Interview - Luciano Giubbilei, garden designer and owner, Luciano Giubbilei Garden Design

Luciano Giubbilei, garden designer and owner, Luciano Giubbilei Garden Design - photo: HW
Luciano Giubbilei, garden designer and owner, Luciano Giubbilei Garden Design - photo: HW

Going against family tradition and exploring unfamiliar territory takes a strong will. But for Luciano Giubbilei - who began his working life in the family banking firm in Tuscany, Italy - the call to garden design was magnetic.

Now, in his RHS Chelsea Flower Show debut for Laurent-Perrier, his distinctive style is instantly recognisable.

"When I first started out there weren't many designers doing what I was doing," explains Giubbilei, who joined the Inchbald School of Design in London in 1994. "It wasn't a great time economically either, but I wanted to do these beautiful spaces with a lot of detail.

"There was a kind of revolution in 1996-2000 where outdoor spaces as an extension of the home changed from being an aspirational feature to something every family wanted. That allowed me to produce a portfolio of around 20 gardens in just four years."

Giubbilei has built up a reputation for his architecturally composed gardens, and it is precisely this style that will be apparent in his Chelsea garden, which aims to draw in visitors with a series of structured views.

He dismisses the often-repeated description of his gardens as minimalist, and explains the Chelsea design is based on strong classical traditions.

"It is very much a take on the classical, but arranged in a modern way," Giubbilei points out. "For example, the stone we have used is similar to that used in the Vatican."

Living in London, Giubbilei has neither the space nor the time for his own garden, but draws inspiration from the city's landscapes.

He explores the capital in true Italian fashion on a Vespa motorbike, drinking in the architecture and visiting art galleries and gardens.

"Coming from Tuscany, it takes a bit of time to warm up to London, but it becomes quite addictive once you do," laughs Giubbilei, who spends his spare time relaxing at the Chelsea Physic Garden. "Architecture has influenced the way we design outdoor spaces as well. It is all about the way we live now."

The partnership with Laurent-Perrier grew from an introduction made by Tom Stuart-Smith.

Laurent-Perrier's UK managing director David Hesketh told Giubbilei he had just two requirements for the garden design - it must be "sophisticated" and "understated".

"I felt great about it because it was such a good fit for me," Giubbilei says about this project.

"The framework of the garden is layers of hedges and blocks of hornbeam, separated by water."

Despite winning accolades for his design from landscaping bodies including BALI and the Association of Professional Landscapers, he reveals he still feels a bit nervous about the RHS flower show in May. "I don't really know what to expect," he says.

However, Giubbilei will be pushing himself to develop his style with the uncharacteristic use of flowers.

"Tom (Stuart-Smith) asked me why I don't just do one of my gardens, but I want to use this opportunity to develop something different," he says. "It is a flower show, after all, so I thought, 'I have to have flowers'."

The flowers in question are black-bearded Iris and claret-coloured peony and Astrantia, sourced from Crocus.

They will balance the formality of the design, which includes a rusted-steel sculpture from Nigel Hall and atmospheric lighting created by The Light Corporation.

"The way I designed the garden is very much about framing and composing," says Giubbilei. "It is like looking through a viewfinder and cropping images. Every element is equally important."

For those eager to follow Giubbilei's progress as Chelsea draws closer, he will be writing a regular blog for the BBC, as well as appearing as a speaker at the London College of Garden Design's Dream Gardens event on 25 April.

But despite the hype surrounding the show, there is life not only after but also during and before Chelsea.

Giubbilei is working on gardens in the US, France and Morocco and will be jetting to North Africa immediately after the show.

"I'm working on a very old, established olive grove in the Atlas Mountains," he tells HW. "I'm planting local grasses between the olives, as well as 4,000 Moroccan roses. I've got into flowers now."

Colleagues in the industry, including former tutor and RHS chief assessor Andrew Wilson, will undoubtedly be keen to see Giubbilei's creation at Chelsea.

He remains philosophical about the challenge ahead and says his contractors and those working on different elements of the garden have provided him with critical support.

"Sometimes you have to put things in perspective," explains Giubbilei.

"We have to be honest about what really goes on with the contractors, growers and other people sharing ideas and knowledge.

"Chelsea is about all the elements coming together as a team - it is not just about Luciano Giubbilei."

1994: Joins Inchbald School of Design
1996: Works with Anthony Paul Garden Design
1997: Sets up Luciano Giubbilei Garden Design
2001: BALI award for Best Residential Garden
2006: BALI award for Best Residential Garden
2007: Association of Professional Landscapers award - Supreme Winner
with Landform Consultants
2009: Designs Chelsea garden for Laurent-Perrier

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