Design A Small Courtyard Garden

We recently went on holiday to York and stayed in a beautiful townhouse just outside the City Walls. The garden was very small but it showed how a small garden can still be cleverly designed to create a lush green space where you can relax. Here are a few tips on how to design a small courtyard garden.

Seating area

As with all gardens, you will need somewhere to relax and enjoy the space around you. With a small garden it’s extra important that this space is well designed so that it’s not too small and you can’t fit furniture on it properly but equally not too big and taking over the whole space and not allowing room for anything else.

A carefully selected dining set allows you to eat outdoors.

A carefully selected dining set allows you to eat outdoors.

Work vertically

With limited horizontal space, make sure you use the vertical space in whatever way you can. Add climbers, a green wall, tall planting, hanging baskets, trellis. Just max out the space as much as you can.

Add lush planting which adds height and trellis to cover the boundaries

Add lush planting which adds height and trellis to cover the boundaries

Harmonise materials

Clever use of materials will make the garden feel harmonious and not too busy, allowing you to relax and enjoy the garden.

Brick edging to the patio ties in with the brick boundary wall.

Brick edging to the patio ties in with the brick boundary wall.

Use mirrors

Mirrors are a great way to make a small garden look bigger and reflect light around a potentially darker space.

Mirrors are great for small gardens

Mirrors are great for small gardens

Go large

In a small space it can be easy to think you should just add a few small plants but it’s actually the opposite. Add large plants and lots of plants. The garden will immediately feel lovely and lush. Little tricks such as removing foliage from lower down the plant can create a strong look and help in a smaller space.

Add LOTS of planting and planters and make the space feel lush and green

Add LOTS of planting and planters and make the space feel lush and green

A great example of how even tiny gardens can be a wonderful oasis in the city.


Book Review: “Thoughtful Gardener” by Jinny Blom

The title of this new gardening book perfectly encapsulates Jinny Blom – the Thoughtful Gardener. With a previous background in psychology Jinny calls on her experience when creating her own, unique outdoor spaces for clients and breathing life into her gardens. But is her new book worthy of space on your burgeoning book shelves? And would you like to win a copy?!

The Thoughtful Gardener

Perhaps rather than taking up space on your book shelves, this book could take pride of place on your coffee table? First impressions are of a beautiful, tasteful book on garden design at a higher level than some we have read.

Jinny of course is an award winning garden designer so any work she produces is worth indulging in and this book is no different. As you would expect, the photography is exemplary. There are page after page of stunning stone villas with grand gardens to match and rustic walls with romantic planting. It is wonderful to see gardens from around the world and feels like you are being whisked away as you flick through the pages.

The Thoughtful Gardener

Each chapter is introduced in a way that draws on Jinny’s psychology background and asks for you to consider elements carefully. These are tied in with a simple yet effective line drawing.

Jinny talks through the process of garden design from walking the area, drawing the garden, planning a layout, considering all the elements (from sun to earth to water) and of course plenty advice on planting.

This is a book for serious gardeners and designers. If you love gardens you will love indulging in these pages. It has quite a traditional feel to the garden with more of a focus on rustic gardens and romantic planting.

The Thoughtful Gardener

Thanks to the lovely people at Quarto we have a copy of “The Thoughtful Gardener” to give away to one of our lucky readers. To enter please enter your details below. The winning entry will be announced on Easter Monday! :

The Thoughtful Gardener is out now on hardback, RRP £35.

Thanks for reading,

All at Vialii

Book Review: “Urban Flowers” by Carolyn Dunster

In recent years there has been a lot of focus on urban gardening and creating gardens whatever space you have. From rooftop terraces to vertical gardens there are always ways to create wonderful gardens wherever you are. In our last blog, “Small Garden, Big Ideas” we shared our top tips for urban gardening. In our latest blog we review some urban flower tips from Carolyn Dunster in her new book “Urban Flowers”…

Urban Flowers by Carolyn Dunster

This book is crammed full of wonderful photography by Jason Ingram and is full of inspiration for adding flowers to your urban garden. Who knew that a plastic washing up bowl could be a gorgeous planter? And there are some lovely tips to make your drain pipe look a lot more interesting.

pretty flowers in a washing bowl

If you are looking to completely overhaul your space, Carolyn gives lots of tips on how measure your space, plan your garden and things to consider. She explains all sorts of gardening including container planting, vertical planting and showcases lots of different styles.

