How long have you been actively designing landscapes and gardening?
I grew up helping my father in the gardens he designed and installed around the homes we lived in over the years. But it wasn’t until I began working with Intepra Gardens in 2005 that I was introduced to the world of professional landscape design and gardening. Through the generous mentorship of the firm’s founder and creative director, I was able to gain technical knowledge and application experience on what felt like a daily basis. I would consider this to be the most realistic point to call the beginning of my actively designing landscapes and gardens.
How would you describe your design style?
I wouldn’t say I have a style, per se. In fact, I’m not a proponent of the idea that style is something consistently inherent to everything that I or any other designer does. Style is the end result of a working relationship between a designer and a client. Therefore, while you may find a certain sense of quality or craft or sustainability in my work, you will not likely find a style in it. To me, style is only a marketing tool, a way for an individual to appear to be the best at something, to have a professional focus, etc. It has little to nothing to do with the quality of the design solutions or for that matter the degree to which those solutions are client-appropriate. In my experience, the opposite is usually the case. With all that said, I strive to find a healthy balance between Natural and Synthetic elements and find it is always best to let Nature handle providing the Organic characteristics while I introduce the Geometric characteristics in order to fully honor the vitality of Nature’s shapes, colors and compositions… Organic next to Geometric seems to create the perfectly mutually respectful environment.
How about Avant-Appropriate?
Very funny. I’ll be sure to tell my clients that from now on.
What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned while listening to a client’s needs?
That each client’s ultimate truth is often just below the surface of what they are expressing. And it’s my job to peek under that surface, meditate on it and then present design solutions that are directly informed by it. Also, and possibly most importantly, that every client has needs in the first place, and that actively listening to those needs is the key to creating a garden that they will enjoy. Regardless of scale or budget, being able to look a client in the eye and tell them I understand what it is they would like to see accomplished is a moment I strive for every time with every client. If I can find a way to get to that moment, I know the project’s going to be a success.
Would you cite any particular individuals, groups or movements as having had a lasting impact on your approach to designing landscapes and gardens?
First and foremost, my clients. From that starting point comes everything: the scale, the variety, the shapes, the colors, the heights, the materials, the plantlife, the complexities/simplicities, the textures, the pathways, the accessories… and possibly most importantly each project’s fundamental raison d’être from which every design decision is made. So, the client is exclusively the single most impactful element to any design. Second, I would have to say would be the decades of time spent creating artwork of various kinds. And those who have influenced that aspect of my life are far too many to list! Ha ha! Honestly, I am most attracted to anyone who in their artwork is able to strike a balance between a respect for craft and a decisive and clear concept.
Would you say you have a design ethos then? Something you always tend to employ regardless of the client?
Yes and no. I have a deep personal belief that when opposites are placed in extreme close proximity to one another that they each become the most dynamic and robust versions of what they are. I like to call this “nanodiversity” and great examples of this can be seen in some of the world’s most fantastic gardens. I also believe that a client’s garden is their own and any design ethos should only serve to inform my angle of approach. But, yes, I do believe the two most basic elements, Natural and Synthetic, should be present in every design. They should be kept in harmony and used with the utmost respect for their innate potential. In other words, if you want to truly see a tree for what it is place a rusted steel bench next to it. The extreme contrast between the two will not only serve to form a beautiful singular statement but will also showcase the inherent characteristics of each individual element.
Just for clarification, by Natural and Synthetic do you mean things that are exclusively “of the earth” versus “human-made”?
No, not necessarily. Although that is one aspect of it. By Natural I more broadly mean anything that has characteristics that could be described as being organic, curvaceous, plant-like, soft, flowing and yearning to be interacted with by human hands. By Synthetic I mean anything that has characteristics that could be described as rigid, geometric, angular, hard, flat and not yearning to be interacted with by human hands.
So, a field of ornamental grasses with a few medium-sized boulders would also qualify as Natural and Synthetic elements in balance?
