Castle Kennedy Garden Visit

We are always looking for lovely new gardens to visit. Earlier this week, we spent a lovely day in Castle Kennedy Garden just outside Stranraer. The weather in Scotland hasn’t been of the highest quality of late but thankfully we arranged for some good weather to be delivered for our visit!

The ruins of Castle Kennedy

The ruins of Castle Kennedy

The garden is impressive although as is commonly the case we found ourselves there at the wrong time of the year. There are magnificent rhododendrons to behold but in September they are nothing but large green masses. To see this garden in late spring would be wonderful.

Cotinus catching the autumn sun...

Cotinus catching the autumn sun…

One of our favourite spots was the large circular pond, positively packed to the gunnels with water lilies. It was captivating. Every now and then the lilies would offer up a silent ripple of applause when a breeze passed and you find yourself staring for ages in the hope of seeing a frog hopping off a leaf back into the water or a dragonfly hovering. We loved it.

Masses of water lilies...

Masses of water lilies…

The walled garden was lovely, if a bit untidy. We’re perhaps being a tad unfair here as we’re to understand that all 75 acres of this estate is maintained by just two gardeners?! It shows unfortunately. There are signs all around of how things could be in better shape. The rhododendrons are both massive in size and in numbers and are in the process of swamping out everything else. The monkey puzzle trees are being crowded by their indigenous neighbours and some bold choices have to be made to return this garden to it’s former intended glory. Even the plant sale area is in need of some care and attention with plants for sale either passed their best or just leggy and unkempt. Really not appealing to potential plant purchasers.

The walled garden

The walled garden

You can’t help feeling that, with this garden, if all the small details were addressed then it would potentially attract increased visitors numbers which would generate more sales which in turn could be invested back into the gardens. They might be able to stretch to a third gardener too. All in all, if you are in the area we think Castle Kennedy is worth a visit. But if you only have limited time then definitely choose Logan Botanic Gardens or Glenwhan.

Thanks for reading

All at Vialii

Allanwater Herald

Bridge of Allan Community Council apply for funding to turn Vialii’s design for Provost’s Park into reality.

Allanwater Herald August 2012

The Green Roof Project…

From the outset we knew we needed a shed in our garden. Our garage is already burgeoning so some further storage was desperately required. We also knew that the shed would have to have a green roof. We don’t have a large garden but we try and make as best use of every available inch so by including a green living roof we could accommodate even more flowers in our modest plot.
Our shed with its green roof

Our shed with its green roof

Construction of the shed started some time ago. We originally posted about it back in September 2011 and whilst the shed has been completed for some time now we’ve only gotten round to writing about it today.

As mentioned in our earlier posting, the shed needed to be bespoke due to the awkward sized corner. We had acquired some very robust Canadian oak pallets which were ideal to provide a strong and sturdy structure necessary to support the weight of a green roof.

Pallets were used to create the structure

Pallets were used to create the structure

The walls were clad in a weatherproof ply skin and then dressed with horizontal softwood slats which have been pressure treated. The roof structure consisted of graded timber roof joists and a double sheeting of marine-grade plywood. Graded timber was then secured around the perimeter of the roof to form a reservoir for the growing medium.

The roof structure takes shape

The roof structure takes shape

The roof then needed to be waterproofed so a thick visqueen membrane was added and carefully cut to size and pinned to the perimeter timber. At this point we needed to consider how to drain the roof. We were reluctant to install a standard PVC downpipe as, quite frankly, we thought it would look rubbish. We opted instead for a drip-chain arrangement which involved feeding a chain through a pre-drilled hole in the low point of the roof structure. You tie a knot in the chain so it doesn’t fall all the way through the hole and then the chain the drapes down onto the gravel corner of the patio. When it rains, the water finds its way to the hole that the chain passes through and gently trickles down the chain into the gravel beneath. Simple, looks good and is quite the conversation piece too.

Weather-proofing is important

Weather-proofing is important

You not only require to consider what to do when things are wet but almost as important is what to do when things are dry. There’s not a great deal of growing medium on the roof so it has the potential to dry out pretty quickly. We included a double layer of thick cardboard at the base of the growing medium to hold onto valuable moisture and as we intended to grow alpines on the roof so we filled the roof with a fairly poor mix of topsoil, sand, grit and vermiculite. So that was that, job done. All that was left were the little details…

A spoon handle

A spoon handle

A chain down pipe

A chain down pipe

A cute bird box

A cute bird box

The completed shed

The completed shed

All at Vialii

Problem Corner…

A lot of garden design is about solving problems. The problems can be very subtle, like determining the best planting solution for a particular patch of the garden, or the problems can be pretty bloomin’ in-yer-face. This blog summarises a recent small ‘problem corner’ that we had been asked to rectify. The problem wasn’t particularly subtle but we hope that the solution was effective…

Problem corner: a sloping area with lots of roots and old bricks

Problem corner: a sloping area with lots of roots and old bricks

The problem corner

A bank of leylandii had been removed from an already small, sloping courtyard garden leaving an unsightly strip of sloping loose ground which was peppered with old bricks and blocks and hindered by the ample root network and stumps of the leylandii. The area was hard enough to get around on, nevermind establish any useful or maintainable border.