There are pages crammed full of different colour palettes to help you make a cohesive display through planting. She also touches on the importance of trees and why they should be a consideration in gardens.

Colour palettes in planting

To further your skills, there are sections on how to grow plants from seeds and bulbs as well as considering scented or therapeutic plants in your garden. There are even some recipes tucked at the back to take your garden flowers to a new level!

Whatever your skill level and garden knowledge there will be something useful to take from this book. It is easy to flick through and pick out bits of interest and it’s the sort of book you will return to again and again for inspiration.

Packed full of lovely images


If you are interested in gardens and dabbling a bit more then this book should be on your reading list. And as it happens, we have one to give away. Just fill out the form below and we will pick a winner on 18th April 2017. Good luck!

Urban Flowers is published by the lovely people at Frances Lincoln and is available in hardback for £20 from 6th April 2017.

All at Vialii

Our Pick of Unusual Planters

Planters are a great way to add colour and panache to any garden, however big or small. They can also help to deal with all sorts of issues including soil quality, pests, access. But a planter need not be as simple as just a run-of-the-mill pot that you see at the garden centre. From floating planters to upside down pots and even planters that send messages to your smart phone, we have some of the latest, coolest ways to garden…

The Sky Planter

Growing plants upside down – awesome!

The LYFE planter

We SO want one of these. LYFE is a zero-gravity growing system allowing you to cultivate your favourite plants in mid-air. Yup, mid air! They are designed in Sweden and use magnetic levitation to literally hover in mid-air. They are currently raising funds through Kickstarter…

LYFE planter

The Lyfe planter levitates!


The Foody

We are currently trialling this revolutionary growing system which allows you to grow fruit, veg and flowers in a limited space using 90% less water than traditional growing methods. It is very stylish too and will look great on a patio, deck or balcony.

Lulu and The Foody

Lulu and The Foody

Plug & Plant

This is a stylish new interconnecting system which you can plant up for culinary or decorative purposes. Create a wonderful vertical garden in your kitchen with year round access to fresh herbs. Maybe have a flower wall in your living room. Or add it to your fence to create a green wall outside. The Plug & Plant even has a sensor which will send a message to your smartphone to tell you when it needs watered! Impressive!

Plug and plant

Plug & Plant to create a wonderful vertical garden

Sky Planter

Are you bored with your plants going traditionally in pots on the patio? The Sky Planter could be the answer to your dreams. It is a unique pot which grows the plant upside down allowing you to save space and conserve water as well as creating an amazing talk point in your home.

Sky planter

Upside down plants. What a wonderful focal point in a room.

The Greenbo Planters

If you have some boring railings which need brightening up then consider the Greenbo Planter. It can fit all shapes of railings up to 10cm wide and is self mounting. It is also non drip and recycles the water too. Plus it comes in gorgeous bright colours!


Brighten up your railings or fence with these gorgeous planters

Hopefully you are feeling inspired to do a bit of gardening and brighten up your own homes.

Thanks for reading

All at Vialii


When Should You Commission A Garden Designer?

It’s that wonderful time of year when the sun has started to shine, kids are out playing in the street, the evenings are stretching longer every day and flowers, leaves and blossom are unfurling everywhere. And with that, our phone and email are going like tickets for an Adele concert with enquiries from people wanting their garden done. So when is the right time to to commission a garden designer?…

Commission a garden designer at Vialii

One of our recent garden designs


Well, obviously we are delighted to hear from you all year round. The most difficult thing we have to deal with at this time of year (other than a massive workload and two energetic under-5s!) is managing clients’ expectations in terms of time-scales. Every year we know that as soon as the sun shines the phone will ring with people wanting their garden transformed before summer and sadly, we can rarely work to those time-scales. So here are a few tips on when is best to commission a garden designer and some info on our process…

Art deco summerhouse

Creating a magical garden takes time

The optimum time to get in touch with us is in Autumn. Take the summer to spend lots of time in your garden, take notes of what you like (and don’t like). Where are the sunny areas? What plants do you want to keep? What do you want to include in the garden and use it for? A good designer will be booked up several weeks (or at this time of year a few months!) ahead so figure that into your schedule. A well considered design will be created over 6-12 weeks ensuring we have covered every detail and ticked all of your boxes. By taking our time over the design process we will have an opportunity to build up an even better working relationship and make sure you are happy through every stage of the design and build.  Our in-house landscaping team are commonly booked up three months in advance too (they are pretty wonderful so you can understand why!) so if you allow six months before you want your garden build to commence then you should have plenty of wiggle room.

