Sunday Opinion: Not One Minute To Spare

A landscape company in another state rang me up last week. They do a lot of commercial landscape design and installation.  They have a big maintenance division.  They do holiday decorating for commercial clients on a big scale.  They just purchased a 16,000 square foot building which will better enable them to handle this holiday business-that’s how big their business is.  This particular design principal was interested in developing a retail landscape division.  At this point, I still had no idea why he was calling me. 

He got around to that part.  He was interested in whether I would consult with his company.  More specifically, he was interested in the seasonal containers we do for clients.  He liked them.  Could he arrange for his designers to travel to Michigan, so I could make a presentation?  Could he arrange for me to conduct this consultation in each of the four seasons?  My internal reaction was immediate-could I teach about what I do every day?  Could I adequately teach about what I do during a time when I am so busy?  How could I make time for this?  What would I have to say that would matter?  Who are these people?  Would I have time in the course of a day to meet them, understand something about them, and make a contribution?  All the time these questions are swirling around in my head, I am looking at my calender for a date that might work.

There is nothing surprising about this.  I am a designer, but more importantly, I am a person who tries to facilitate the design process. No design goes on, in my opinion,  unless there is a relationship between a design professional, and a client. I routinely see the results of landscape design lacking that relationship.  Those installations may be impossible to maintain.  They may be incoherent.  They may put lots of effort towards an end the client has no interest in.  They may miss the mark.  When I see landscapes that miss the mark, I look to the designer.  Perhaps they have not taken the time to explain a plan thoroughly.  They may not take the time to disagree with a client.  They may not have taken the time to rethink their design, given the comments of a client.  My idea is to take more responsibility than a client-as well I should.  They come to me for help-do they not?  Relationships-this matters much to me.  This person and company from  another state-could I help him?  This colleague-I had the immediate and initial idea to accomodate him. 

Accomodating a client or colleague-why wouldn’t I?  Their issues are my issues.  A client or colleague- should they have notions that I think warrant intervention, a different point of view,  I will voice that.  My point of view, melded with their point of view-this endows any design project with potential. Residential landscape design, well done, respects the individual, the family, the land, the circumstances-so many things influence design.  As for consulting with another firm, would I have anything to offer? 

A few days ago, a woman came into the shop at 3 minutes to close, who had never been here.  She lives in the immediate neighborhood.  For fifteen years, she has driven by the shop, and never stopped.  Who knows what she thought we were!  The holiday lighting outside encouraged her to park, and come through the doors.  I could tell she was having a perfect moment.  We turned up the music-Handel.  We left her alone.  For 40 minutes, she looked, and studied.  I knew from the look on her face that she was experiencing a perfect moment.  We did not disturb her.  She thanked us for keeping the shop open.

Why am I telling this story?  I knew watching this person see the shop for the first time, that I cannot in good faith consult with other companies.  I have no rules, or recipes to offer. This visit from a new client was not anything I can really explain, or quantify, but her visit meant everything about how and why I do what I do.  From my side, my business is about the people who conduct it-their point of view, their creativity, their passion for the garden, their work.  This cannot be transferred to another time, place, or person.  How Rob shops for the store makes the fifteen years he has spent doing so obvious.  Everything he has seen and done for 15 years informs his choices and opinions.  His eye cannot be transferred elsewhere.  There is no one else like him.  Our clients understand and value this in him.  He treasures their interest, and spends the time it takes to respond in kind.  Any client, old or new- we both like the idea of engagement.      

The upshot of the previous discussion-I realize I really do not have one minute to spare, nor the inclination to consult with another company.  I doubt I could help them, beyond suggesting that they focus on representing their own point of view in the best possible way they can.  There is plenty of room for lots of good design.  Good design needs to come from what is within.  I have people and projects that need my attention.  This what I want to do-pay attention to, and interact with, the people who approach me.  What Rob and I do is very personal.  It is about our place.  It revolves around our singular point of view.  We have clients who like this.  This makes for a life.  The group of us, interacting, describes our day. 

 Rob and I have been here every day, for fifteen years.  We have made it a life’s work to make that experience exceptional.  We cannot imagine what it would be like, to walk into the shop for the first time.  Or the fiftieth time.  But we have pinned all of our hopes and dreams on creating that special experience, for anyone who walks through our doors.   This is our story.




At A Glance: Woodland Style
















Good Ingredients


 I am not a cook.  I am not especially fussy about what I eat.  I like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  I am happy with a tunafish sandwich, or a burger.  I like whatever Buck fixes.  Milo and Howard have eaten the same brand of kibble every day for 7 years-I am just about there.  I do on occasion long for some liver and onions, or Chinese food for a local and great restaurant, but day to day, I am a food bore.  Feed me please-I need to get that meal over with, and get going. I eat to live, not to be entertained.    

 But I really like fresh vegetables-why?  I grew up with that.  My Dad shopped for fresh vegetables and fruits-we always had them.   At least three, every meal.  A sample vegetable menu-home grown potatoes, spinach, and salad.  Or broccoli, corn, and tomatoes.  I like salad, every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to fix one, I am happy with a wedge of iceberg lettuce-as long as it is fresh.  At this time of year, Buck and I eat good greens every day.  Swiss chard-a favorite. Turnip or beet greens-a close second.  Bok Choy, brussel sprouts, kale, beet greens, spinach, okra-we chow down all of the fresh greens.    

