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Garden Designers Roundtable: Design Challenge! I’ve Got A Crush On You…

by germinatrix | January 25th, 2011

I didn’t write this post the way I should have.

This month’s Garden Designers Roundtable was a big design throw-down, where everybody attacked a design of a garden in the Northeastern part of the country. How fun, right? Wellllll…

I didn’t take up the challenge – I didn’t throw down the gauntlet.
Why you ask? You, Germinatrix, are a garden designer! You should be able to get a plan from across the country and be able to go to town on it – you should be able to DOMINATE!
But, there is something I need before I design a garden, something I absolutely must have before I approach the important work of creating a meaningful outdoor space for someone.
I need THEM.

the artists in their edible garden

I need to meet my clients. Actually, I need to MORE than meet my clients – I need to know them intimately. I know, I know – it sounds strange. It sounds invasive, maybe even vampirish! But I know from experience that my best work comes from the time I spend getting to know the people I am designing for. If I don’t really KNOW who they are and what they love, all I am doing is designing for myself.

Not that that is all bad, of course – I can address issues and challenges that always come with any site, I can enhance what is there and create something beautiful, of course. But it is the creating of spaces in collaboration with clients that makes me happy. I spend time with my clients – we have coffee, we have lunches, they come over to my house and we talk about desires and peeves. I want to know what makes them laugh and what they love. When I have infused a garden with the essence of the client is when I know I’ve done my job. I want all of my gardens to look different – I don’t want to see myself in my gardens, I want to see my clients. This is something that I’ll be working on forever, I’m sure – how to disappear in my work – how to make each garden I create as idiosyncratic and personal as each client. I want it to look like THEY made it. To do that, I need them.

they are extremely intelligent, funny, active, up for anything, expressive, iconoclastic, sharp, motivated, open-minded, well read, and let's face it - really foxy!

Case in point – The Young Artists. They were my partners in creating their garden – they allowed me to ask crazy questions and poke and prod, to figure out not only the “them” they present to the world, but who they really ARE. Their tastes are different (not unusual – designers often have to marry two extremely different aesthetic styles into a landscape. It’s FUN!) He is clean, modern, sharp – he loves lines and angles, he is meticulous and has a tremendous personal power. He is also very funny and sweet and open to experimentation. She is sensual and free, theatrical and lush, she loves the unusual, the strange, the thing “under” the real thing. The opportunity to create for them was an incredible treat – something I feel so lucky to have experienced.

For me, knowing these two was so much more important than the contingencies of the site. The clients are the biggest variables of any design project. It may be indulgent of me, but it really is something I can’t design without. To do my best work, I need to fall in love with my clients. Some clients make it more difficult than others, but there is something in every client that I can find to grab ahold of, that I can attach myself to, that I can swoon over. It makes me a better designer.

what do they love? look at them! obviously, each other. I have a big client crush on them!

So I apologize to my Roundtable peers for not taking up the sword with them this week – but PLEASE take a trip around the country and see what they did to the mystery site in the Northeast US – I guarantee it is going to be an eye-opening event!

XOXO Your Germinatrix

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

12 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable: Design Challenge! I’ve Got A Crush On You…”

  1. Seems like you are not alone!

  2. My sentiments EXACTLY! I tried and tried to participate in this one, but couldn’t make it work. You perfectly summed up what was missing for me – my relationship to the clients! Thanks Ivette….now I’m off to read what the rest have to say!

  3. A unique approach, garden design as method acting!

  4. Thank You!
    Because its a relief that we were not alone!
    Love the client photos.
    What a great couple!

  5. Ivette, your passion for people really comes through here! Although I was able to take a step back and see this Design Challenge as a “school assignment,” I heartily agree that without the client we’re designing in a void – and where is the value in that?

  6. They are adorable! And beautiful–no wonder you have a crush, Germi.

    I’m with you on this one. I pored over the pictures and thought and thought about how I would design for a mystery client in a far, far away region, on an obviously lovely property that I wasn’t going to get to visit in person, and I just couldn’t do it. Rather than spend more precious time trying to make it work, I bowed out in order to focus on my very real and present clients and properties that I’ve strolled with them.