Absolutely. Adding any two elements that possess these characteristics is a relatively simple yet engaging way to create a dynamic garden.
And if you were to add anything to that field of ornamental grasses and boulders it would be…?
It would depend on the client, of course. But if space permitted I could see installing some kind of highly personal artwork. Something fun maybe… a single red balloon made of glass placed to look as if it’s been accidentally caught in one of the trees nearby. I suppose I’d have to add the trees first! Ha ha! Truthfully, anything’s possible, and I’m always up for adding elements just as much as I am editing things down to a minimalist aesthetic.
What materials do you enjoy using most?
With all my clients I try to introduce at least one of each of the following into their gardens: plantlife, stone, wood, steel, fire, water. If the site’s particularly diminutive it can be challenging to achieve this, but in such cases that challenge fuels my creative problem solving/artistic side. And admittedly, that is the side I feel my clients treasure the most. All things considered, I enjoy using the materials that for one reason or another are directly linked to not only each client’s needs but also their dreams, desires and personal history/myth.
Would you say that creative problem solving is your key asset as a landscape designer and gardener?
I would say yes, it is. To a certain extent when a client requires my services it is often because of an inherent issue with their site in combination with the fact that they are looking to have something original, something site-specific, something personal added to their garden. It is not because they would like what the neighbor down the street has or because they are simply trying to “get it done” or because they are looking to install something “simple”. My creative problem solving side is definitely the most developed aspect of my skillset.
Do you feel that that is limited only to the design process?
Absolutely not. I employ creative problem solving in all aspects of each project. From the manner by which the design is presented in a high or low-tech format to how the design’s elements are acquired, from the degree to which the plantlife is young versus mature upon installation to what variety of stone would be best considering the market’s current status. I would say I use my creative problem solving skills just as much behind-the-scenes as I do in the design and installation phases. Maybe more, truth be told. Making every project come together in as economically-efficient a manner as possible is something I take great pride in.
If you could design a garden for anyone, who would it be and why?
Wow. That’s quite a question. At some point in my career I would truly love to work with someone like Maya Lin. She would likely push my editing skills and attention to detail even further. Also, she would likely be open to atypical materials being employed for rudimentary purposes, adding subtle artistic nuance and highly personalized textures, the development of a true sense of place. Regardless if the individual is still living, I would say Kurt Vonnegut would be near the top of the list. It would be an honor to create a beautiful, engaging and smart physical garden for an individual who was able to create such beautiful, engaging and smart mental gardens for countless readers. And if I was permitted to choose someone from any era of known history, I would cherish the opportunity to work with Siddhartha Gautama.
Do you subscribe to any eco-responsible practices?
Yes. For example, I have a deep belief that the degree to which a community of people possess a sense of positive connection to one another and that community’s number of gas-powered machines is inversely proportionate. So, I use zero gas-powered machines of any kind in my work, instead choosing to reach for the time-honored feasability and sustainability of various hand tools. And if the scale of a project is beyond the reasonable scope of one person’s efforts, then I will acquire the appropriate individuals who harbor similar skills for assistance. This zero gas-powered machines philosophy not only helps to keep project costs much lower, but also serves as a means to a far quieter, real-time community-building and spiritually healthier ends.
What advice would you give someone with the desire to start their own garden?
Be patient. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Think before doing anything radical. Then, having thought about it, do it as radically as you possibly can. Learn how to properly prepare your soil so that it will be fully capable of supporting plantlife. Purchase quality handtools on an as-you-can-afford-to basis from a reputable dealer, and learn how to properly take care of them. Frequent your local nursery as if you were simultaneously window shopping and on an educational field trip, and should you have any questions whatsoever do not hesitate to ask them of those working there. Their advice often consists of years if not decades of hands-on experience. Most of all, try to remember that there are very few things in life as satisfying as watering your garden and witnessing it grow because of your efforts… cherish that activity, it is by definition a sacred one.