There is no better way to achieve a designer indigenous garden than asking an indigenous gardener! Meet David Viljoen – our Garden Guru.
Rooted in Life – David Viljoen
David grew up in a beautiful, award-winning garden. Some of his fondest memories are of him as a young boy working, or rather… having fun, with his family in the garden.
It was his mother who ignited his life-long passion for nature and gardens, and he bequests his creative nature to her. Unfortunately, he lost his gardening mentor at a young age, but by then she had long sown the seeds of gardening and designing that still lives within him today. David explains: “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I had and still have, to garden and creatively design. Beautifying outdoor spaces is not only my full-time career but also my lifelong passion.”
When we asked David why he is so in love with landscaping, he explained that he builds living “monuments” that only improve over time and this is very rewarding. It adds life and beauty to spaces while having a major effect on one’s inner wellbeing. Gardening speaks to the heart. Not everyone understands design, not even all garden gurus are garden designers.
David loves creativity in all its forms and believes it adds spice to life. Creativity creates special people and special spaces. From a very young age, David’s mother would give him special tasks to do and if he asked “how” her answer to him always was; only an owl makes that sound. He had to figure it out and find a creative solution. Today he specialises in garden design, but also does weddings, corporate functions, floristry, interior design and even dabbles in architectural design.
What Inspires You?
“I do believe that a designer’s mind never switches off and that you find inspiration from being open-minded and aware of your surroundings. Whether I am in an interior or exterior space, my mind always wonders about how to improve the space, or alternatively what I can learn from the space. I am by no means negative nor a nit-picker, quite the opposite, I focus on the positive energy of the space. I often say to my students; it is very easy to improve on someone else’s work, but there is no art in that. One must learn to appreciate someone else’s design and find inspiration from the good (how to do things) and the bad (how not to do things).”
What Are Your Gardening Pet Peeves?
“It really annoys me when clients think that design work comes for free. Little do they realise what effort a designer puts into creating a work of art. A good designer invested in their studies, office set-up and often spends sleepless nights creating a design they can be proud of. Each design contains a bit of a designer’s heart and soul and is produced with flair and ingenuity. Any design work is a professional service backed by experience and knowledge.”
Designing and installing gardens sounds like such an idyllic way to spend your days, but all professions have a flip side. David explains; “One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was the importance of maintenance in clients’ gardens”.
A “hit and run” design approach can work for clients who are avid gardeners. However, annual maintenance, over and above the normal garden maintenance, is required by the landscape designer. You need to keep an eye on the garden’s progress. It is soul-destroying to, after a few years, arrive back in a garden expecting great photo opportunities, just to find that all your hard work was in vain. “We visit and perform specialized maintenance twice a year on most of our gardens, early spring to prepare for summer and early autumn to prepare for winter,” says David.
Kicking off your shoes
David professes that there is no better way to wind down than watering a garden, barefoot. This mindless yet most fulfilling activity forces one to notice things and forget about life’s worries. Take a moment and enjoy the new flower buds, a sparrow appreciating the birdbath or the feel of the sun and wind on your face.
Garden Guru in the Lecture Hall
We asked David if he ever daydreamed about another career path. His response comes easy, “I would have loved to become a full-time lecturer to contribute to the green industry in another way”. And then the small pause “However, this would have meant that I would not get my hands dirty in creating beautiful outdoor spaces”.
Fortunately, David’s lecturing skills are not lost to us as he presents various gardening and design courses sharing his abundant knowledge and hard-earned experience.
One of David’s most popular workshops is: How to ‘Stuff Up’ your own garden. This course identifies many gardening practices that ruin your garden even if it was with the best intentions of improving a garden. A common gardening “mistake” is digging the soil over … and so many gardeners do this regularly.
You can learn more about
his courses here:
David’s Proudest Garden Project to Date
“I designed a wedding venue for 400 guests outside the borders of South Africa. I was given a clean canvas (open
veld) and designed the entire venue (parking layout, accommodation units, security cube, the hall, bathrooms, bars, kitchens, conference rooms, storerooms, outdoor recreational
areas, garden features and planting). This was the second wedding venue I created for the client, the first being much smaller. It is ever so rewarding to see one’s own creations featured in wedding photos.”
David’s Strangest Garden Project to Date
“A customer, who became a good friend, lost several family members in a fatal accident and asked me to design a memorial garden to commemorate their lives. I approached the design with the greatest sensitivity and really wanted to give the client something special to lift his spirit. I gathered information about all 6 deceased members and decided to mix their ashes in the concrete focal features that were created. The husband and wife had a seating area under a big tree in a secluded area of the garden. Her ashes formed part of the bench. The mother and father’s ashes were used in the two concrete pillars that supported the archway over the entrance to the garden. The four children’s ashes were used in a row of pots planted with each child’s favourite plant.”
David’s Rockstar Plant
“My favourite tree is Ginkgo Biloba with its unusual leaves and bright yellow autumn colours. This pre-historic plant changes each season, reminding me of the seasons of life itself. There are male and female trees and at one stage it was thought to be extinct, but it was found in a monastery, propagated, and re-introduced into gardens. The Ginkgo tree is also of great medicinal value.”
David is currently working (or has been working for several years) on gardening and landscaping notes. Lockdown forced him to write and perfect his notes, and like all writers, he is continuously adding and improving. “Once I am satisfied with my notes, I am planning on publishing, what I believe to be, the best gardening and landscaping book. All notes are backed by years of experience and my passion for green living spaces”, smiles David.
Clients always ask
Here are the 3 things clients always ask David; low maintenance, water-wise and indigenous.
Today most clients do not have time to waste and when they relax, they want to relax and not necessarily work in the garden. With the right plant and product choices, one can save a lot of time, money, and effort.
Approaching gardening in an environmentally friendly way contributes to the overall well-being of Mother Nature. Saving water through careful planning is responsible and curbs unnecessary wastage of resources.
There are many benefits in incorporating indigenous plants and even more advantages in using endemic plants. Indigenous plants are native to South Africa while endemic plants are native to the exact location or area within South Africa. There are many exotic plants that can perform just as well.
3 Tips when Working with a Landscape Artist
- Choose wisely; the cheapest landscaper is not necessarily the best landscaper. A garden will only start showing its true colours many years from now. A person with a “bakkie” is not always a landscaper.
- Do not micromanage; you do not want to clip the wings of a creative designer. Allow their creative juices to flow. One can give guidelines but then it is best to stand back and see what can be created by an experienced professional. Trust your designer.
- Be positive; instead of trying to see why a design will not work, focus on why it can work. All too often something small can be pulled out of proportion and overshadow the good of the design.
If you would like to contact David, connect with him here:
011 894 2430
Shop 01, Hecker Nursery (c/o Kirschner & North Rand Road, Westwood AH, Boksburg)