How long have you been in the business?
Land Escapes Design Inc. began in 2002.
How did you get into the business?
Before 2001 I was a chef. I found myself in a position where the restaurant business no longer made me happy, so I decided to take a break and regroup. I liked to go into a nursery and look around and decompress on my moments off so I took a job at well known flora and garden design company as the assistant to the garden designer and found that I had a knack for it. One of our clients asked if I would build them a pond and I hardly could contain myself. I asked my bosses and they said no that’s not what they do. I taught myself how to build water features in my spare time and went back again. Again I was rejected. My boss seeing the frustration on my face then caught me totally off guard and said, “If that is the kind of work you want to do maybe this isn’t the job for you.” Shocked, hurt and angry I quit right there. I left thinking I would head back to the restaurant world but it was too late. I wanted to build that pond and I wanted the chance to do all the designs and projects I had been told I couldn’t. I sat down that night and wrote down a list of names that I would call my company if I had one (some were really bad). Then I sat back and looked at them and thought, “What the hell am I doing, I’m a chef I can’t start a landscape design business.
My eyes fell on Land Escapes and a voice in my head said “create an everyday getaway.” Boom, the next morning I was in the printers ordering business cards. I figured what the hell, if it doesn’t work I will go back to restaurants but I had to see. The rest as they say is history. I knew from the beginning I wanted to be organic. I figured if you choose to work with the land for a living that it made the most sense. This was before organic was a thing and before I knew just how bad synthetic landcare products were. I had no real business plan I just did what felt right and what I enjoyed, I followed my heart and created a life of abundance.
What is your favorite thing about it?
My favorite part of what I do now is plugging people back into the planet, removing the blinders and jolting them out of the sleep, work, eat, repeat cycle. More than anything I love taking young people either students or the teenagers/young adults in one of our job training initiatives outdoors, showing and telling them about the natural world. They get their hands in the soil and exert a little energy and at some point it clicks. Especially for the ones like me who have trouble sitting in a classroom environment or who haven’t found their place in the world; all of a sudden they engage and it all makes sense. They enter a flow state they have never known and they want more. Second to that would be adults whether clients or colleagues. When you take them beyond what they thought they knew and like I said jolt them out of the sleep, work, eat, repeat cycle. When you reintroduce them to all the natural world has to offer, get them in sync with the rhythm of nature, you know they will never be the same.
Do you have any funny or memorable stories to share?
The past almost 20 years have brought me more than I could have ever wished for that night at the kitchen table. I have been able to work in and speak from Maine to Missouri. I have helped build a STEM classroom in the Bronx with The Green Bronx Machine. This class was equipped with Tower Gardens to grow food aeroponically and a cooking station so kids could eat what they cook and guest chefs could teach the children about healthy eating and how to make healthy food. It also had bikes that could run blenders to make smoothies and could launch rockets across the class all on kid power. And finally, we built raised beds in the courtyard for even more food production. I have had the chance to work with celebrity chef Allen Campbell to grow nutrient dense produce for Gisele, Tom and their family as well as the honor of decorating the White House for the holidays. It has truly been an amazing ride. I would have to say the strangest thing I have ever done was bury a placenta along with a tree. We were building a public parquet and the sponsor handed me a biohazard bag and explained that it was her granddaughter’s placenta and she wanted it buried beneath the focal tree. I don’t know that any of my other stories can top that.
What partner do you work with the most?
I am an extremely loyal Weston customer and I’ll tell you why. Back in 2005-2008 when the economy tanked I feared it was all over. Work was drying up, people were going out of business left and right and I feared I was next. I had maxed out my cards and my credit limit at all the nurseries I went to and couldn’t pay it down enough to make a dent. Eventually other places turned me away but not Weston. Weston froze my account and allowed me to remain COD as long as I kept making payments toward my balance. This generosity and kindness saved my business. I was able to keep making money and build my way back and for that I am forever grateful.
Is there any advice you’d give someone coming into the business now? Our current landscape practice is the equivalent of dropping a bag of eggs, flour and milk on someone’s porch without knowing who they are or if they are home and hoping to return and find a cake. We dump fertilizer and the like on the ground without knowing if the soil needs those nutrients. We have no idea what kind of life, if any, is in the soil and we expect lush turf and healthy plants. Work with Mother Nature not against her. Practice reciprocity and She will reward you. Take the time to find out what the site needs and give it that. Don’t just go in with an agenda and bend the land to your will. That only leads to sick plants and flooding. Finally learn about Green Infrastructure because that is the way the industry is going and there is a huge need for GI professionals.
Dream landscaping job?
sustainable site with a stocked bass swimming pond and trout stream, orchard, vegetable garden, meadow, woodland area with a path inundated with edible mushrooms, a large hardscaped entertainment space and an irrigation system hooked to a rain harvesting system.