Sunday was blissful – sunny, cold, relaxed. Hours spent reading, meandering to a café on the south side of Fermoy, a two hour walk with Stella along the banks of the Blackwater River in the afternoon sun, watching Fermoy come out of its shell to enjoy a magical spring Sunday. An invitation from my host, Donal, to feel free to use their stunning garden did not need to be repeated and I was treated to an intimate tour of the garden that he has spent the last 25 years creating and nurturing. Whenever I see beautifully designed mature gardens, especially when they are developed in the most unlikely places, such as behind a facade of a Georgian terraced house off the main traffic artery into a town, I cannot help but reflect on the qualities required to nurture them into that state and how very closely aligned the processes of building a garden and nurturing a business are.
Donal told me that when he and Edna purchased the property a quarter of a century earlier, the long corridor of space behind the house was a rubble tip and had been used by a local developer to dump stones and rubbish from another site. So there was less than nothing there and non indication of the backyard paradise it was to become. The garden has been built on two levels with a series of stairways and paths connecting the two levels. Donal has used concepts from japanese garden design as a central thematic element with trees trained at angles and all the elements of the scenes – the rocks, the gravel, the plants – in non-symmetrical, but conspicuous balance. The foundation was created by reorganising the rubble and using the stones to build the walls within the garden. However – and this is my point – a garden requires a vision, a clear concept in the mind of the creator, of what precisely the finished ambience will be. It then requires effort, organisation, creative use of the materials and restrictions on hand, the ability to see opportunities in the superficial problems (rubble=wall stones) as well as plant knowledge, although that can be bought in and developed over time. Then there is insatiable curiosity and a love of and willingness for experimentation. Donal pointed out some red and yellow tulips that had languished in a different part of the garden and were more or less tossed on to the area they now occupied and where to his great surprise, they thrived. The ability to start again, recreate and to watch and learn from the individual plants as they suffer or thrive is critical in building the whole. Then there is time and the ineluctable fact all great projects require time, patience and perseverance to become valuable – gardens every bit as much as businesses. And finally the requirement to understand that the work is never finished; that the solving of old problems simply makes room for, or even creates, new – hopefully better – but nonetheless particular and present problems.
25 years after he started, Donal still has new ideas, new areas of the garden for which he has plans and visions, areas that I could not even see, when I first started to admire the space he had created and the minute details to which he had attended. The garden is a permanent work in progress – not just through the seasonality, but because it is genuinely never finished. All of these aspects are as applicable to developing, building, nurturing and bringing a business to thrive. Remarkably it does not take long before a hopeless, depressing backyard full of rubble affords a place to sit and contemplate and enjoy the sunshine on a spring afternoon. So, too, in business: after a surprisingly short time, with focus and a clear vision of what success will look like, coupled with a core usefulness of the central activity of the enterprise, the business will afford those who work in it a place to sit and enjoy the sunshine and to reap the first fruits, both literal and metaphoric.
Donal and Edna hosted me for supper “upstairs” on Sunday evening and I fell into bed, full, happy and conversationally enlightened – our discussion on the Irish Land Reform of the 1920s would fill a blog post on its own – and once again astounded at the hospitality and generous spirit that has accompanied me on my peregrination across the Republic over the last two weeks. Thank you, both of you. For supper and for informing me that the nickname for the smart houses on their concrete slabs, which I alluded to yesterday, was Muck Mansions.