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