Kevin is a landscape designer with Salisbury Landscaping, and has been with them for the last 5 years. Before his time with the Salisbury team, Kevin ran his own company for about 22 years.
What drew you to landscape design?
Actually, I just fell into it! I started out as a horticulturist, so my primary focus was to basically be a gardener – a professional gardener. That’s what I wanted to do.
I started my own company doing that, but then people started asking me to fix things. So I started fixing their landscapes. And then they started asking me to design a flower bed, and then to design a front yard, and then to design a whole yard. So, over the years I just slowly did more and more of it. Then, I really wanted to do more interesting, challenging designs – so that’s why I joined the Salisbury team!
Tell me about your first design project.
Wow! That would have been in…1991. My very first design project was actually when I worked in the herb garden, and my boss wanted to have all of the herbs divided into families.
I’ve always done calligraphy and I really love medieval/celtic calligraphy the most, so I took a design from a church stained glass window and I converted that and changed that into a design that people could walk through, that was super pretty, and all of the herbs could be divided as families. And that was my very, very first project. I really loved it. And it’s still at the U of A botanic gardens – you can go see it!
Tell me about your favourite design project that you’ve done to date.
Probably my favourite one would have been the Andrews. She had an existing yard for many, many years and she wanted a contemporary design. I just did all kinds of really weird things – I found Japanese pathway from, I dunno, I think it was the 15th century or something, and I designed my modern, contemporary garden off of that. And she loved it! We put it in!
It was just neat – she liked trying all kinds of different materials. It was quite a challenging garden, actually, but I really loved it. And we ended up doing front yard and backyard. I’d already been doing work in the back, but once the front yard took off, it really looked good. So she just wanted the whole concept expanded into the back yard, as well. It was project that grew.
Now you’ve mentioned a few different things that have inspired your designs, like calligraphy, Celtic design, stained glass windows, and old Japanese designs, but what inspirations would you say influence your designs most?
My main reference for design is more of the English cottage design. I’m drawn to nature – just the rhythm of plant material and how it grows naturally, and the colours that you see in nature. I’m heavily influenced by that.
I’m always taking pictures of things that I see when I go on walks. I’ll even look at a tiny, little 3 inch by 3 inch stream of water and from that — you can just blow that up, if you wanted, into a full 60 foot stream! You can look at the microcosm or the macrocosm and you can change it however you want.
Which projects would you say you are most passionate about?
I would say when I meet an actual gardener who wants to have lots of plants and varieties, and wants to garden – those clients I do definitely do work a little harder for.
I suppose that has to do with your horticultural background that gives you that kindredship?
Yeah! For sure, for sure.
If you were given full freedom, both financially and creatively, what would you most love to create in a design?
I love working with the elements. I like creating with water – using ponds and creeks, and that sort of thing.
But also I like creating patios! I like creating patios with fireplaces and gazebos where you can sit and have a martini. I like sitting spaces.
I have noticed that over the last little bit that a lot people share that idea of just wanting to sit out in nature, and trying to create that relaxing oasis in their backyard. It’s sort of a growing trend, I find.
For sure! Well, and if you’re not using your yard, why are you spending all that money on it? You should be out there enjoying the yard, cooking in the yard, greeting guests, relaxing or working – just doing something.
From start to finish, can you just go through the basics of your design process?
Basically, you need to interview the client – that’s number one – and find out all of their wants and needs. Then, of course, balancing that with the budget, and there’s a lot of teaching involved in that one. Some people just don’t really have a clue – they want a Lamborghini, but they really have just enough for a ten year old car. So you have to work with the client, there’s lots of education, but mostly, it’s really, really trying to match as close as you can with what the client is after.
Also, sometimes they can’t quite articulate what they want. So, when I’m meeting with a client, I often take shorthand so I can write down their adjectives. It’s the adjectives that I’m after. How do they describe this? The words that they’re using are what help me with the design.
Then I do some sketches, pull a group of plants and materials that I like, and we have a meeting. And I go through all of the plants and the materials, and then my sketches, as well, and get all of your feedback. My ideal client is someone who has an opinion. If you’re really wishy-washy and it’s just like, “Well, you decide. You’re the designer – you decide.” That’s my worst client. Because I don’t have access to your head, I don’t know what’s inside your head. You need to tell me what you like and what you don’t like, and then I can refine the design exactly to your preferences. I want to give you what you want!
I like clients that go, “Oh my god, I can’t stand that.” Or, “Oh, I love it!” I need feedback. You need to speak your mind as to what you like. The clients that come to me are generally outspoken, but every once in a while I get clients who are very withdrawn and unsure and I have to work quite hard at coaxing them into the imaginary garden that we’re creating and get their thoughts.
And then, from there, we do a final design proposal.
What advice can you give to those considering their first landscape design project? (From Inspiration, to working with a designer, and things like budgeting, etc.)
What is the most important, really, is you have to have an honest look at yourself. Lots of people have all these glorious ideas, but they don’t really want to weed. Or they have amazing ideas of entertaining vast amounts of people, but when you ask, “Well, what have you done in the last five years?” They only have two people that come to their house.
Mostly, it helps the designer get the exact yard that you want if you know who you are and what you want.
Having an honest look at:
- How much time are you going to spend gardening?
- How much do you know about gardening?
- How much do you want to know?
- When you’re entertaining, how much space do you need?
- What kind of furniture are you going to put in there?
You have to get the details of what the imagination is. People have an idea the yard that they want – what you need to focus on are the details of what that design is going to be. The more that I can get a client to really pin down those details, then you’re going to be really happy with the installation at the end of the day. Because it’s going to be exactly what you imagined.
If you’re really wishy-washy going in, then you’re gonna be lost in the whole design process. I can come up with hundreds of ideas, but they’re just going to be random thoughts if you don’t know what you’re after.
And budget’s not that big of a thing. If you really, really like it, you can phase it in over the years or we can simplify it or we can make it more complex. We can work with a budget, but it all depends on exactly what you’re after.