‘People want to use their gardens as rooms’
2007-07-05 15:20:28 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Max Lim, co-owner of Galway-based garden design company Terra Gardens 

Max Lim, originally from Malaysia, came to Ireland for romantic reasons, long before the country’s Celtic Tiger transformation. “Eighteen years ago I was in a pub in Kilburn in London and chatted up a beautiful Irish girl. The upshot of it was that I came to Cork to live with her and stayed,” he recalls.

At the time, jobs were scarce and Lim worked in restaurants and hotels while getting to know the country. “It was a good experience but I had travelled and had been around, as they say. When you travel you get good ideas and bring them with you. I had seen how things work in other countries.”

It was at the Galway Races over a few beers that Lim had an epiphany: “An Irish friend asked me why did Asian people veer towards the restaurant business here, why did they not go into other businesses? I had to agree with him and it set me thinking.”

Lim thought that landscaping was a good business as he had seen it work well in other countries. Lim and his friend, Charlie Loughlin, became partners and set up Terra Gardens to provide Galway and the rest of Ireland with a premium garden design service with full construction and maintenance plans. The company specialises in cengal wood, imported from Malaysia.

“The wood is very suitable for outdoor use, it is used in Thailand to construct temples, and it is sustainable in that the Malaysian government will only allow a certain amount to be logged each year with ongoing replanting.

“Only certain trees are sanctioned to be cut, it is a controlled system. It makes the wood expensive but good value as it will last years and is a legacy for the family. We tell clients it is an investment,” says Lim.
In their first years of trading, Lim and Loughlin spent a good deal on marketing in magazines but now feel that word of mouth is working well, so they have reduced their advertising spend: “It was difficult for us in the beginning, the advert overheads were big and we felt we were working for that cost. Now people know we are good,” says Lim.

Training in landscaping for Lim was, in effect, his childhood: “As a child the grass was my carpet and the sky was my roof and the trees and jungle were my playground. I wasn’t just close to nature, I was part of it. You learn what grows and where it grows that way. There were no high walls and railings in my environment then.”

This innate knowledge has obviously been a factor in the business’s growth. Terra Gardens’ designs are innovative and have won numerous awards – the Good Design Award in Japan, and also a bronze award in Ireland for the best Feature Garden 2006.

Lim also contends that customers appreciate the company’s fair pricing: “What we offer is good design and we work hard to construct it too. A client will end up with a space that fits their lifestyle, as well as a plan that has the architectural integrity to last for decades. People in Ireland now want to use their gardens as rooms. A wonderful retreat can be created regardless of space or budget. Think about the people who will gather there, their comfort, and the mood you want to create and we must take all factors into consideration, including the climate.”

Lim stresses that his staff are hard working and focused. “Our company is based upon mutual respect and relationships, helping us to maintain a business where all of our staff takes personal responsibility,” he explains.

The best thing about running  Terra Gardens, according to Lim, is the nature of the business itself. 
“I love that our efforts and work are so appreciated by clients,” he says. “I had one guy who had us doing his garden the week before Christmas. He was so happy that the job was done in time for the family to enjoy it over the holiday that he cracked open a bottle for us all and we had a Christmas party there and then in his new garden.”

However, Lim is clear about the big disadvantage to his type of trade: “The weather - it can be pretty muddy and wet getting some of our gardens done. But rain is part of the job and we should be glad of the water.”
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