Posts

First of all, I would like to thank you all for bearing with me as I have taken a trip down memory lane recalling my adventures as a landscape designer.  Your comments have been so much fun to read.


Some of you may be wondering if I am still a landscape designer.  Well the answer is both yes and no.  I no longer work only as a landscape designer.  But, my work as a horticulturist does involve some design work from time to time which I love.



Why am I no longer working only as a landscape designer?  Well, there are a few different reasons.  


First of all, I did enjoy parts of my job, including meeting with so many different people and helping them to realize their goals for their landscapes.

I loved seeing the successful completion of a job.
And lastly, my fancy office with the black granite desk.
I know, you are tired of hearing about my fancy desk by now 😉

Now there were some aspects of the job that I really did not enjoy.

The first part was the emphasis on selling.  Now I have nothing against the sales industry.  But I found out that sales is not my strong point.  Ironically I did sell quite a lot, but that was largely because of my passion of beautiful gardens.  But, I do not like it when a salesperson tries to do a hard sell with me and I definitely did not like the emphasis placed on that in the company.  Besides, I was not good at it, so I rarely attempted it.

Secondly, hardscapes were highly prized by the company.  Now hardscapes are those items such as patios, built-in BBQ’s, seatwalls, firepits and fireplaces, just to name a few.  Sometimes, trees and plants never entered the equation.  I have nothing against hardscape, but I preferred gardens full of plants with just a few hardscape elements.

Thirdly, I would spend a lot of time working with a client, producing a landscape design, only to have them cancel later and have nothing to show for my effort.

Lastly, the recession hit and the home builder I worked for declared bankruptcy and eventually went out of business.  And so in one year, I had created over 200 designs and only 50 would ever be completed and so hours of work was wasted and I would not see any money from them.

So, by this point in my career, I was at a crossroads.  I was very burned out by the amount of time and effort my job required and I had very little to show for it at the end.

So, I took off a year from working.  I am embarrassed to admit that even my passion for plants was affected.  I did the minimum in my garden, but did not receive any joy from it.  

About one year afterward, I began to feel my interest in my garden begin to return.  And so, I started my blog, which I have enjoyed so much.


At that time, I began working as a horticulturist again, but with myself as the boss.  Now, I work quite a bit as a garden writer, speaker as well as a landscape consultant.  


I do still create landscape designs from time to time. It works out perfectly for me because I can control how busy I am while ensuring that I have enough time for my family.

Do I regret my working as a landscape designer for a home builder?
No.  I learned so much from that experience.  It not only made sharpened my landscape designing skills, it helped me to learn me more about myself and what I really wanted.

So, one important thing I learned is that life is about the simple pleasures – like taking time to stop and take a roll in the grass…..

Thank you again for following my short-lived career as a landscape designer.
**********************************
I do plan on sharing stories of my early career as a horticulturist, working on golf courses.  Adventures with coyotes, snakes, destructive storms, monster grubs and being the only woman working in an all-male environment are just part of what is to come 🙂

Well, there I was….in my new job, working only as a landscape designer for a large home builder.  My surroundings had definitely changed since I left my small and sometimes dirty maintenance office and traded it in for a beautiful office on the 14th floor in downtown Phoenix (you can read more in my “Part 1” post if you like).

Now you would think that with as a horticulturist, I was more then ready to get started……well not exactly.  Before I was allowed to meet with home buyers by myself, I had to learn how to design a whole host of custom structures.  And so, I spent 4 weeks learning how to design built-in BBQs, firepits, seatwalls, arbors, fountains, raised patios, etc.  

 Built-in firepit

It was harder then you may think because I had to design these structures from the ground up, which I found challenging.  Trying to factor in gas lines, how many bricks, did it need to be reinforced, how much material was needed, water lines, paint, stucco finishes, etc. was exhausting. I soon learned that visualizing these structures, much less drawing them out, was quite hard for me.  My brain just does not work well that way.  But, I did learn how….but I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed the process.