The solution

We constructed a new timber terrace using chunky treated softwood to create level areas which were much more accessible. The terraces were secured by the insertion of timber posts, strategically sunk and concreted amongst the burgeoning web of tree roots. Excavation was difficult but worthwhile in order to get enough support posts in at the required depth. The hard landscaping will be softened by planting.

Solution:raised beds create terracing ready for planting

Solution:raised beds create terracing ready for planting

If you have a problem area that you need tackled we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading

All at Vialii

Provost Park Design Approved

The Bridge of Allan Community Council have unanimously approved Vialii’s design for Provost Park in the heart of the village. After over a year of discussions and meetings the plans are now ready for Stirling Council and the daunting task of fund raising. But how did we get involved and get to where we are today with the project?…
The new design for Provost Park

The new design for Provost Park

Since the controversial new toilet block was finally completed in Bridge of Allan, the space around it, known as Provost Park, has largely been left untouched and is a sad space in an otherwise beautiful and prosperous village. The Provost Lamp has been renovated and given a new life but its surroundings have yet to be brought up to the same standard.

The park in its current state

The park in its current state

Vialii Garden Design were approached in late 2010 to discuss the possibility of being involved in the renovation of Provost Park. As a local company based in Bridge of Allan, we were delighted to be able to provide advice and designs to help the community.

It was in the middle of the cold snap last winter when we first met up with Gavin Drummond and Liz Rankin from the Community Council. They were putting up the village Christmas tree in the park to try and add some sparkle to what was otherwise an uninspiring space. At least the thick covering of snow hid the lack of interest underneath! At the meeting Liz and Gavin discussed some of the ideas that had been considered for the space and asked if we were able to pull together some thoughts.

From that meeting, we were able to go away and develop some concept drawings. This initial stage of the design process gives clients a couple of choices of what can be done with the space, and often clients choose bits from each and ask for these to be brought together. These were presented in February 2011. The concepts were discussed in detail and good feedback was provided. Vialii left copies of the drawings with Gavin and Liz so that further feedback could be gained from other community council members who were interested in the project. All this information was fed back to Vialii in June 2011, allowing them to move onto the final design pack.

Henderson Street 1899 Bridge of Allan

Henderson Street 1899 Bridge of Allan

In terms of inspiration and our choice of design style, there were three main requirements which jumped out at us from the outset. Firstly, the community required a practical area where they can relax and enjoy the world going by. The space needed to be usable by everyone in the community whether that’s families, couples or elderly so path widths and surfaces were important. Plentiful seating was clearly important too. Secondly, the area had to look good. Provost Park has been a contentious issue for some time and we need to address this and create a space to be proud of. It needed to be a space that would be easy to maintain too. Bridge of Allan is incredibly fortunate to have the Friends of Bridge of Allan, a local voluntary organisation who look after many of Bridge of Allan’s public gardens and carry out fantastic work in the community. We wanted to design a space that the Friends felt comfortable taking over once it was complete. It’s a great space, right in the middle of the village so it needed to have the “wow factor” and be fitting of its focal point in such an attractive village. Lastly, we were keen to reflect the Victorian inspiration which surrounds the park and the spa village and design a garden which would be appropriate for the space.

The type of Gazebo proposed for the new park

The type of Gazebo proposed for the new park

The main focal point for the design, along with the Provost Lamp, is a stunning, cast iron gazebo, situated in the centre of formal gardens. Victorians loved symmetry and topiary so we made sure these were key features of the space. Vintage style bricks edge wide pathways suitable for all members of the community. Wrought iron screens will surround the toilet block providing a nicer backdrop to the gardens and reflect the design of the gazebo as well as some details inspired by the village itself. In the corner closest to the toilets, an ecclesiastical garden is to be created, reflecting the park once being the site of a church. Liz has managed to obtain beautiful pew benches from one of the village churches which will sit in this area looking onto a centre bed of perfumed plants. The central focal point of this area will be the existing stone fountain which may be possible to be recommissioned as a working water feature. Behind, the embankment will be cleared and planted with a mix of feature trees and ground cover plants.

The wall which runs the length of Provost Park will boast new interpretation boards highlighting some of the key features and historical information about Bridge of Allan. To the front of the park, a grassy area has been included incorporating the popular annual flower bed and seats looking out to the street.

The mood board for the new design

The mood board for the new design

The planting is a mixture of formal topiary as well as smaller shrubs, bedding plants and bulbs. The aim is to keep the gardens fairly low maintenance to reduce pressure on the Friends of Bridge of Allan, who will take over responsibility for the garden once it is complete.

