Back in the 1930s, English architect Cecil Pinsent wrote that contemporary gardens “should give the impression of a house extended into the open air.” The exemplar, he argued, was Tuscany’s illustrious Villa Gamberaia, where virtual rooms—enclosed by dense hedges, carpeted with emerald turf or inset with shimmering pools, and punctuated by majestic topiaries—roll out from the façades. Few landscape designers working today have heeded Pinsent’s directive quite as magnificently as Luciano Giubbilei, the London-based mastermind of sculptural yet sybaritic environments as far afield as Morocco and Idaho, many of them conceived to encourage relaxing, dining, and entertaining from dawn’s early light until well after sunset.
“When I started out designing gardens, I always had community in mind, creating places that are fundamentally connected to your living space, where you share food and gather with loved ones,” says the Siena, Italy, native, who spent six months in his 20s working at Villa Gamberaia as a volunteer groundskeeper. More than two decades on, he heads a five-member studio with offices at London’s Imperial Laundry, a Victorian complex where royal unmentionables were once washed. The firm’s output is prodigious and diverse, ranging from vest-pocket urban parcels to rural expanses. A dozen creations are explored in The Gardens of Luciano Giubbilei (Merrell, $70), a 2010 book by garden designer and writer Andrew Wilson that is now being rereleased. Manifest in its pages are such Giubbilei hallmarks as green palettes, layouts drawn from a building’s architectural lines, and monumental special effects. It’s a recipe that Avery Agnelli—she and her partner, hairstylist John Frieda, are longtime clients—says results in Edens that are “pure and beautiful, very calming, and easy to maintain.”
For a project at a London townhouse, yews clipped into massive rectangles are lined up colonnade-style, framing an impeccable tapis vert that is reached by ascending a broad flight of limestone steps. At a neoclassical mansion on the Wentworth Estate—a deluxe development in Surrey, England, where the Sultan of Brunei and Elton John have lived—Giubbilei planted rows of plane trees so radically pruned that their branches resemble Gothic fan vaulting. Star jasmine is coaxed into freestanding walls for screening unwanted views and filtering harsh sunlight, as seen on the wraparound terrace of a Barcelona penthouse. Collaborating with Giubbilei on these commissions is a worldwide network of craftsmen and artists who devise bespoke furnishings, lighting, and sculptural elements, as well as regional plant specialists who counsel Giubbilei on what is horticulturally possible when he takes on a job in an unfamiliar clime.
Increasingly the designer has been stepping out of his verdant comfort zone. One reason, he admits, is that “for a long time I never felt confident working with flowers.” In 2012 Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter, the acclaimed East Sussex estate, gave Giubbilei a border so he could toy with color combinations and broaden his cultivation skills. That experiment has been a game changer. Last June at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, Giubbilei unveiled an exhibition garden that was a startling personal departure, its geometric greenery romanced by 20.5-foot-long beds foaming with milky lupines, purple irises, acid-yellow spurge, and more. “I wanted to pick up the whole flower border and take it home,” raved garden correspondent Anna Pavord in The Independent. The installation was named Best in Show and received a gold medal—Giubbilei’s third Chelsea gold and, he says, a most gratifying one.
“We don’t want to continue doing gardens as a formula,” explains the designer, who is preparing a new book (“it’s more about process and will focus on two very different projects”) to be published next year. “We love what we’ve done and feel proud of it but also want to improve what we do in a way that’s authentic. It’s all about employing the same vision and amount of control to create a garden that belongs to its location.”
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