 
 With my new knowledge, I was soon ready to meet with clients in my fancy new office.  I had traded in my work gloves and boots for manicured fingernails and a business professional wardrobe.  Did I already mention my black granite desk in my previous post?  I know I did….but it was just so beautiful 😉
In addition to the fancy trappings of my office, I had a variety of samples to show new home buyers.  Pieces of flagstone in all sorts of colors, pavers, cultured stone, colored concrete and I even had a clear glass box with fake grass inside.

I still have a couple of flagstone samples…..I’m not sure why I kept them.  

I think my favorite prop was my ‘rock box’.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  I still have it and so I dug it out of my stuff in the garage just to show you how cool it is….

Okay, maybe it isn’t the most exciting thing you have seen, but wait until I open it up….





Still not too interesting, is it?

Personally, I found the subject of landscape rock selection quite boring, but clients needed to see samples of what type of landscape rock (gravel) they could chose to use in their landscape.  (It was surprising how many people get hung up on choosing landscape rock.  Throw in a couple who have differing opinions, and it would take forever.)

So I was finally trained and ready – after all I had my rock box ;-).  But, I was so nervous.  
Did I mention that I had to actually draw out the landscape design in front of the client, price the entire landscape and get a signed contract within a period of 1 hour? 

Believe it or not, I gradually got used to designing on the spot.  I enjoyed meeting so many different people and most of them were very nice to work with.

 Over the course of my two years working with the home builder, I met with many wonderful people.  I also met with some unusual people as well.  Here is just a small sampling of some client meetings that stick out in my mind…..

CLIENT #1:
This particular client did not want any trees or plants in his front yard.  NONE!  Now for the horticulturist and plant lover in me – I just couldn’t fathom someone not wanting plants in their yard.
 I did my best trying to describe the benefits of having trees and plants in his front yard.  I told him that I could design his landscape using low-maintenance plants.  But, he was not swayed in the least….not even when I whipped out my photos of beautifully landscaped areas.
Well, who do you think got their way…..me or him?

I did!  

I wish I could say that I persuaded him by showing him examples of my landscape designing expertise….but that would be a lie.
I got my way because the community where his new home was to be built, required trees and plants in the front yard.  Actually, 2 trees, 10 large shrubs and 12 smaller groundcovers.
The expression on his face was just priceless because he just couldn’t believe that he had to have plants.
CLIENT #2:
I had a wonderful time meeting with this client.  She was moving into a beautiful community located in the upper desert surrounding Phoenix AND she loved plants.

All except for this one…..
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
I’m not sure why she did not like this plant.  It is quite beautiful, low-maintenance as well as being drought-tolerant, all of which are good things. 
Now the fact that a client did not like a particular plant was not unusual and did not usually present a problem; I would create a design using other plants.
However, the community she was moving into had some strict guidelines in regards to what types of plants could be planted.  Every home had to have one particular plant in the front yard.
Guess what plant she absolutely had to have planted in her front yard?
Yep…..you guessed it,  Red Yucca.
The client couldn’t believe it, but she was quite nice about it.  Together, we figured out where we could have it planted in her front yard where she would not have to see it.  We put it on the side of her house where only her neighbor would be seeing it.
CLIENT #3:
This client was building a home in a gorgeous part of the desert, called Gold Canyon.  It is located by beautiful mountains and the views from her new home were going to be stunning.
This particular community required a quite a few plants in the front yard – I love plants so designing for this community was always a treat.
We spent our time creating her landscape design together.  I suggested plants and their placement and I could see that she was getting excited about how beautiful her landscape would look.
I loved working with clients who could ‘see’ what the finished landscape would look like.  They were very easy to work with.
I remember her discussing her plans for inside her new house and she couldn’t wait to move in.  
Because it was a corner lot, there was a 1 ft. wide strip of land between the block wall of her backyard and the sidewalk.  
As we were getting ready to wrap things up, I mentioned that little strip of land was hers and that she was responsible for maintaining it.  Now, maintenance for that area was easy.  There were no plants there, just landscape rock.
Well, she was not happy about owning that little strip of land.  In fact, she was so upset that she walked up to the front desk and canceled her house purchase.  She wouldn’t even want to consider building her house on a typical lot.  