Garden design by Vialii

Perfecting your garden design takes time

As well as a “masterplan”, there are often other drawings which need to be pulled together including construction drawings, lighting layouts and planting plans. There are no “back of a fag packet” sketches to be seen around these parts!

At all stages of your design we will keep you posted on our landscaping schedule so you will have an idea of when the build is likely to take place. We will keep you posted on costs too so you can decide if you want to phase your garden build or do it all at once.

There may be third party elements to your garden build which we need to factor in as well. Items such as sculptures, water features, bespoke gates etc will all have lead times which need to be considered.

Sculpture by Steve James

An amazing sculpture by Steve James going into one of our garden designs

In some gardens we may even have to get planning permission which can easily add another 8-12 weeks to your lead times.

So there is a lot to consider when you are thinking about when to commission a garden designer and we want to ensure that such an exciting journey meets your expectations every step of the way. We are incredibly lucky to have wonderful clients who are very patient and are happy to wait for our services. We would be delighted to help you too, just don’t ask us to come round tomorrow 😉

All at Vialii

Stirling News

It’s not just gardens that we are talented at designing, we can design new ice-creams too!


Stirling News May 2015

Bridge of Allan Times

An article on the official opening of Provost’s Park which Vialii designed and which was opened by our very own Lulu.


Bofa Times Winter 2014

When Is A Good Time To Think About A Garden Design?

We often have clients asking when is a good time to think about a garden design. And while the answer to that is pretty much anytime there are some perfect times of the year to get the ball rolling…

When is the right time to think about a garden design

Our garden designs are drawn up in CAD then hand coloured

Many clients apologise for contacting us in the heart of Winter and think it is silly to be discussing gardens when the weather is often so bad outside. But Winter and Spring can be the perfect time to start the ball rolling with your garden design

How long will a design take?

The design process can take up to a few months to complete depending on the complexity of the garden. At our initial consultation we will discuss ALL your requirements (many of which you will not have considered) so that we know exactly how you want to use the garden, who will use it and some of the features and plants you like (or sometimes more importantly, those you don’t like!)

Our designs create journeys and interest around the garden

Our designs create journeys and interest around the garden

What is the design process?

We will then take time to come up with a few concepts and then meet up to discuss these with you. This interim meeting will discuss costs, materials and various aspects of the design. From there we will do our final drawings, moodboard and our collate the build costs. Doing a design takes time to ensure we get the garden which is right for that particular client and also for that specific garden and its setting. We need to consider topography, soil type, existing features and planting, surrounding landscapes, access and much more before finalising our designs. All of our designs are drawn up on CAD to ensure accuracy and then hand coloured for a more natural finish.

A moodboard shows the inspiration for the design, materials, features and planting proposed

A moodboard shows the inspiration for the design, materials, features and planting proposed

Allow time for our landscaping team

The client also needs to factor in that all good landscapers should already have several projects on their books which means they won’t be able to start your garden straight away. At Vialii our outdoor team are usually pre-booked for 2-3 months on build projects so by contacting us in winter/spring you are much more likely to have your garden designed and built by summer so you can enjoy it in the good weather. Although we can’t guarantee the good weather!

One of the many gardens which we have successfully designed and lovingly built over the years

One of the many gardens which we have successfullyOne of the many gardens which we have successfully designed and lovingly built over the years designed and lovingly built over the years

That said we design and build gardens all year round. And we mean all year! Unless the weather is incredibly bad we will be out there all through the year transforming gardens.

So really, no time is too early a time to think about a garden design. If you are considering a new look to part or all of your garden for this year, get in touch and we will be round to take those first steps with you.

All at Vialii

Bridge of Allan Times

Our article on the re-design of Provost’s Park in Bridge of Allan.

BofA Times Winter 2013

Stirling News

Work on Provost’s Park which Vialii designed finally gets underway after several years of designing, consulting and fund raising for the make-over.


