Vialii Garden Design – How We Got To Where We Are… (Pt1)

Thursday, 03 February 2011

I was laying some Indian sandstone slabs the other day and in a moment of quiet reflection and whilst I gave my lower back a brief respite I got to thinking about how I ended up doing this? How did I end up not just building gardens but designing and building gardens? Before I go much further I would like clarify that my idle pondering was in no way negative. It wasn’t a case of my tired mind and midriff screaming “how the hell did I get HERE!” as grey rain poured down. It was more of a “I love what I do” kind of wondering as the winter sun warmed my face(1). Anyway, in case you’re interested, this is how we got to where we are…

A sandstone patio built by Vialii

A sandstone patio built by Vialii

I haven’t always done this. In a previous life I was a civil and structural engineer and before that I was a draughtsman. Structural engineering isn’t the most glamorous of professions; they don’t make movies about structural engineers(2) and you tend to live in the shadows of the all-powerful ethereal beings that are Architects but it had its rewards and not all of them were financial. In fact, barely any of them were. Unfortunately, over my last few years in the profession I slowly came to the conclusion that the career was no longer for me. The job wasn’t exciting me anymore and I couldn’t really see a way that it could get the blood flowing again so with a heavy heart and much trepidation I gave up, what many deemed, a perfectly good career.

How we got to where we are: My garden in Kennet

My garden in Kennet

I was a already a keen amateur gardener and enjoyed spending time tending and controlling my third of an acre plot but I had no inclination of setting up my own business when I gave up engineering. I had no inclination to do anything career-wise at that point. I spent the next three months catching up on various projects, both inside and out and had a thoroughly enjoyable time doing them too. I built a workshop, re-modelled areas of the garden, nurtured and harvested fruit and veg and planned for the next years harvest. When the projects were done, however, my thoughts turned to more long-term intentions.

Gardening, at this point, still wasn’t a forerunner as a career option although it was up there. Basically I had whittled things down to three choices(3). In no particular order, these were as follows:

1. Farrier – I owned a 16.2hh grey mare and loved all aspects of owning a horse so I seriously considered becoming a farrier. Trouble was the one year’s training and subsequent four years apprenticeship required to become one. Plus, it’s way harder on the back than gardening if you can believe that. Oh and you get kicked by horses…

My horse Meg

My horse Meg

2. Chef – I loved to cook, and still do I might add, so I had the whimsical notion to become a professional chef. It was only when I really got down to the nuts and bolts of it and I established that it would involve incredibly unsociable working hours, relentless pressure and a high cost to train. It didn’t take long to kick that one into touch.

3. Gardener – As mentioned earlier I already enjoyed gardening. I found it relaxing, therapeutic and incredibly satisfying, even after a hard days graft. My knowledge of horticulture was beginner but was always expanding. My equipment levels were adequate although some new acquisitions and upgrades would be required. I already had some startup capital behind me so it quickly became a no-brainer to setup a gardening business..

So, in early 2006, with vigour in my soul and enthusiasm in my heart I launched what was then called Wee County Gardening(4). A van and trailer were purchased, leaflets and business cards were printed, business courses were attended and word was passed around. I’d like to give a hearty thanks at this point to my friends and neighbours of the time as they did a great job with word-of-mouth promotion which allowed the business to quite quickly get established.

The Wee County Gardening van

The Wee County Gardening van

At it’s inception the business was purely garden maintenance. Whilst I would happily carry out all manner of landscaping in my own garden I lacked the confidence to carry out the work for others. I hugely undervalued my own skills to the point where I deemed them not worthy of paying customers. I passed on all manner of landscaping requests and basically talked myself out of a large chunk of turnover in that first 18 months of business. Doh!

The pivotal turning point for both myself and my business was in May 2007. On a starry Wednesday night, on Stirling Castle esplanade I met my now wife, Jill and I have no proper measure to tell you how much she has transformed both me and my business since that fateful evening.

We got married in our garden in 2010

We got married in our garden in 2010

Before I gush any more about my beloved I need to pause for a moment because as I read back over this post so far I realise two things. Firstly, my business has been going and growing now for over five years, Whoop, whoop indeed. Secondly, this blog post is getting a bit on the long side. So, with this second point in mind I have made the Tarantino-esque decision to split this epic into two separate, but equally enjoyable (hopefully) posts. It seems like a suitable cliffhanger type moment to bring this edition to a halt and I just hope that I’ve left enough mystery and intrigue to bring you back next time.

So without further ado I’ll sign off. Take care everybody and I’ll see you next time.

Michael

Vialii Garden Design

p.s. As I write this I’m listening to ‘Elephant’ by the White Stripes (in tribute to the news that they split yesterday)

Footnotes

(1) Please don’t be under the illusion that I have never screamed at the sky berating my choice of vocation. It happens on occasion especially when the grey rain pours down.

(2) Only two instances of structural-engineers-in-movies spring to mind.

i) Tim Robbins, posing as an engineer, played the delightfully evil terrorist mastermind Oliver Lang in 1999’s Arlington Road and

ii) my personal favourite, Johnson; the pale-faced, wire-rim spectacle wearing, structural engineer skulking in the shadows at a tiny square desk who informs Steve McQueen and Paul Newman that the floor joists in the Promenade Room can withstand the explosion of the water tanks in Irwin Allen’s classic “The Towering Inferno”.

(3) Technically there were four choices but “option 4 – returning to my earlier engineering career” has never really been an option I seriously considered.

(4) The ‘Wee County’ is Clackmannanshire and the business name gave the impression of a nice local gardening business. It worked well too.


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