Christo and Charlene deVilliers are planting an outdoor retreat near Aberdeen
As garden and landscape experts, you’d expect Christo and Charlene deVilliers to love plants. After all, that’s where they first met in 2006—while both working for the same greenhouse in Aberdeen. Their joke is, “We met in the petunia patch,” and soon after they were married and starting their own business together. That business, Designs deVilliers, is all about flowers, gardens, and making yards beautiful. For two people who spend their time growing things, the deVilliers talk a lot about how it isn’t really the plants that make their work worthwhile; it’s the people. Christo says, “For me, the best advertisement we can get is when we work for someone and they become a repeat customer and also trust us enough to recommend us to others. The success of a business really depends on its customers.” Charlene is quick to agree, “We’ve had some really wonderful clients over the years who have gone the extra mile in sharing about what we do with their friends and helping us get started that way.”
Throughout the last decade, the couple has been slowly adding new things every year to enhance their business, building everything themselves. They work together, but not necessarily side by side. Christo designs and installs landscaping and does mowing with a small staff that consists of himself, one regular employee, and the occasional seasonal help. Meanwhile, Charlene and her team of three women take care of yards—cleaning them up in the spring, planting the gardens and pots, maintaining them in the summer, cutting everything back in the fall, and putting up holiday lights and decorations. Once finished with those projects for the day, she heads back to the couple’s acreage just southwest of Aberdeen to tend their on-site greenhouse. She says out of all the things she does, being here is her favorite. “We really just jumped into the greenhouse and learned how to manage it as we went. Every year it’s getting easier, and every year we get busier.” After spending hours upon hours researching what to plant, the deVilliers choose which options they’ll offer their customers, but first, they plant them on their own property. Charlene explains, “We want to see how well they really do in this climate—how hardy they are, before we tell other people to plant them.” If someone comes to the greenhouse looking for a unique plant that they don’t have, Charlene adds they’re always ready to roll up their sleeves and find it.
Maybe it’s because it’s at their home, or maybe it’s all the attention to detail they’ve put into it by placing every rock and plant on the property with care, but whatever the reason, the greenhouse has become more than a place to simply buy your plants. Charlene says, “Especially on weekends—whether they’re on a little road trip with their friends or just getting out of town for the day—people will come, look at the plants, and then just spend the afternoon here hanging out together outside. Almost every day we meet someone at the greenhouse who hasn’t been here before.” Recognizing that people enjoy being outside and spending time at their place sparked an idea for their next venture—putting in a winery. It’s in the beginning phases of construction now, but Christo says they envision a place where “customers can relax, have a glass of wine or do wine tasting if they want, or just sit outside with their families and watch their kids play.” They’ll specialize in South African wines, specifically De Villiers Wines, which have been made by farmers in Christo’s family for hundreds of years. The couple is excited to be adding this new element to their business while growing in other areas as well. Right now Charlene decorates for one wedding per year, and she hopes their property can someday be a regular wedding venue, along with the winery and greenhouse.
It’s no doubt the deVilliers put in long work hours. However, they’ve found that if you’re doing something you love to do, then putting in the time it takes to create a company from the ground up is completely worth it. Christo says, “For me coming from South Africa—things are tougher there, so I can see how easy it is to make a living here if you have the motivation and the passion to do something.” Charlene tells a story about when she realized her job felt more like fun than a job. “I was driving home from working in a yard at 10:30 at night, and I passed someone I knew who was also coming home from work and I thought, ‘That poor person is just getting done with work.’ And then it hit me, ‘Oh my gosh, I guess so am I!’” She laughs, “But it just doesn’t feel like work to me.”
While they’re always cultivating new ideas based on what their customers are asking for, Christo and Charlene want Designs deVilliers to stay at a scale small enough for them to manage on their own. Charlene says, “We tried to have more employees and take on more jobs in the past, but decided we want it to be at a level where we can complete the projects ourselves. It’s more personal that way, and our customers are people, not just numbers.” Christo agrees, “Every day is a challenge and every day is different, and we really enjoy that.” // –Jenny Roth
The greenhouse at Designs deVilliers, located at 37948 138th Street, is open seven days a week. For more information, check out www.designsdevilliers.com.