The Benefits of Using A Garden Designer

Despite what the weather may be telling us, Spring officially starts this week which for many of us means that our thoughts move to our outdoor spaces. Gardens are an important additional space to our homes and, with some clever garden design, can bring years of joy. Here are some of the benefits of using a garden designer…

A relaxing, family garden we designed and built in Bridge of Allan. One of the benefits of using a garden designer

A relaxing, family garden we designed and built in Bridge of Allan

But why me?

Our lives are constantly changing and with that the ways in which we use our gardens have to adapt:

Whatever your requirements, a garden designer can create a unique space which meets your needs.

A timber feature in a garden we designed and built in Stirling

A timber feature in a garden we designed and built in Stirling

Unusual Ideas

A garden designer will look at unique ways to meet your needs without ruining the aesthetic. A low maintenance garden doesn’t need to be just gravel and a few concrete slabs. And a child friendly garden shouldn’t just be a piece of lawn and a plastic chute. There are much more engaging, innovative ideas which can be employed in your garden and they need not cost the earth either, either financially or environmentally. We have lost count of how many clients have said “we would never have thought of that” when discussing concepts for their garden.

The full colour design for a garden which we designed in Bridge of Allan

The full colour design for a garden which we designed in Bridge of Allan

Comprehensive Advice

All good garden designers will be able to talk knowledgeably about all areas of a garden including planting that suits your climate, aspect and soil, hard landscaping to suit your requirements and budget and technical requirements such as drainage, lighting, retaining walls etc. Ensuring materials are local and environmentally friendly wherever possible should be second nature to a garden designer.

A terraced garden using sleepers for a softer, more natural look. Designed and built by Vialii

A terraced garden using sleepers for a softer, more natural look. Designed and built by Vialii

Other benefits include:

A contemporary boardwalk and bespoke deck with in-built seating in a garden in Bridge of Allan. Designed and built by Vialii

A contemporary boardwalk and bespoke deck with in-built seating in a garden in Bridge of Allan. Designed and built by Vialii

But why Vialii?

Vialii Garden Design (VGD) is a young and innovative design and landscaping company, based in Bridge of Allan, near Stirling, with lots of fresh ideas to make your garden look stunning without costing the earth. We love visiting the big flower shows such as Chelsea and finding ways of incorporating the latest trends into gardens at affordable prices.

We are fully qualified – Jill has a Diploma in Garden Design and is a Friend of the Society of Garden Designers – and fully insured.  Michael is a qualified structural engineer, a great help in both the design and build of our gardens.

Unusually for garden designers, at Vialii Garden Design we can offer an in-house landscaping service so that we can ensure that the design, which we have so carefully crafted in close collaboration with yourselves, is not compromised in any way when it is built. There are no external contractors who may suggest a change here or a different material there to suit their own skill sets and no other contractors you need to liaise with.

Where other designers may charge for initial consultations, we offer this service for FREE. As a small company, we pride ourselves in excellent customer service and we will endeavour to ensure you are comfortable and happy throughout the whole experience.

VGD’s sister company, Vialii Garden Services, offer a full maintenance package should that be required too, ensuring your garden continues to look exactly as it did when it was brand new. Basically, we love gardens so much there isn’t a job in them that we aren’t prepared to do for you!

Jill, Michael and Lulu relaxing in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Jill, Michael and Lulu relaxing in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Spring is the perfect time to get in touch and start the design process as it means we can have your garden designed and built for the height of the summer in most instances. The only thing we can’t guarantee you in your lovely new garden is the weather!

Hope to hear from you,

Jill, Michael, Lulu and all the Vialii team

Vialii Review of 2012

As we venture into 2013 it’s time for a step back and a review of 2012. 2012 was an enormous year for Vialii Garden Design. On February 2nd the business was given an injection of youth and vitality when we welcomed aboard our newest ‘recruit’, our baby daughter Lulu Ann Burt.

A Japanese garden we designed and built in 2012

A Japanese garden we designed and built in 2012

Life with Lulu

Lulu’s certainly livened up the business side of things although it has got us wondering what we did with our time before Lulu came on the scene. There have been adjustments to the way we operate but, to be honest, these have been for the better. Prior to Baby Burt we would utilise a lot of spare time doing business stuff. Now we prioritise our family time but ensure that we work cleverly with what other time we have in order to keep the business thriving.

