Saturday, 13 August 2022

Let's Get Down to Business: Cathy Cornish, Wild to Wonderful

Let's Get Down to Business: Cathy Cornish, Wild to Wonderful

CATHY CORNISH owns Wild to Wonderful, a garden design business with many clients in the Henley area. Born in Ipswich, she grew up in Lincolnshire and then went to Northampton University to study for a degree in European business. She lives in Harwell with her husband Alan who recently joined the business. Cathy, who is a regular attendee at the Henley Business Partnership’s 3FM meetings, enjoys yoga, dancing and growing vegetables and is learning to play the piano.

Describe your business

We transform customers’ gardens into outdoor spaces that they use and enjoy by providing them with ideas and creating their dream gardens. We start with a brainstorming session with each client to identify their tastes, ideas, preferences and a style that will suit them best, then design, build and plant their new gardens ready for them to enjoy for years to come.

How many people does it employ?

As well as Alan and myself, Alison runs our office and we have a team of freelance lady gardeners who work with us on various projects.

What did you do before you started this business?

I was always keen on marketing but when I graduated in 1992 there was a recession. I applied for 200 jobs and finally found one working for a car parts distributor in Swindon. But I really wanted to work in London and found a marketing job in Wimbledon for an aromatherapy company. My last corporate role was at a computer company where I stayed more than five years. I looked out of the office window one day and wished that I was working outside, so I started studying — firstly for my RHS gardening qualifications, then at the Berkshire College of Agriculture to become a qualified garden designer.

When did you start your business?

In July 2004.

What was your objective?

I wanted to leave the corporate world behind and do something that I was passionate about.

Who or what influenced you?

When I started Alan was very supportive and I had great support from my friends and family who let me redesign their gardens to build my knowledge and portfolio.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

Alan Titchmarsh has always inspired me. He always says that “anyone can garden”.

What would you do differently if starting again?

I wouldn’t have taken on absolutely everything! I would have worked out a proper vision, so I could be more focused. I just followed my dream and it evolved.

How is your business doing?

It’s doing well despite the Beast from the East at the beginning of the year and then the heatwave and lack of rain in June and July.

How do you market your business?

We exhibit at shows including the Henley Show and Henley House and Garden Show. We built a series of show gardens at the Henley Craft & Design Show in 2014. I put “how to” videos on Facebook Live to demonstrate gardening tips. Word of mouth from clients we have done work for brings in a lot of business. I attend several networking groups. We were finalists in the Green Business Awards, which I am proud of. We excelled in the environmentally friendly recycling and reusing category. We give our good used plants to Camp Mohawk, a wonderful facility in Wargrave for children with special needs.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Freedom, flexibility and that no two days are the same.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Definitely the weather! We often have to switch our plans for the day at short notice.

What’s the secret of your success?

I’m pretty determined and want to help as many people as possible. I love what I do and getting to know people and this shows, I think.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

To never give up and follow my instincts.

What advice would you give someone starting a business?

Focus on what you want your business to do. Be tenacious and believe in yourself. Never give up on your dreams.

What three qualities are most important for success?

Determination, passion and adaptability.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Trying to dig too many big holes on my own!

Where is your business headed?

Now that Alan has joined it, we are in a position to offer a complete service from design and build to planting with ongoing training.

Do you have a five-year plan?

Yes, we want to build the landscaping and training sides of our business.

How organised are you?

I’m pretty organised.

How do you dress for work each day?

We have branded T- shirts to wear when with customers, exhibiting or at network meetings as it’s important to show we are professionals.

What can’t you be without every day?

My van — as well as transporting plants and sheltering me from the elements, it’s like a mobile office.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

I often have sandwiches in a garden or in my van. Occasionally my customers very kindly feed me.

What do you read?

Business books and autobiographies. At the moment I’m reading Judy Murray’s autobiography Knowing The Score. I also enjoy crime fiction. I visit garden shows to keep up-to-date with current trends — there are always new plants and materials coming out.

How are you planning for retirement?

I love France and would like to be able to live there when I stop working, growing my own vegetables and enjoying good food and wine.

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