Meet Vivian, the garden coach

Vivian Vail in her garden.

Vivian Vail's gorgeous garden is at the corner of Somerton and Radnor roads in Cleveland Heights. It's a rambling home to luscious peonies, poppies, gladiolas, zinnias, sunflowers, sage, dahlias and many varieties of sedum. Her garden features huge rocks, sculptures and interesting objects, such as a carved wooden Don Quixote head. Perhaps you've seen her out working in her full-length signature sundresses. Watching her jump on a shovel (with dress billowing) to get down deep into the dirt is a dramatic treat.

Vail opened her gardening business (called Vivian the Garden Coach) last spring, after helping a friend start a garden and loving the experience [disclosure: I am that friend]. One of her first clients had lots of beautiful plants that she hadn't tended to in several seasons, and was overwhelmed about what needed to be done. Vail helped her prune, divide and relocate plants so that their beauty was revealed. Another person just needed a rhododendron pruned to make her garden come alive and look less ragged. According to Vail, “Sometimes you need to edit what's detracting from natural beauty.”

Vail was not a gardener until 12 years ago. She arrived home one day and found her whole front lawn covered in black plastic, thanks to her husband. “He was so frustrated with our weed-infested lawn he decided to kill it,” she recalled. The first thing she did was shape her beds and buy rich, fertile soil. Then she spent time deciding where shrubs would go. “I was so tentative at first, so afraid of making mistakes. I remember I fell in love with a rose bush but by the time I finally planted it, it had died,” Vail recalled. Her neighbors helped her by sharing perennials.

Vail feels energized when she gardens. “Gardening is contagious and community-building. There are so many incredible gardens in Cleveland Heights. I remember a realtor once telling my mom that Cleveland Heights is known for its front-yard gardens. Other communities keep their gardens in back.”

“New gardeners need to know you have to kill a lot of plants before you build the confidence to garden your own way,” she said.

Vail describes herself as a gardener who does not discriminate and believes all flowers just need the right neighbors to set off their beauty. Her garden is an informal cottage-style garden, but she enjoys all types. “Some people like lots of color with things tumbling over, anything goes. A more austere look can be just as beautiful,” she said.

When Vail works with a new client, she determines whether beds are shaped well and if they are they taking advantage of the sun. Her eye goes toward plants that are happy and healthy. She features what is already working, and helps clients find their own personal aesthetic. Vail encourages people to plant what brings them pleasure, with consideration to how much time they want to spend on garden maintenance.

Some of the services Vail provides include creating beds, getting rid of garden clutter, helping figure out how to attract birds and butterflies, moving plants, choosing plants and flowers, telling clients what is working in the garden and general upkeep.

You can reach Vivian the Garden Coach online ate or by phone at 216-224-8789.

Stacey Rippner

Stacey Rippner is the director of Kitchen Table Tutoring and founder of BAM, a free book-a-month club for kids. She graduated from Heights High in the era when Mickey Mouse adorned the clock tower.

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Volume 7, Issue 6, Posted 9:45 AM, 05.30.2014