Profile: Luciano Giubbilei

Garden designer Luciano Giubbilei doesn’t do flowers or perennial borders, but that hasn’t stopped him being a hit at Chelsea Flower Show. Hannah Booth admires his neatly clipped, manicured spaces for the uber-wealthy

A garden designer who has never, ‘not ever’, gardened with flowers may seem unusual. And for that designer to be commissioned by Laurent-Perrier to design its high-profile show garden at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show would probably seem like madness.

But Luciano Giubbilei is a fast learner. ‘I have been spending a lot of time with the experts at [plant specialist] Crocus, the nursery that works with Laurent-Perrier. It’s really changing the way I design,’ he says. He had to do his homework – the head honchos at the champagne house said to him, ‘No flowers, no go’, he says in his Italian-ish English.

Giubbilei is stepping into the shoes of Tom Stuart-Smith – who, along with Andy Sturgeon and Dan Pearson, is probably one of the best-known garden designers in the business. Stuart-Smith has designed the Laurent-Perrier garden for several years, winning Gold and Best in Show at this year’s show. Giubbilei is excited about the fuss surrounding Chelsea, and looking forward to proving his credentials and raising his profile further – the show is the biggest catwalk of the year. He has already finished the design work. Details, of course, are under wraps – the gold medal is hotly contested every year – but he says visitors can expect clean lines, water, art and, naturally, flowers.

‘The recommendation from Stuart-Smith influenced my decision to work with Luciano,’ says Laurent-Perrier managing director David Hesketh. ‘But meeting him at the show this year I felt he had an empathy for the brand. The 2009 garden will be different- it’ll be slightly more formal than previous gardens.’

Giubbilei has made his name designing gardens with clean lines. For his roster of extremely wealthy private clients in Kensington, Chelsea and as far afield as Beverly Hills, he designs gardens as interiors for the outside – immaculate square lawns, rows of neatly structured hedges, clipped trees, patios and strategic lighting, with not a curve in sight. In some cases, clients don’t want any soil on show. His gardens are extensions of rooms, often following the same proportions, lines and even colour schemes.

‘Everything, from the spacing between trees to the lighting, is mathematically worked out,’ he says. Sometimes clients take things too far even for Giubbilei. ‘One rejected a tree because its trunk wasn’t completely straight. It can be challenging,’ he says. His gardens are, unsurprisingly, high maintenance – well, someone’s got to keep those hedges neat – something he always makes sure clients understand before he starts work.

This formal approach goes against the current trend, seen for the past few years at Chelsea, for wild, natural gardens with woodland foliage, meadow grasses and ferns. But his gardens are all designed to fit the context they are in, taking into account the surrounding trees and skyline. As a result, his clipped hedges and straight lines tend to be softened by the neighbouring trees.

For someone so anti-floral, it’s no surprise that Giubbilei’s influences are interior design and architecture. ‘Like interior designers, I consider the texture, style, colour and atmosphere of my gardens, and particularly how people might interact with the space,’ he says.

Sculpture and outdoor furniture are important components, with pieces of art often forming the centrepiece of a garden. Sometimes, a client will approach him with a sculpture they’ve already bought and ask him to design a garden around it. Or he collaborates with sculptors, artists and furniture-makers to create bespoke pieces. He has just started to branch out, gingerly, into furniture himself, designing a table and dining chairs for a recent private client in Holland Park. ‘Our next step will be to employ a product designer,’ he says. The studio is currently seven-strong.

Giubbilei was born in Tuscany in 1971, moving to London 12 years ago to study garden design at the Inchbald School of Design. He established his practice, Luciano Giubbilei, in 1997, swiftly making good contacts, crucially not just in garden design, but in interiors too. By the late 1990s he was collaborating with then-rising design stars Kelly Hoppen and Michael Reeves.’They really helped me out,’ he says. Gardens are simply rooms. I’m really just an interior designer, outdoors.’ Prehaps Giubbilei is a newbreed – exterior designer. You read it here first.

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