It’s been a delight to work with Gavin, Liz and the team and we are honoured to have been asked to be involved in such an important project and to be able to give something back to the community. We love the final design and were delighted to hear such positive feedback from the community during the recent consultation. We look forward to seeing the actual gardens being constructed in due course but the real icing on the cake will be seeing local residents and visitors using and enjoying the space.

All at Vialii

How We Got To Where We Are – Part 2

In February 2011 I wrote a blog post detailing how we got to where we are here at Vialii Garden Design. The post was getting a bit lengthy so I opted to round the post off and promised to follow up with Part 2. A mere 10 months later Part 2 is finally here. Apologies for the delay.

How we got to where we are: We are lucky to have a job where we can transform gardens

We are lucky to have a job where we can transform gardens

In a similar vein to the beginning of an episode of the compelling, if somewhat confusing, TV series ‘Lost’, we shall start by saying in a deep and gravelly voice “Previously on Vialii Garden Design”. Then we run through an abridge version of what went before.

Motivation

A good friend’s mum sadly passed away last summer. She was a lovely woman who was taken too young and is sorely missed. It brought to mind however something that I’d neglected to elaborate on in the first part of this tale. It was the untimely passing of my own mum(1) that caused me to assess my life choices and ultimately spurred me on to quit my engineering job. My mum’s death caused me to think long and hard about what I wanted from my life and how I wanted to go about it. I asked myself if I was happy in what I was doing. The answer was no.

In retrospect I now question whether or not I was thinking 100% rationally though. It’s not a stretch to think that I was perhaps suffering from some level of depression which would naturally cause me to question my happiness at work. Whatever the reasons though, the decision I made was the decision I made and thankfully my chosen path has been more successful than I could ever have imagined, and in so many more ways than just financial.

Teetering steps into garden design

I had started offering garden designs to clients as freebies towards the end of 2006. I loved the planning of gardens, studying the practicalities of space and solving the client’s garden issues. I enjoyed sketching the proposals and then pulling together the final CAD drawings and deemed it as more of a hobby than a paying business.

In May 2007 I met my now wife, Jill. Obviously, we share many interests and passions (otherwise the wedding would have been a big mistake) but foremost amongst these is a love of gardens and gardening. Prior to us getting together Jill already enjoyed gardening. So much so, in fact, she had undertaken a Diploma in Garden Design.

Jill and I on our wedding day, in our garden of course!

Jill and I on our wedding day, in our garden of course!

We started considering the design of gardens together and it soon became apparent that we worked really well as a team and that there was potential in pursuing garden design more formally. We planned things carefully, created a dedicated website and launched Vialii Garden Design as a separate service from the garden maintenance business. More importantly, we agreed a pricing structure for the garden design work. As opposed to offering free designs with the hope that this would lead to the garden build we opted to offer designs for an agreed fee with the client having no obligation to use Vialii Garden Design for the build (although we obviously hoped they would). As it transpires, the process of getting to know clients and their gardens and, more importantly, having the clients get to know us has resulted in the majority of our gardens leading to builds too.

One of our garden designs

One of our garden designs

[[image:blog/blog-review2012-2.jpg=One of our garden designs]]

Why we work

Jill and I have found a delightful balance with our approaches to garden design. As I also build gardens, I tend to plan a garden with a practical mind (sometimes too practical). Jill, however, approaches a garden with a more conceptual, creative take on things. What tends to happen is that we meet somewhere in the middle putting together designs that are both well-planned but have a real style and character.  Jill encourages me to learn new skills and to have confidence in my own abilities.

Some four and a half years on now, we have formally separated the design and landscaping business from the maintenance business(2). We have designed and built some thirty gardens and have gotten to know some lovely families along the way. We still love the challenge and process of garden designing and still take immense satisfaction upon completion of a build. We’re constantly looking for ways to stretch ourselves, in both design and landscaping. We still get nervous when we present initial concepts to clients and are delighted that our proposals really hit the mark.

One of the many gardens we have designed and built

One of the many gardens we have designed and built

The future

In the immediate future, our lives are going to be turned upside down with the arrival of our first child (and Vialii’s latest apprentice!) sometime in January. It’s another challenge that we’re both relishing and cannot wait for the adventure to begin. If that wasn’t going to make us busy enough we hope to continue the steady growth of all facets of the business. We’re hoping to recruit new team members for both the maintenance and landscaping side of things, a new van needs to be purchased and we’re setting targets to continue to grow the businesses steadily. It’s all very exciting. I’ll try to keep you posted on how we get on.

Thanks for reading.

Michael & all at Vialii

 

(1)     Elizabeth Ann Maxwell Burt was 54 when she succumbed to the ravages of kidney cancer. I still miss her terribly…

(2)     On paper, garden maintenance and garden landscaping are fairly similar but in practise they are distinctly different business models which necessitated the separation of the businesses.