You know, I soon learned to expect the unexpected.  Each person is unique as are their preferences.  Who would have ever guessed that someone would back out of a house purchase over a little 1 ft. wide strip of land……
**********************


I hope my stories are not too boring.  I have had fun recalling some of the more memorable moments.


If you are not completely bored to death……come back for Part 3 in a few days 🙂

Okay, some of you may be asking – when did you work as a landscape designer?  I thought you were a horticulturist? 

Well the answer is, is that part of a horticulturist’s job involves landscape design.  Actually, that was my favorite part of being a horticulturist and I was able to design everything from annual flower combinations to large landscape areas and everything in between.

There was a point in my career where I wanted to concentrate solely on landscape design, so I took a job with a major design and landscape company. 

As a horticulturist, my time used to be split between my small, cramped office in the golf course maintenance facility as well as around the beautiful outdoors, driving around golf courses and desert landscapes.


I was the only woman in a department made up of 39 men.  Work boots, shorts and polo shirts were my normal wardrobe along with my floppy hat.  My mode of transportation was my little green golf cart.

A typical day was spent outdoors during the morning hours, driving around the landscape areas, fertilizing, pruning and assigning jobs to my landscape crew.

Afternoons were typically spent in the office catching up on paperwork and working on new designs and estimates.

Well that all changed dramatically once I decided to work solely as a landscape designer.  Why did I leave my previous job?  Well, after 5 years, they were running out of new areas for me to design and I did not only want to manage landscape areas…..I wanted to keep on creating new ones.
My new job involved more then a new job title.  It came with many drastic changes.

I was assigned to work with a major home-builder, working with new home buyers and designing their new landscapes.

The first major change was my office space.  I no longer had a cramped and sometimes dirty office…..


 My new office was located on the 14th floor of a beautiful office building in downtown Phoenix.

No longer did I work from an old formica desk.  I now had a desk made of black granite.  

Instead of a windowless office, I had a beautiful view of the city from up high.
The dress code had changed as well.  No more boots and polo shirts…..professional business clothing was now required.

I must admit that at first, I was a bit dazzled by the trappings of my new position.  I mean, I even had a coveted parking pass and free reign over a fully stocked refrigerator.

Well, my adventures in my new position were just beginning and then reality started to set in.  

I met with many interesting clients who had some interesting views on what they wanted in their gardens.  I will share some of my stories in my next post.

I do hope you all had a good week.  I have had a busy week of consultations as well as preparing for two upcoming speaking engagements, (which I love to do by the way).  But the most exciting thing is that I am working on getting ready for a trip along the east coast – I can’t wait to tell you more about that 🙂

I have enjoyed this series of ‘Curing the Garden Blahs’ and would like to cover the topic of form and texture since they belong together along with color, which we covered in an earlier post.  

You may not be too familiar with these concepts and wonder what part they play in a good garden design.  To help, let my ask you the following question – have you seen a landscape that really catches your interest, but you cannot tell exactly why?  Landscapes full of flowering plants do attract our attention, but have you ever been attracted to one that does not necessarily have lots of flowering plants?  If so, chances are that the designer made sure to incorporate both texture and form when they created the garden.

Well, let’s get familiar with texture first.  Texture refers to the visual surface of a plant, such as rough or smooth as well as the size and shape of foliage, flowers, branches and bark.  Here in the desert, we definitely have our share of plants with rough surfaces, but no matter where you live the following photos should help you understand the concepts of texture and how it relates to your landscape plants.

Ouch!
 Purple Prickly Pear
In direct contrast are those plants with smooth surfaces…..

Agave desmettiana

Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

Different types of texture are also expressed in the different shapes of foliage and bark.
First, examples of fine textured plants which are characterized by small leaves and flowers and sometimes have a ‘lacy’ appearance.
Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
 Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)
Threadleaf Cassia  (Senna nemophila)
 Alyssum ‘Royal Carpet’
Here are some examples of plants that have a coarse texture which is characterized by large leaves that tend to be bold and make a statement in the landscape.
  Purple Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata)
 Geranium
 Australian Bottle Tree (Brachyiton populneus)
One way that designers draw attention the landscape is to pair different textures together.  The following picture is an excellent example of this…..
 Agave weberi with Purple Trailing Lantana

The coarse texture of the Agave paired with the fine texture of the Purple Trailing Lantana accentuate their differences and your eye is drawn to that naturally.  When emphasizing the ways that they are different, you also appreciate their individual beauty even more.  If you place plants with similar texture next to each other, they can fade into the background.  
In general, coarse textured plants are placed in the background while the finer textured plants are in the front. 

