Book Review: Luciano Giubbilei The Art of Making Gardens

I was very pleased to be sent a copy of the new book by Luciano Giubbilei to review.  I first became aware of Luciano's work at the 2011 RHS Chelsea Flower Show and so I was very interested when I heard about this book.
The book opens with two Forewards. One written by Sir Paul Smith and one written by Fergus Garrett.  I think the combination of these two Forewards is important as they set the tone for the book.  Sir Paul writes about fashion, about rules and how understanding the rules of  what you are doing as then you can play with them.  Fergus gives us the background of how Luciano came to spend time at Great Dixter, the main bulk of the book, and about how there was learning and benefit from both sides of this arrangement.  I think quite often people skip the Forewards in a book, for this book I think it vital that you do not.

I have to mention the photography by Andrew Montgomery, it is exceptional.  It gives that sense of place that is vital to Great Dixter and it also is stunningly beautiful.

Luciano begins by telling us that this book is not a 'how to' book, it is a personal account of the background of and his creative process and approach.  Part one of the book is about Luciano's time at Great Dixter and part two is about how Luciano feels it has influenced the 'new aesthetic' he feels is now emerging from his work.  Part three is about form and function, those design details that bring a garden together.  Thinking back to the two Forewards, this explains why the two aspects have to be considered.  Part of the book is about thinking and doing the practical side of horticulture, part of the book is about the rules and aspects of what makes design.

It has taken me a while to work my through this book;  it is not a quick read but also it was a book that I wanted to take my time over and understand.  It is, most importantly, a very good read.  It is written well and the  personal journey that Luciano has embarked upon at Great Dixter is written about with style and genuine affection.  For instance: Luciano talks about the drive from his home to Great Dixter.  He says "Without any doubt, I've had my best ideas in the car on the way home from Great Dixter.  My head buzzes with possibilities; I feel viscerally connected to my profession and alive with a sense of purpose." *  Can there be a better description of someone being inspired and energised?

The relationship between Fergus and Luciano also is clear in the book and also with the gardeners that Luciano worked with.  I love where Luciano relates that Fergus said of his border last year that it had 'good moments'.  That really made me smile, encouraging and yet clearly there was improvement to be had.  The improvements are described and all add to the learning journey that Luciano has embarked upon.  I also really like that there are chapters written by Luciano's colleagues at Great Dixter, there is an inclusive feel to this.

The main part of the book is about Luciano's time at Great Dixter and, as mentioned above, the other parts look at design aesthetics and craft.  At first it took me a whilst to understand how the book flows, it felt at first reading a bit like a book on Great Dixter with other bits added.  This is diminishing what this book is about.  There is a line in the book where someone says to Luciano that after reading this book that people will understand him (or words to that effect) and this is the key to the book.  It is about what matters to Luciano and informs his design, it is 'his' art of making gardens.

This book is rather special, it is unlike most books you might expect as it is mainly about a journey, a very personal journey.  This book is about a garden designer at the top of his game deciding not to go back to basics, as the type of gardening at Great Dixter is not the basics for garden design as such, no, Luciano decided to go and learn the real fundamentals of horticulture/gardening.  From the good sunny days when all is growing well to the rainy soggy slug-filled days when a warm office seems a better place.  The whole 'is a garden designer a gardener' dichotomy is implicit in this book and what Luciano has done has used the knowledge of dirt-filled fingernail gardening to inform his design.  The book is not putting one over the other, it is about understanding each in their place and how they can inform and support each other.  The relationship between design and horticulture in this book is not about dichotomy, it is portrayed as more homologous.

Do I even need to end this by saying I recommend this book? I truly loved this book.

Luciano Guibbilei: The Art of Making Gardens is published by Merrell 

* p.24