From the Cote d’Azur to Ireland’s Riviera
Having established a successful landscape gardening company with his wife, Vivienne, in the south of France, Vyvian White recently returned to design gardens in Ireland
Vyvien White at the cliff garden he designed on Vico Road, Killiney. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
White’s grandfather established Eastwood Nurseries in the 1940s at the family home, Eastwood House in Carlow, taking a much-coveted Royal Horticultural Award at Chelsea in 1950 for his Dahlia cultivars Eastwood Glory – called after his home – and Richenda, the cultivar named after his daughter, White’s aunt.
Furthermore, and a coincidence in keeping with horticultural themes, White’s great grandmother was the Hon Eileen Flower, and the last of the Flower family to inhabit Castle Durrow in Carlow, which was built by his ancestor Colonel William Flower, Baron of Castle Durrow.
Having relations with large gardens can be a godsend when studying horticulture. White spent a year at Arley Hall in Cheshire, home to his cousin, Viscount Ashbrook, working with the head gardener, tending to the first, and one of the finest herbaceous borders in Britain, in the Grade II historic park.
After horticulture, and a stint in finance working for KPMG, he and wife Vivienne moved to France as they both shared a passion for snowboarding. “We bought a one- way ticket out there as we wanted to try something new,” says White.
After endless employment hunting in France, White decided to return to his true passion – horticulture, taking a job with an English tree surgeon. From there he built up his own company, which had five full-time gardeners and “a host of subcontractors as we offer a full design to build service” according to White.
Covering the French Riviera from Antibes to St Tropez, White’s business grew with a number of high-profile clients.
“Our client base were Irish, English, Norwegian and Dutch, and I still fly back and forth tending to some of these gardens,” says White.
Leaving Ireland in the middle of a property boom, where people were spending colossal amounts of money on their gardens didn’t phase White in the least.
“The business in France just took off, and we received a huge amount of referrals by word of mouth.” he says.
White actually benefited from the Irish property boom. “We knew they were crazy times in Ireland. We kept meeting Irish people scooping up properties along the French coastline, we were designing their gardens there. Then overnight they disappeared.”
His client base included judges, property developers and television presenter Richard Madeley.
Madeley describes his gardens as a transformation “from a muddied pool to a fantastic paved area with mature palms, subtle lighting and citrus trees, delivered on time, without fuss and within budget”.
White still tends to Madeley’s and other gardens, flying over and back to France, while trying to find a suitable company on the Cote d’Azur to take over.
Having moved back to Ireland in 2014 the family are now based in Greystones. “We now have three children, and Vivienne and I wanted to rear them in Ireland, near their cousins.”
White runs the design side of their company, while wife Vivienne runs the day-to- day operations.
“Apart from the language, it is easier to do business in Ireland than France,” says Vivienne, who has a background in marketing. “We are overwhelmed by the professionalism and the helpfulness of the people in our industry.”
White cites the landscape of the French coastline as challenging due to the substrata of rock and craggy coastline, “where one garden had to have a ski lift installed to access the tennis court, and everything had to be brought in by helicopter”.
Now designing gardens throughout Dublin and Wicklow, White is using his France experience in gardens in Killiney and Dalkey – where similar challenges exist – in addition to less testing sites.
“My only issue is most of my terminology is in French after dealing with sub-contractors in France for so long, but I really enjoy being back in Ireland.” he says.
For Vyvian and Vivienne White, running a business where a husband and wife team have the same names can be challenging, then again not every horticulturalist has the surname Flower in the family, or indeed, flowers named after their family.