The Female Contractor Behind Ashley’s Gorgeous Outdoor Space

04.14.2021 — The Frenshe Editors

As Ashley continues to embark on her new project, Frenshe Interiors, we’re highlighting some of the incredible people she’s worked with to create her dream home. With every home, comes a gorgeous outdoor space, and Ashley was set on working with a female contractor to make hers come to life. Today, we speak to Jessica Viola of Viola Gardens to learn more about creating your dream outdoor space and what it’s like being a woman in the space.

Frenshe: What are some key elements that go into working with different people and their personal tastes?

Jessica Viola: For me, design is all about relationships.  I’m always seeking to create meaningful connections between people, the home, the architecture, the land, and ultimately the garden. I believe the more meaningful the connection that people have to the garden, the more heartfelt and regenerative the garden and our wanting to care for it will be.  It’s all about the plants.  Part of my process on each design involves taking time to get a sense of who each client is, how they and their families live, what they love and enjoy doing, and how they want to experience life within the garden.

So design is a creative and experiential process of arriving at a solution within the space and with each client that makes sense, rather than imposing solutions.  Every garden is alive.  Thus the design and the choices we make exist in the garden in both space and time.  The garden today will change and evolve, as will the people and the land. It’s my job to help curate an aesthetic vision that works with the home and the needs of the people in the home, that has a cooperative relationship with the land and its ecosystems is supportive in accentuating the architecture and unique and meaningful to each person.  With every client, my primary point of departure always starts with deep listening. Aesthetically, I see each garden as a unique painting, with color being perhaps the most integral aspect of the landscape, expressed in texture, form, material, and foliage over time.  Embracing the unique expression of each garden as a piece of art, I find I am able to lean into personal tastes and make suggestions that reflect who each person is and what we need to bring the garden to life most effectively and dynamically.

“Over the years, there have been moments that have challenged me with a growing edge as a woman, boss, designer, and builder forging a career in an industry of men.”

F: Can you share more about what it’s like being a woman in space, even in 2021?

JV: I have been fortunate to meet some strong allies along my career path over the past 20 years.  In particular, women and men who saw beyond gender lines and recognizing my passion for earth stewardship, plants, art, building, and design, taught me what I needed to know to build a career.  Over the years, there have been moments that have challenged me with a growing edge as a woman, boss, designer, and builder forging a career in an industry of men.  At this,  I’ve worked hard for many years to become an expert at what I do, to be as good, ethical, knowledgeable, and creative as I possibly can be – as a botanist, a permaculturist, a contractor, a designer, an artist, a business owner – and a mother, a friend, and a partner.  For me, my greatest design challenge is how to successfully integrate all of who I am into the work and bring aspects of myself that are uniquely feminine into a world that has been dominated by men for many years.

There are a surprisingly small number of fully licensed, bonded, and female contractors in California. It was a highlight and empowering accomplishment to join the ranks and earn my contracting license. As a woman, there are things I offer to my clients that are unique, being a woman builder.  For one, keen attention to detail and feminine nuance in design and installation, strong communication with my crew, staff, and clients, an ability to connect deeply with clients and really feel their vision so I can bring it to life, and an ability to multitask many moving parts in a myriad of ways when executing a design.  In addition to being a licensed contractor, it’s also very empowering to own and run a thriving business as a woman, especially having built it from the ground up after years of hard work  Through it all, I’ve never let other people’s ideas of who I am or what they think I’m capable of defining my capacity or what I believe is possible.  We grow beyond ourselves when we think beyond ourselves.

F: How did you help Ashley’s vision come to life?

JV: Ashley had such a clear and tasteful vision of what she wanted to create when we came together.  Our initial conversations were spent honing the aesthetic.  We discussed aspects of various gardens she found inspiring and how we might find a way to integrate some of these design details in moments within the landscape.  We identified priorities and needs within the space, with them as a couple, and as artists on the advent of birthing a new chapter and welcoming their daughter.   One of my favorite conversations we shared was about how much ease we both experienced in the garden and of how healing it is to recognize the different relationships that the trees, the plants, the flowers, and the garden have with the bigger world around.  As if the garden is a way of connecting with something bigger than us and how that inspires a sense of place for who we are and all that we are.  I was inspired by this conversation and sought to find ways through engaging all the senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, and feeling – to evoke a sense of lifted peace and inspiration throughout the space.

We discussed how they want to engage with the garden now and over time as they grow and evolve. They were both very excited about planting a butterfly garden, integrating CA native plants, while still maintaining a clean, contemporary design within a modern Mediterranean aesthetic. We found plants that create conditions for pollinators, especially butterflies, integrating fruit and herbs alongside a host of native and naturalized plants that were carefully chosen and placed.  Ashley has a keen eye for design and I strove to articulate the look she wanted in the garden, from a design perspective, by telling a visual story that accentuated the choices she is making inside the home to create a fluid relationship with the outside space.  She was especially inspired by the “wabi-sabi” aspect of modern Mediterranean details.  Pots that maintain an aged look.  Planting beds that grow in and flesh out.  Simple, clean, and intentional moments told with plant, stone, pebble, and water.  Ashley’s fountain was important to her for different reasons and we found a team to handcraft the fountain in LA using Italian Limestone and working the material to give it an aged look. All of these personal details and aesthetics offered us a lot of inspiration to work with as I endeavored to optimize the space in a thoughtful way, without clutter and instead, create a lush context using plants and foliage with intentional space where needed within the garden.

One of our most wonderful moments for all as the garden came to life was hanging Ashley’s glass hearts from the CA Pepper tree in her garden oasis.  She has been collecting these very special colored glass hearts on each return to a treasured spot in Mexico they visit every year. It was meaningful to integrate this memory in the garden where they can catch the light and offer inspiration. It’s the garden that remembers what time forgets.  Collaborating with Ashley and Chris was an exceptional experience.  I’m so glad she reached out!

“The garden and nature are a reflection of all that’s possible within each and every person.”

F: Is there anything you hope that women looking to get into the space can learn from you?

JV: Primarily, that the garden and nature are a reflection of all that’s possible within each and every person. Any limitations of belief are simply a story that someone, somewhere, passed along. It’s up to each one of us to really listen to the story our life is trying to express and to have the courage to share what is unique within each of us with the world.  How can we be of service to each other, to our passions, to another life or way of life?  Lifting ourselves, each other, and the world we live in requires a steady heart and spirit of generosity.   The redwood trees, the tallest trees on the planet, grow lateral roots and essentially ‘hold hands’ beneath the ground.  There is incredible support and opportunity to be found by really leaning into what inspires us most and then forging good, balanced relationships in support of those dreams.

Anything is possible with design. Learning to understand our dreams, their context, and imagining the picture outside the frame build context.

Learning a craft takes time but taking time to nurture what inspires you most and allowing yourself the time and space to develop your craft feeds the soul.  I think part of success is learning how to successfully make mistakes.  The willingness to try, knowing we will learn from each twist and turn along the way, is what fosters resiliency, flow and allows us to thrive.

To learn more about Jessica and Viola Gardens, visit the site here.

The Frenshe Editors