Google’s gardening leaver
28 February 2011 | By Matt Byrne
At this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show - the world’s largest such event with more than 150,000 visitors - one of the eight gardens chosen for the prestigious Conceptual Gardens category will be shown off by a very unusual gardener.
Nigel Jones, the founder of garden designers Medlar & Cob, has only been in business since September 2008, but he is hoping the fact that his design, ’My Life in the Cloud’, has been chosen will be a major boost to his fledgling business.
And there is a clue in the name of Jones’s creation - described as “a three cubic metre partially transparent box [that] appears to float amongst a combination of altitude tolerant plants such as Wood Betony and soft, cloud-like foliage” - as to his previous incarnation.
Until Christmas 2007 Jones was the head lawyer at Google’s 45-strong European in-house team, a place where the word ’cloud’ has a very different meaning from the fluffy white cumuli Jones sees while out working.
“When potential clients are choosing between the multitudes of garden designers that are out there, I can say, “They’re all very good, but I was chosen by the Royal Horticultural Society, so you can trust me when I say I know what I’m doing’,” says Jones.
Until recently he was running the in-house team at probably the world’s best-known dotcom business. Swapping that for digging up people’s back yards is some career change.
Jones joined Google in June 2003, becoming the company’s only lawyer outside Europe. Prior to that he worked at AltaVista, the search engine people used before Google came along, which he joined from legacy firm Berwin Leighton, where he trained and qualified as an IP litigator.
Following a two-year stint at AltaVista, during which time it was sold to Overture, which itself was bought by Yahoo!, Jones said he “made myself redundant” and so decamped to California.
“I needed a job, called Google, and 18 interviews later became their European counsel,” he recalls.
The ex-lawyer says his time at Google was “incredibly interesting”.
“It was amazing to work for a company that everyone knew, used and which was successful,” he says. “Also I was surrounded by people who were generally much bigger risk-takers than you find at law firms, people who think very differently from the way lawyers are trained to think. So the level of risk Google was prepared to take was generally much greater.”
Jones adds that, from a legal point of view, this made working at Google “incredibly exciting”, with legal envelopes pushed around copyright, data protection and other issues in relation to products such as Google Mail, Google Street View and Google Images.
Ultimately, however, towards the end of his time there Jones began to feel it was time for a change.
“The place I joined was a small office in Soho with 30 people,” recalls Jones. “The place I left was a great big, huge, worldwide company. I sat on the recruiting committee for the whole of Europe, but I really wasn’t enjoying it any more.”
Consequently Jones decided to leave Google and turned his attention to the tricky question of ’what next?’.
“I was in the garden one day and just thought it would be fabulous to be able to do this all the time,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed my time as a lawyer, but I knew I wanted to do something completely different. I didn’t want to just be a lawyer for the rest of my life.”
Jones also knew he wanted to have a go at building a business, as he puts it, “from the ground up”. Pun surely intended.
Few businesses could have fitted the bill as well as garden design. While still at Google he began a garden design training course with the company’s blessing, handing over the in-house reins to a member of the firm’s California legal team, Matt Sucherman, at Christmas 2007.
After gaining the relevant garden design qualifications in 2009 and a stint at Shoreditch-based landscape architects Del Buono Gazerwitz as a junior designer, Jones eventually decided to go for it full-time on his own.
“Being chosen for the Hampton Court show is a huge vote of confidence that I’m going in the right direction and doing the right thing,” he beams.