he will take over responsibility from Piet Oudolf for fitting out Piazza Vecchia for the Maestri del Paesaggio (‘Masters of Landscape’) festival in Bergamo, «bringing woods and undergrowth into the city». A resident of London since 1997, after graduating from the Inchbald School of Design, Giubbilei competed with his British colleagues Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart-Smith and Andy Sturgeon for glory on the European gardening scene. The difference is that Giubbilei is from Tuscany, and brings with him the great tradition of Italian-style Renaissance gardening. «They were born and brought up in the countryside, whereas I come from Siena, where there are no flowers to be seen, apart from geraniums on windowsills», the designer recounts, with a British accent. After opening his studio more than fifteen years ago, he designed sculptural spaces with precise lines, more architectural than horticultural. Immaculate lawns with no curves in sight, dense, neatly arranged flowerbeds, severely pruned trees, majestic topiary, courtyards and glittering pools. Open-air living rooms with the proportions, forms and even the colour combinations of indoor spaces, but which left the sensation of being in a natural environment intact. Then in 2011, at the height of his success, he had a crisis. «I had lost my direction. In spite of all the work I was doing, travelling from one project to another, I felt stuck». He decided to write to Fergus Garrett, the visionary head gardener at Great Dixter, a five-acre oasis in East Sussex, which gained fame in the 1970s and 1980s for its loud flora – giving legitimacy, among other things, to the ‘garish’ dahlia, which until then had been snobbishly associated with the working classes – and which provided the hippie response to the unshakeable fashion of the time for pastel shades. And in this cult location, Garrett gave the designer a small area of his own to experiment with, «to get back to basics», he explains. «I moved away from a more formal approach and began to appreciate the changes of the seasons. I understood that plants can exist only for a particular, short moment in time. They are not like a photograph, but are a form of progression. In other words, I learned the sole key virtue every gardener must have: patience». Everything he has done since, Giubbilei continues, he has looked at through the lens of Great Dixter, which kickstarted his re-education. For some, this has come as a shock. At the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show, the journalist covering the event for the Independent wrote that she wanted to pick up and take home the “creamy lupins”, blue iris and “green-yellow [...] spurge”. His first floral work, which won him his third gold medal at Chelsea, was, in his words, one of his most satisfying. Since then, from Morocco to Idaho, the ‘new Giubbilei’ has become acquainted with roses, cacti, hydrangeas, peonies and scenic umbellifers. «I don›t want to make formulaic gardens any more», he concludes. «I like what I›ve done and I›m proud of it, but I want to improve in an authentic manner. This means using the same vision and same clarity of design to create environments that match the spirit of places, keeping the overall composition and various viewpoints in mind at all times. As Garrett says, the flowers by themselves don›t do anything: the design is the most important thing.