Buck really likes to cook.  He watches cooking programs on cable.  I and happy to join him.  This is the least I can do, considering that he shops weekly, and goes on to feed me every day.  Every program we watch emphasizes the importance of cooking with great materials. Fresh greens. Locally grown produce.  Every program he watches has a common thread-the importance of good ingredients.      

What I cook up in the landscape no one can eat, but anyone can see.  It is  tough to make a beautiful landscape with poorly grown shrubs, or park grade trees. Well grown perennials take hold quickly, and thrive.  Beautiful fresh flowers are easy to arrange.  Preserved eucalpytus has this going for it-the preservation part enables an arrangement that lasts a long time.      

I have lined many a wire container with florist’s moss.  This raw material comes in varying thicknesses, and highly variable dimensions.  Moss rolls- his new product transforms the bits and pieces that I recognize as florist’s moss into sheets that are easy to work with.  How I love this good ingredient!  I could wallpaper a room with it.  

The good ingredients for holiday and winter pots are many.  A wide range of choices in materials means a wide range of expression is possible.   

Cut noble fir is a really great ingredient.  Versatile and very long lasting. 

These double ball topiary sculptures-I made them for a client in 2005.  What you see here-a new, and fresh layer of dried moss.  Good materials are visually fresh.  This moss looks good enough to eat.  


Our first shipment of magnolia came today.  Magnolia makes great wreaths and garlands.  The cut branches are mouthwatering good in winter containers.   

You are halfway home in any holiday decor project, assembling some good materials.  

Should you take the time to represent the season, use good ingredients.  There are lots of places to find them, including your own yard, a field down the street, the farmers market, your local nursery, a local fruit market, the grocery store,   I shop for good ingredients in all of these places-not just my own.

Gorgeous Greens

So many of the materials used at the holidays are harvested from the landscape.  Not my landscape, mind you.  My evergreens grow much too slowly to be trimmed for holiday greens;  the one spruce on my property was limbed up at least 12 feet before I moved in.  But there are places where the boxwood flushes several times a season, and the magnolia grows lushly.  Thank heavens for all the fir-Noble, Frazier, Douglas, Balsam, Silver, Concolor-fir boughs are so beautiful, long lasting, and fragrant at the holidays.  And of course, the iconic boxwood. Cut magnolia-this a a subject worthy of a post soon to come.   We have true variegated English boxwood branches for the first time this season.  Would that I could grow this gorgeous evergreen in my garden!  That aside, I plan to enjoy all of the cut greens available during the holiday and winter season.

Noble fir-so aptly named.  The short needles grow densely along each branch. They shrug off the worst of the winter weather; the cut branches stay green for months.  Evergreen needles have evolved to survive long periods when the roots cannot obtain water, when the soil is frozen.  The needles have very little in the way of surface area.  This means water evaporates at a lower and slower rate than say a maple leaf.  A big surface area means rapid evaporation.  Their formal shape and gorgeous blue green color makes them a green of choice for winter arrangements.  Noble fir-the mainstay of my winter container arrangements.      

Berried juniper is not my most favorite green, but the blue berries are very persistent.  I like mixing this green with other blue hued greens.

Long needle pine-just exactly what species is this?  This is not a common name that I know.  Should you recognize this evergreen, will you write me?  The long needled pines-as in white pine, have gracefully curving stems.  This makes them great for informal arrangements.  Curvy is a good look, for the winter.

I love the texture and the fragrance of cedar.  This is an evergreen with flat needles.  Those flat needles present more surface area to all of those elements that dry out cut greens.  I use Port Orford cedar, a lax and luscious variety distantly related to my thujas, outside only.  Cedar roping and branches dry out very quickly indoors.  Even outdoors, they dry, brown out, and drop needles too soon to make them a cut green of choice.  I use cedar as an accent in my holiday decor projects.  Long lasting gets lots of votes.  That aside,  I like any seasonalexpression.  Cut cedar for that one moment brings the holidays to mind. Cedar branches-so fragrant, and so fleeting.

Douglas fir is perhaps the least showy of all of the specialty holiday greens, but its longevity is legendary.  I have been known to cut up Douglas fir Christmas trees after Christmas for winter pots.  Douglas fir will stay green well into April.  I am impressed by this. 

Boxwood is an evergreen so close to my heart-I like them wild, I love them trimmed.  Broad leaved evergreens are a great foil to the needled evergreens.  This is the perfect cut material for clipped topiaries, and formal wreaths.  Any arrangement of needled evergreen boughs gets a visual boost from any boxwood companionship.  I like the reference in my holiday decor to the boxwood in my garden.

Princess pine-I have never planted one.  I do not know the species.  But these branches look great in winter containers and garlands.  The long needles are presented in short tufts.  Where would this work for you?

German boxwood is a very big leaved boxwood.  The very large leaved branches are striking in winter or holiday arrangements. 

Oregonia is a name of choice in the florist trade for boxwood-but this boxwood is much more subtle, and smaller leaved than our English variegated boxwood.  I will not debate the differences.  I can only say that there are so many choices in cut greens for the holidays. 

Every bale of greens that came in this week -beautiful.  Those fresh materials-they smell great.  I hold them in my hands, and imagine.   They keep me going.  They keep me going strong.