Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in design but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jessica Viola, Founder of Viola Gardens Design Inc., located in Topanga, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Viola Gardens Design is an ecological landscape design and builds collective and one of Southern California's most sought-after landscape design firms. Having spent the past two decades cultivating a design and building portfolio based on regenerative, whole-system solutions and artistic vision, we strive to foster connections between human nature and mother nature by curating meaningful landscapes with personal engagement to create gardens that build on ecological relationships such that the landscape becomes a highly abundant and regenerative experience. As the founder and lead in-house designer, I am also one of just a few fully licensed, bonded, and female landscape contractors in the state of California. We are certified by the WEBNC as a woman-owned business and have been female-led for many years. Most of our junior designers are certified in Permaculture Design, and we actively engage both our build teams, our designers, and our clients to learn about Permaculture and Ecology via ecology and art events we host every three months at our botanical studio.

Through understanding natural patterns and how these ecological systems come together and function, we can deepen our understanding of our own human natures, fostering stronger relationships and community alliances. Landscape design can be approached like any other artistic practice with mindful integration of color, form, shape, and texture, invoking experience through the senses while regenerating land and building bridges between human nature and Mother Nature. Integrating permaculture into the practice of landscape construction and design is a holistic perspective wherein we strive to use the principles of permaculture as filters for design to form relationships in the landscape and in our relationship to it that are resilient and life-giving. I believe anything is possible through design. I believe we can lose ourselves in nature and discover selves we never knew we had. I believe in the importance of beauty, even when it comes to restoration. And through this process of imagining a garden and crafting a vision into being, we can help foster stewardship, care, and regenerative solutions to help heal this planet one garden at a time.

I wrote and published a hardcover book which you can learn more about at This book, while visually stunning and filled with photography of our gardens and graphic art, is an exploration of how we can learn to understand patterns in nature and use these principles as tools for personal growth and community alliance. It's a love letter to the permaculture and botanical design filled with story, image, and poetry. Our clients range is people who share our passion for design, innovation, ecological restoration, and beauty.

Tell us about yourself

My career started in Northern California with a foundation in ecological design, habitat restoration, permaculture practices, organic gardening, and landscape construction. Hands in the earth, head below heart, I learned to garden, plant, prune and practice growing gardens, building landscapes with my own hands. I taught myself to draft in order to illustrate what I knew how to create, working to inspire my clients through drawings as art and images as inspiration. I started Viola Gardens in 2007, designing and building landscapes with a small team and ultimately becoming one of a handful of female, licensed CA contractors in the state. I have always had the clear intent to foster deeper relationships between human nature and Mother Nature through art and design. I believe the more able I am, as a designer and a builder, to map meaningful relationships between people and their engagement in the landscape, the more I want to care for and steward the land, including all relationships that our local habitat fosters. Permaculture is earth care, and people care. In essence, we use design to achieve curated and thoughtful landscapes with an artistic and soulful touch while allowing ecological functions to occur. In this way, through landscape design and creation, we find a place for ourselves within the ecology of which we are a part.

I have always been driven by the arts, music, community, and stewardship of the land. Finding a way, through art, through design, to inspire connections and deepen relationships such that we can advocate for those who cannot - the great trees that keep the mountains in place, the birds, bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies that work to bring life to the soil, to help root systems establish a network of strength from the ground up.

The secret sauce behind my work includes a very deep and seasoned understanding of plant systems and an impeccable and detailed approach to design and building. I craft each vision based on who a person is, looking for creative and unique ways of mapping their experience of engagement in the landscape - yoga platform, labyrinth, food forest, artist corners, farm-to-table dining, amphitheater, dance bar, play structure, etc. - such that the garden becomes a reflection of who they are and how they like to live in a way that is personal and meaningful. I curate groups of plants, colors, and material selections, but I let the material and the shape of the land dictate the design, arriving at solutions without imposing solutions. I hand place each and every plant on contour, never planting in straight lines, working the soil with no-till, a bit of compost, and just the right touch of the amendment. I approach each garden like a piece of art, finding ways of exploring color, light, time, and space, blending what is aged with what is new and fresh. In essence, thinking outside of the box to find fresh perspectives on design.