  
A variety of textures are represented in this backyard garden, which draws your attention.

Now let us look closer at the concept of form as it relates to the garden.  This is somewhat easier to grasp as it has to do with the overall shape of plants.
Here are spiky plants, often called ‘accent’ plants….

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

 Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’

 Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Other plant shapes are more naturally more rounded…..


Eremophila ‘Valentine’

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)  

  Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

 Green Cloud Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

Now you may notice that the naturally rounded shrubs are not unnaturally round and smooth…..these shrubs have texture which is a good thing.
 
Imagine if you will, a landscape of ‘green balls’.  Believe it or not, you don’t need your imagination to picture this because there are countless landscapes with this problem.

 

These plants have been robbed of their form.   Now they are little better then green balls.  There is nothing interesting about them.  *For those of you who have gotten to know me through my blog or in person, you know that I am passionately against the practice of ‘poodling’ landscape shrubs.  Especially those that flower.  If you feel like it, you can always read my earlier post, “Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes.”

Besides being too crowded, the shrubs have all been overly pruned, removing much of their form and texture and creating a boring landscape.

Below is a formally pruned Texas Ebony tree….

Needless to say, they are not to be pruned into round balls.

Which do you like better….the one above or the one below?  Believe it or not, they are the same type of tree.

 

A beautiful landscape incorporates both color, form and texture…..


The fine texture of the Foothill Palo Verde contrasts nicely with the coarse texture of the Agave in the foreground.  The ornamental grass in the background also add nice form and texture contrast.

 This ‘natural’ desert landscape has actually been recreated using the desert as the inspiration.  The different form and textures of the succulents contrast well with the trees, shrubs and groundcovers.

 Form and texture at play with only a few different plants.

This is one of my personal favorites 🙂

I do hope this post has been helpful in explaining the importance of both texture and form in the landscape.  I have only briefly touched upon it and there is much more information available online or at your local bookstore if you would like to get into more detail.

 I am now off to help my husband finish building the fence of my new flower garden 🙂

 Have a great weekend! 

I must admit, that I have been looking forward to this topic and have been pouring over past photos of my landscape consults.  I didn’t realize how many photos that I had accrued over the years of boring gardens so it has taken me a while to put this post together.

My last post asked the question, “Does Your Garden Have the Blahs?”  Is it boring, overgrown, sparse, or just lacks interest?  Well, don’t worry; we will go over some simple steps that you can do to chase the ‘blahs’ away.

Part 1 has to do with deciding what to take out of the garden and what to keep.  Your homework assignment was to take a picture of your garden and then print it out.  Now, get out your red pen and get ready…..

Now at first glance, you may be wondering what is wrong with this front garden.  Well, the homeowners felt their garden was boring and lacked color.   This garden had some attractive plants, but some were too large for their allotted space and had to be pruned continuously.  Other shrubs were not placed correctly and blocked the view of those behind them.
 So, I got out my red pen and got started…..
Shrubs that blocked the view into the garden and were too large for their allotted space and so were circled in red and removed.  Those circled in blue were pruned back.
Shortly afterward, you can see the difference removing a few plants and some pruning makes.  The client also added some new plants (not blooming in this picture) that would provide color in the winter when they were in residence.
Here is an example of a gardener who got a little carried away……
This garden is not what I would call ‘blah’, but the homeowner tried to fit all of her favorite plants into a very small area.  All they succeeded in doing was to create a messy planting area, which is not pleasing to the eye.
I counted at least 6 shrubs in this small area.  Because they were so crowded, they had been pruned often to keep them from overtaking each other and removing many of the flowers in the process.  By removing 3 of the plants, the rest would have room to grow into their natural shapes and provide a beautiful focal point to this garden.