Designing Gardens

Designing gardens allows us to meet some lovely people and this year has been no exception. Everybody is different as is every garden we have been asked to design, but the common theme has been an enjoyment of gardens and a desire to enjoy them more.

It’s been an incredibly busy year too with some twelve garden designs commissioned and nine garden builds undertaken which has been a challenging but rewarding. The weather hasn’t been particularly kind (1) and has hindered some of our projects but most of our challenges have been set by ourselves.

Review of 2012: Our design for an Arts & Crafts garden in Perth

Our design for an Arts & Crafts garden in Perth


We have been commissioned to design gardens that have presented their share of difficulties in their own right whether they be sloping ground, incredibly boggy or out-and-out jungles (or all three in the case of one garden!). We have also endeavoured to stretch ourselves by included elements into our gardens that aren’t necessarily the most straightforward to build but represent a great solution to a particular problem.

The details at Glenwhan are superb...

The details at Glenwhan are superb…

Visiting Gardens

It hasn’t all been work though. We’ve visited our fair share of gardens too with our favourite probably being closely contested by An Cala on Seil Island near Oban and Glenwhan Gardens in Galloway.

Lovely wire sheep keeping the grass down at An Cala

Lovely wire sheep keeping the grass down at An Cala

All in all it has been a bumper year and we hope it continues. We’d like to thank all our clients for entrusting us with their gardens and we hope they enjoy using them as much as we enjoyed designing and building them.

Looking Forward To 2013

Looking forward to 2013 our plan is to build on the successes of previous years and grow the business further and we’re looking forward to the challenges that come with that. We’re keen to bring motivated and skilled individuals on board in order that we can reduce the turnaround times on garden builds. Plus we’re honing our processes in the design office too.

We’re both excited about this year’s 100th anniversary Chelsea Flower Show and are confident it will be one of the best yet. Having missed it in 2012 due to Lulu arriving in town we are super keen to get there this year. It has it’s detractors and we can understand some of the criticisms it receives but it’s an amazing garden spectacle and is truly inspirational. We love it!

The Vialii Garden Design team!

The Vialii Garden Design team!

Most of all we’re looking forward to spending more time in our own garden with our little Lulu. She spent a great deal of last year just watching us garden but this year we’re going to get her mucking in. It’ll be a blast!

May this coming year be a prosperous one for you all.

Speak soon,

Michael, Jill & Lulu

1. This may be regarded as the understatement of the year but we endeavour not to bemoan what our climate throws at us too much. We live in Scotland after all and with that comes weather. As they say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”.

The Garden Design Process Explained

At Vialii Garden Design, we understand what a daunting prospect it can be embarking on getting your garden designed and landscaped. We will endeavour to make you comfortable through every stage of the process and keep you well informed of what is happening and what to expect. We will discuss the process in greater detail at the initial meeting but here is our ten step guide to having your garden transformed…

A new deck which we designed and built, part of the garden design process

A new deck which we designed and built

1. Contact us

Contact us to arrange the initial, FREE, no obligation meeting at a time that suits you, including evenings and weekends. It is most helpful if you can give some thought to your garden before we come. Talk to everyone in your household and ask what they want and will be using the garden for. Consider how much time you want to give to the maintenance of your garden, What do you like or dislike, what styles do you like. Collate images from magazine or the internet and look at the Styles section of our website for ideas of the types of things you like. Don’t worry if you really don’t know as we will have lots of ideas to discuss with you.

One of our garden designs

One of our garden designs

2. Free Initial consultation

At the initial meeting we will discuss your requirements and what you want to use the garden for. We will also assess the site (test the soil, look at the aspect, drainage etc.) and take measurements as well as present our portfolio of designs. We will also discuss your budget as well as talk you through the process in more detail and discuss timescales.

3. Quote for Design

Following on from the initial meeting, we will send you a quotation for doing your design.

4. Appointment Agreement

You sign our “Design” Appointment Agreement form and we proceed with your design.

5. Interim Design Meeting

There will be a second meeting to present our initial ideas and rough sketches. Once we get feedback from you we can then carry on with the full design.

6. Final Design Package

The full design, drawn to scale, is completed along with a mood board showing our inspiration as well as a feel for both the soft and hard landscaping to be used in the design. Costs for the works to be completed by Vialii Garden Design are included.