The more I have learned about nature and the intricacies of how things work in natural systems, the more intrigued I am. Landscapes are in a state of constant change, of becoming. Creating and building gardens that reflect an embodied understanding of nature and how things work lends itself to a curated wildness that you can feel and experience in all the gardens we bring to life. I have only ever built gardens that are drought-tolerant, completely organic, mostly compromised of native plants, and as such, regenerative. We are finding ourselves in the midst of a major drought throughout much of the west coast as the climate changes. We have increased Santa Anna winds, rising temperatures, more salinity in the soil, fires, and floods. It is imperative that we rethink our relationship with the land and the habitats we are a part of and seek ways of managing resources while creating beauty and allowing the systems to recalibrate more effectively. Landscape design creates the conditions for things to happen. So we design in space and in time, knowing that we can foster the right relationships and, in doing so, allow the system to heal while creating abundant beauty and yield.

Organic land solutions are imperative. Building landscapes while thinking about natural solutions to resource management is imperative. Water catchment systems, drip irrigation, solar energy, analog, and biological technologies. Restoring native plants within the design aesthetic of our gardens and understanding that each plant has relationships with a host of native and ecological species. So encouraging benefit to one part of the system benefits the whole. We can learn a lot about how to live more harmoniously, regeneratively, creatively, and sustainably by paying attention to what works best in nature.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I'm proud of the slow and steady accomplishments we have made over time that has allowed us to evolve into a viable, creative, and engaged small business on sturdy feet that are actively working to regenerate and restore habitats in residential gardens through design and human connection.

Because we are a small collective of artisans and designers, we have imagined and built innovative and unique expressions of place in the landscape that have led to unique design approaches which embody our aesthetic and the consciousness at the heart of all we do. I have the utmost confidence in our ability as designers and builders because we have been seasoned deeply with experience over many years of working together. The design work that we imagine, the visions we curate with our clients active engagement, and the actualization of these imaginations in the landscape have become living pieces of art, in many ways, shaped and sized as much by the world around as the people within the landscape. When you're coming at things from a place of fear, you block what's possible. Instead of trying to solve all the world's problems, I'm facilitating conditions for more awareness—and going one garden at a time.

In addition, I'm proud to have curated a holistic and regenerative business practice alongside raising my daughter and building a life for us that reflects what we practice in the landscape.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Maintaining a balanced, holistic perspective of all the moving parts through changes, both internally and externally, is a challenge for any business owner. As companies grow and evolve, so do the world and the landscapes we work within. Being able to lead with balance, resiliency, and flexibility is a practice with great rewards. In much the same way as I approach garden design, I approach problem-solving in business. In essence, maintaining a reasonable grasp of what is working and what is not, strengthening relationships that are regenerative and supportive, rethinking or relocating those that are not, and remembering what is at the heart of the work. Perhaps one of the greatest qualities of design and leadership involves listening, observing, reviewing, and taking the right action when needed.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Identify what it is that excites your passion and then break that down into small, actionable steps. Like most things sustainable, growing at a pace that allows all the moving parts to grow together is important. Small, repeatable patterns build upon themself.
  2. Look to and strengthen the relationship between all the facets of business that are integrated. Permaculture design, in essence, is relationship. Creating conditions for good relationships between employees and clients is integral. Identifying needs, resources, and skills and mixing and matching is a fun way to start building teams. This then lends itself to smart system design, which is imperative for a business to thrive. Take care to understand inputs and outputs on multiple levels so that the company stays in balance while the employees and clients remain engaged and evolving with time.
  3. Balance your business with a personal practice that keeps you connected to the heart of what inspires your passion and purpose. From here, whatever you decide to do and however it manifests in the world, keep the channel open and uniquely yours. It's a tall order to shoot for the stars right out of the gate, but touching people's hearts with your own heart and authenticity is very doable. Business is no different than any other relationship, and the more conscious the pursuit of expression, the more receptive people are. Everyone can feel when something is real and heartfelt. That's exciting!

Where can people find you and your business?


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