A gardener of Eden Interview with landscape gardener Maximilian Holzhausen
Maximilian Holzhausen: Owner and managing director of GrünForm Achtermann GmbH, Member of the “Gärtner von Eden” association
Expertise: Graduate engineer and TÜV-certified swimming pool builder
Remit: Creative chief, responsible for team strategy, planning and organisation
Location: Springe near Hanover
With his team of ambitious planners, gardeners and technicians, Maximilian Holzhausen carries out premium-sector outdoor projects. They are in the business of turning unique visions for gardens into reality – from exclusive garden landscapes through stylish swimming pools to elegant lighting concepts and harmonious integrated solutions.
Beyond your work at your own company, you are also involved in the “Gärtner von Eden” (‘Gardeners of Eden’) association, comprising some 50 landscape gardeners and landscaping companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This association’s mission is to provide personal points of contact for gardening enthusiasts seeking to landscape their gardens, offering extensive know-how, creative landscaping, absolute individuality and quality craftsmanship to this end. Is this a recipe for success?
Definitely. As we “Gardeners of Eden” share the common aim of delivering first-class quality, we are able to join forces and press ahead with developments in many different areas. We have different teams concerned with specific matters, such as new marketing concepts or ideas in the area of sustainability, for example. While such initiatives are vastly important, they require more time and effort than any individual is able to devote in the course of day-to-day business.
Your gardens combine individual design with fine craftsmanship and high-quality materials. Such projects have their price, of course. Do you find yourself having to compete with apparently more reasonably priced offers from rival companies?
We convince our customers with quality and ideas, not with prices. We have never secured a single order on the basis of our prices. We go to far greater lengths than other competitors in the interests of ensuring first-class quality in all areas, from planning through realisation of our projects to subsequent upkeep and maintenance. This spans a broad spectrum of resources, from experienced and competent staff through the necessary software to showrooms that reflect our high-end approach to horticulture. This all comes with a corresponding price tag, of course.
The garden as a sanctuary
Nowadays, the garden is taking on the character of a feel-good oasis and a surrogate for holidays. For many people, it is a place to relax and unwind. What does it take to fulfil such dreams for discerning customers? Apart from technical expertise, it no doubt calls for plenty of psychological insight?
Over the years I have learnt what it takes to win over customers. And I don’t just mean punctuality, reliability and a clean company car. Above all, it’s about surprising the customer. With ideas and solutions that they had never expected and that consequently prove all the more fascinating. In this way we are able to demonstrate not only creativity, but also an understanding of our customers’ dreams and requirements.
Does that mean your customers rely fully on your guidance in matters of taste?
Before we proceed to the planning stage, we discuss everything thoroughly with the customer or customers – ideally with all those who will use the development concerned. We need to be aware of all the visions involved, in order to come up with a solution that will convince everyone. We present a single plan here – no alternatives and no brochures offering an array of solutions to choose from! Our aim is to avoid from the outset any possibility of our customers getting lost in details. This means that they do indeed have to rely on our expertise. Which is not to say that we don’t respect and heed any requests for changes and modifications, of course. We always find a solution.
You aim to turn every garden into an exclusive and unique environment. What aspects play a role for you here?
First and foremost the residents of the house concerned, the rhythms of their lives and their outlook for the future. Children who take delight in a climbing frame today won’t have any further use for it in five years’ time. We include such changes in our planning from the outset. Maybe a whirlpool will be installed at the same spot in due course. In due preparation for such eventualities, we lay the necessary power cabling right from the start. This way, we can be sure that the garden is all set for any changes and will meet any ensuing wishes in the future, too.
Your take on garden planning goes beyond creative design. You evolve concepts for your customers which fit in with their lives. Including simple upkeep.
We sell quality of life. That won’t work if we burden our customers with unwanted chores. Some customers enjoy gardening, while others are content to watch the robotic lawn mower doing its rounds. We clarify these preferences beforehand as well. We never leave the owners alone with their gardens after completing our work – we check that the plants and the pool equipment are in order and provide guidance on care and upkeep. Beyond this, we also carry out care and maintenance work on order.
On the subject of water
Water is quintessentially relaxing. Alongside conventional pools, swimming ponds and natural pools using biologically treated water and pure natural water are also enjoying popularity at present. Do you see a growing trend here?
Today, everyone is keen to avoid the unnecessary use of chemical additives and water, in the interests of sustainability. Conventional pools also offer a wealth of possibilities in this area. In terms of comfort, they are still far superior to natural swimming ponds and thus remain the more popular choice. Furthermore, the amount of chemical additives used can be controlled with extreme precision today, water can be conditioned just as required and the water’s heat can be retained by means of insulated pool shells or roller-shutter systems.
Is any garden above a certain minimum size suitable for a pool? In what circumstances do you advise against a pool?
There are occasions where we turn down orders. Fortunately, such cases are often clarified in our initial talks with the customer. When we decline to take on an order, this is on account of price issues rather than on aesthetic grounds, however. Below a certain lower limit, we’re no longer able to meet the standard of quality that we and the manufacturers aim to deliver.
Installing a pool is a major project. How much time is required for the actual construction process?
The time aspect is almost always the first question to be raised by our customers – and it’s just not possible to provide an exact answer. While we do devote meticulous attention to the details in our planning, there’s always the possibility of delays occurring during construction and holding up our work for reasons beyond our control. The period for which we hire the portable toilet always provides a good initial indicator of the timescale required for construction.
You often use tiles from Villeroy & Boch. What are their particular merits in your view?
For one thing, both we and our customers trust in the brand. With projects on this scale, reliable quality is crucial. The distribution set-up is also just as it should be. What we order needs to be on site on the agreed date. And with nothing missing. If a couple of custom-made functional trims are missing or don’t fit as they should, this can cause immense hold-ups when building a pool.
Pools, gardens, lighting: What has been your greatest challenge to date?
Every day comes with its own challenges. To rule out any errors from the start, we devote a great deal of time to our planning. With a garden covering anything from 300 to 500 square metres, it’s vital to consider a whole host of minutiae and all the myriad steps involved need to mesh together perfectly. That takes experience – and sometimes courage, too. Some time ago, we used a mobile crane to lift a 12 metre-high plane tree over the roof of a five-storey building and into a garden – in the middle of a town. That’s not something we do every day.
On the subject of light: How do you go about illuminating a terrace or garden so as to create an attractive, harmonious and glare-free setting?
Lighting design is one of the most difficult disciplines in garden landscaping. We rely on a single system which we understand down to the finest details. We know just what effects the different lamps have and exactly how much light is needed in any given environment.
One final question: Do you carry out your planning at the computer or with pen and paper? How do you set about achieving an imposing, stylish environment?
Our planning team drafts the initial ideas with pen and paper. We evolve all our ideas regarding proportions, contents, priorities, everyday matters, planting and lighting together in a sketch of the site concerned, continually scrapping and replacing suggestions as we go along until we arrive at a great idea. Drawing software is then applied to create an artist’s impression of this vision – our most important working paper and the basis for discussions with the customer.