This front garden has a grove of beautiful trees.  However, there are four trees crowded into too small a space.  Each individual tree had to be pruned to keep them from running into each other and therefore, you could not enjoy their full size and beauty.  

By removing the circled trees the two remaining trees would be better appreciated since they could then reach their full potential.

This entry area was well designed and only suffered from some old perennials (Angelita Daisies).  Many flowering perennials are short-lived and need to be replaced every few years.  They are relatively inexpensive and add so much interest to the garden.

Unfortunately, many gardeners make the mistake of not replacing their plants and as a result, their garden becomes more and more bare with each passing year, like the one below…..

If your garden looks like this one, you probably do not need to remove anything, since there is hardly anything left.  You can see a drip irrigation line sticking up by the boulder where there used to be a plant.  This is a perfect example of a garden where short-lived plants were removed and never replaced.
Sometimes, the wrong plant is planted the wrong place…..
These are Ficus trees that were planted in a raised planter around a pool.  When they were initially planted, they were small and fit well into this limited space, but no longer.  
This Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs naturally grows more then 4 – 5 ft. wide and should be removed from this area.
Gold Lantana is beautiful and is usually covered with yellow flowers, but not his one.  It has been pruned, using hedge trimmers, to keep it from encroaching on the water meter, but it had never been severely pruned, which if done each spring, would eliminate this problem.  
There are two different solutions  – the first is to simply prune the Lantana back severely to about 1′ and let it grow out until it is approximately 3′ x 3′.   The other solution is simply to remove it and plant a replacement further away from the water meter.
Many situations simply require occasional severe pruning, which can rejuvenate plants, reduce maintenance and greatly improve their appearance.  So if any of these pictures remind you of your garden – a severe pruning, may be all you need to do.
Severely pruning this Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum), will remove the dead interior growth which will be replaced with new, attractive growth that will flower.  By pruning back to approximately 2′ x 2′, you will have an ugly bunch of sticks for a few weeks, but in most cases, they will begin to leaf out again.  **This is best done in the spring time.  Some plants will not recover from this type of pruning, which indicates that they were declining and would not have survived for long even without being pruned.
In some cases, when there is little green growth (above), it is best to just remove the plants and start over.  But, you can always try to cut them back severely to about 2′ in size and see if they come back…..you don’t have anything to lose, so try it and you may be surprised when it comes back.

 There is nothing that needs to be removed in this garden.  But a good pruning would improve the appearance.  All three shrubs should be pruned severely every 2 – 3 years in spring and then allowed to grow into their natural shape.  The Cat’s Claw Vine, (I don’t recommend planting this vine), should also be pruned down to the ground every few years to remove old, woody growth and keep it in check.



Again, I would not remove anything from this garden, but it does need improvement.  It looks like a bunch of round blobs dotted haphazardly around the landscape.  At first you may fault a bad design, but if you take a second look, it is more a problem of incorrect pruning.  Each type of shrub in this landscape grows to varying heights and shapes, when not pruned into round ball shapes.  By decreasing the amount of pruning and banishing the hedge trimmers, the shrubs would grow into their natural shapes would greatly improve the appearance of this landscape.  A little texture would be welcome in the shape of large boulders, accent plants and some mounding perhaps.

**You can read more about recommended pruning for shrubs in an earlier post, “Shrubs Aren’t Made To Be Cupcakes, Frisbees or Pill Boxes.


As you can see, we covered a lot of different boring gardens.  I hope the examples that I have shown help you as you evaluate your own garden and use your red pen.


I will start working on Part 2, which will cover more of the design aspect – specifically, where to place plants in the landscape.  




************************************


On  personal note, life is crazy and busy, but there are two things that I would like to share with you.


First, my nephew (Little Farmer of Double S Farms), swallowed a penny earlier this week and then complained of pain.  It turns out it got lodged in his esophagus and he had to go the children’s hospital where they put him to sleep so they could use a scope to get it out.



He did great 🙂


The second thing that I would like to share is that in exactly 1 week, my brother and sister-in-law will give birth to their twin boys.  I can hardly wait!

Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

 

Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)
   
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

 
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?
 
Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana
 
I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.
 
So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.