    Knowing my own limitations on this exercise, I’m beyond impressed by those on the Roundtable who made it work, who designed beautiful spaces from afar.

  7. What an adorable post! Pam, you also put it well. The region was such a big element in this design, as it should be in every design. It’s hard to imagine designing for a climate and a region I have never so much as visited.

    Everyone did an admirable job designing.

  8. I wish I could have found a designer like you when I was working on the design for my new back garden! I interviewed three, and found that none of them were really interested in finding out what I wanted and who I was as a gardener. One gave me a book of ornamental grasses and told me to pick my favorites, and when I told her I wanted to grow hydrangeas, she told me, flatly, “No, you don’t.”

    Ah well. I designed it myself, but placing plants isn’t my forte. I do love growing them, though.

  9. Until recently I worked as a nursery plant buyer and I dealt with quite a few designers. One in particular always used the exact same plants in every design. Cookie cutter landscapes with borderline hardy and disease prone plants. A friend of mine now makes a decent income by ‘fixing’ that designer’s mistakes.

    I also had retail customers who would try to get me to do a freebie design for them; “I have a 20 x 10 foot space – what should I plant there?” I don’t know. I’m not a designer but I know enough to know I’d have to understand how a person would use that space, how much maintenance they would be willing to do, etc. There’s a good reason designers are paid for their skills.

    So, long story short – I completely agree with you.

  10. Hi Susan! – I hope I’m not alone … in whatever way that was meant! I like good company!

    Sweet One – it is SO important, this chemistry thing, this connection to the clients. I would love to be able to get excited about sites and specific design concerns, but I am excited by PEOPLE. Once I am connected to them, THEN I can start addressing the design with gusto! What am I going to say? Yes, you guessed it – Brain Twins!

    Denise, you are RIGHT! As an trained actor, I kind of can’t help it – the personal is the avenue I take to get to the design. You are a sharp cookie! (wait – sharp cookie. That is a mixed metaphor, isn’t it? Bad writer! BAD writer!!!)

    Robert – never fear, you are NOT alone – and I felt the same way when I saw your post! Whew! I wasn’t being a baby, then, if you were on the same page. THANK YOU!

    Hi Jocelyn! I SO admired all of you who could tackle it – I kept thinking about the probing questions that I ask and how I try to see what clients think is funny… and I realized that the biggest piece of the puzzle was missing for me. I hope that Amy takes the ideas that were given to her and comes up with something fantastic!

    Oh Pam, adorable they ARE! You know how it is when you pinch yourself for working with lovely people? This was one of those projects – everything about it was great, largely because of THEM. Now I don’t want everyone to think that I get all cuddly with ALL of my clients; these two are a very special case. But some sort of an in-depth relationship is crucial in my mind – the work is better, more satisfying. Yes, it is a luxury to think this way- I’ve certainly done work for people I don’t fall in love with, but still… knowing them is vital! Good for you for spending the time with your flesh and blood clients and strengthening those bonds.XOXO!

    Gen – I so agree! Region is key! The only garden I have ever designed in a cold, snowy region was a rooftop container garden – I would have been at a loss ANYWAY on this one! Hahahaha!!!

    Alison I wish I would have been there TOO! I can’t BELIEVE someone just flat out told you NO HYDRANGEAS. There are always ways – If you were here in Southern California I would have given you a gorgeous climbing hydrangea! A lovely flowering vine for the shade that is SOOO elegant!
    I think you planting your own garden is fantastic – be your OWN expert! That is how I started on my gardening journey – you never know where the garden path is going to lead you… Keep Growing!

  11. I’m new to this site…but your sassy, passionate and opinionated view on design makes me think that we could have a drink together plus a few laughs.

  12. Love the sexy radishes. I’d buy those radishes!
    Fun, fun photos! Lucky you with such fun clients!

    : D

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