7. Payment for Design

You finalise payment for the design and ask Vialii Garden Design to build your design and sign the “Build” Appointment Agreement (should that be your requirement).

Our moodboards help you visualise your design

Our moodboards help you visualise your design

8. Garden Build

Vialii Garden Design build the design, ensuring the concept is fully carried out through the build, bringing your design to life. Some payment is required up front to cover materials with the balance due on completion.

9. Plant Care Sheet

A care sheet for all your new plants is provided to make it easy for you to identify everything and care for your new garden properly.

10. Payment for Build

You finalise payment for the build and ask our sister company,Vialii Garden Services, to maintain your garden ensuring it remains beautiful and true to the design (should that be your requirement).

One of the many gardens which we have lovingly designed and built

One of the many gardens which we have lovingly designed and built

As you can see, we can offer you the full service from start to finish, leaving you to simply relax and enjoy your stunning newly designed garden. You can choose whatever elements suit your lifestyle and budget best. Please get in touch to start your garden transformation.

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.


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.

Allanwater Herald

Our design for Provost’s Park has been revealed by Bridge of Allan Community Council and the local community have an opportunity to provide their feedback on the design.

Allanwater Herald Dec 2011

Bridge of Allan Times

We showcase some of the latest aspirational products available to buy for your garden this year.

Bridge of Allan Times Spring 2011

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

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.


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)


(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.

Vialii Review of 2010

We’re now trudging well into 2011 and we’re all very excited here at Vialii (despite the weather). We have just been granted the builds on a further three of our garden designs and we have a further three in the pipeline so were holding out high hopes for another bumper year. Before we wax lyrical too much about what’s ahead of us, we thought we’d write a bit of a review of 2010 as it was memorable for all the right reasons (and the odd painfully sore ones!)

Before: our garden had no interest and the beautiful view was blocked by overgrown shrubs

Before: our garden had no interest and the beautiful view was blocked by overgrown shrubs

2010 was a fab year. Most importantly, we tied the knot. The ceremony was held in our own garden and was attended by our nearest and dearest and was the best day ever. The fine day was made all the sweeter by the preceding level of work that was carried out throughout the year to turn what was effectively a veg patch and some bare soil into a venue befitting of such a great occasion. As the saying goes “the cobbler’s bairns are aye the worst shod” so the same goes for a landscaper’s garden.

After: the garden all set up for our wedding day

After: the garden all set up for our wedding day

It was good year for the business in all facets; design, build and maintenance so the inclusion of an additional project (suitable for a wedding!) was always going to be a challenge both financially and physically. So much so that it almost didn’t get done. We reached a point where the cold realisation came that we could not complete all that had to be done in the time available to do it. An emergency meeting was held and a a humble and begging email was sent out to friends for assistance and to their credit, our friends came through, and in style too. Our garden was completed (just) and the ceremony went off with a bang. We thanked our helpers at the wedding but we’d like to take the opportunity to give a hearty thanks again to all those that helped. We wouldn’t have managed it without you.

So without further ado we come to the Vialii Garden Design Awards 2010…

Garden of the Year

As tempting as it would be to gush over our own achievements in Bridge of Allan for this category we’re going to restrain ourselves. Our garden of the year would have to be the Nitobe Memorial Gardens in the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Widely regarded as one of the best Japanese gardens outside Japan, it really was one of the most beautiful spaces we have spent time in.

Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Canada

Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Canada

Garden Show of the Year

Michael only made it to Hampton Court this year (Jill managed to squeeze in Chelsea too) and whilst there were some inspiring ideas, all-in-all Hampton Court left us feeling a tad underwhelmed so we’re going to award Chelsea this accolade.

Breakage of the year

Michael’s big toe! In April Michael picked up a slab and then quite quickly managed to drop the very same slab which subsequently landed on his foot. A valuable lesson was learned that day about always wearing steel toe capped boots on site.

Album of the year

Not garden related I know but, hey, this is our awards ceremony. The Defamation of Strickland Banks by Plan B. It’s a soulful soundtrack of a character who’s been ‘sent dahn’ for a crime he didn’t commit. Loved it…

Hope you all had a great 2010 too and here’s to a great 2011.

All at Vialii

Bridge of Allan Times

We give your insider’s tips on what will be the big gardening trends of 2010…

Bridge of Allan Times Spring 2010