Navigating Troubled Waters

image: James Hughes

image: James Hughes

This month, James Hughes joins me as Co-Chair of the Residential Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network. James and I met, albeit virtually, after a letter I sent to our members about issues the Residential PPN hoped to address in the coming year. As you will soon realize, James has a sophisticated and seasoned approach to managing Trouble Clients. He also brings energy and creativity to the PPN. This November in Denver, James will lead the Annual Residential PPN Meeting and I hope many of our members can attend so we can set the agenda for more topics to investigate. James is the principal of his own firm, James Hughes Landscaping, in Tallahassee, Florida.
–Jennifer Horn, ASLA, Residential Landscape Architecture PPN Co-Chair

If you’ve been in the business for more than 5 minutes, then chances are they’ve already made you question your passion and commitment. We’re talking about Trouble Clients. These are the clients that can never seem to be happy. As soon as you’ve addressed one issue and resolved it, they immediately shift to something else that makes them less than satisfied. Maybe they micromanage you, or perhaps look for technicalities they feel keep them from paying your invoices. Whatever the situation, Trouble Clients are a very real thing, and dealing with them is truly a skill set any professional should possess. While client satisfaction is most definitely a high priority, there is a fine line between pleasing a client and protecting your reputation and sanity. I’ve spoken about Trouble Clients with several professionals, and have come up with a few suggestions on how to navigate these troubled waters.

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Residential Design at ASLA 2013

Rough Point, one of the stops on a Saturday Field Session in Newport, Rhode Island image: Rick Laferriere

Rough Point, one of the mansions that will be visited during a field session focusing on Newport, Rhode Island
image: Rick Laferriere

With the ASLA Annual Meeting only weeks away, it’s time for a glance at the events with a particular emphasis on residential design:

On Friday, November 15, there are two great field sessions. Thomas Elmore, ASLA and Jennifer Judge, ASLA have planned visits to two of Newport, Rhode Island’s treasures, The Elms and Rough Point. See two of Rhode Island’s most beloved mansions and get a sense of high, high-end residential design from years past.

On a more contemporary note, Keith LeBlanc and his team are hosting a day-long excursion to some of his most beautiful private gardens. Tour the residences with Keith and understand how the artisanship of highly-detailed residential landscape design persists today.

As residential designers, a detailed and sophisticated grasp of plants is key. Learn how to get the most mileage and best performance from your horticultural selections by attending Sunday, November 17’s session, “Effective Strategies for Horticultural Sustainability in Planting Design” with Patrick Cullina and W. Gary Smith, ASLA.

On that note, as a residential designer, establishing collaborative working relationships with experts in the nursery trade is vital for learning about current cultivars, and rediscovered species and sourcing excellent specimen material. This topic is covered in detail on Monday, November 18’s session, “Planting: Unlocking Creativity Through New Avenues of Designer/Grower Collaboration.” Speakers include nursery owners Chet Halka and Theodore Kiefer as well as Edmund Hollander, FASLA and Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA.

On the business side of things, check out “The One-Man Show” on Sunday, November 17. Mike Heacox, ASLA, Chris Thompson, ASLA, Duane Christopher, ASLA and Annette Heacox, ASLA discuss the agony and ecstasy of micro business management.

And don’t forget about the PPN Networking Reception on Friday, November 15 at 5:15pm and the Residential Landscape Architecture PPN Meeting on Sunday, November 17 at 4pm–I look forward to seeing you there!

by Jennifer Horn, Chair of the Residential Landscape Architecture PPN

Eight Lessons for Recent Graduates

A six-week backyard transformation. image: Lindsey Tabor

A backyard transformed
image: Lindsey Tabor

I am a 2011 graduate of Ball State University’s BLA program and I am proud to say that I work in the residential design field. However, if you had asked me four years ago where my future would take me, I would never have guessed correctly. Let me explain why.

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Pointers for Beginning a Residential Design Business

image: Jan Johnsen

image: Jan Johnsen

As co-chair of the Residential PPN, we are tasked with finding talented landscape architects to contribute to this blog.  As a new-ish business owner (my firm is still in its toddler years; established in 2009), I could only hope that my friend Jan Johnsen would be willing to share her thoughts on starting up a new residential design business.  Jan and I met in 2005 when we both began teaching at Columbia University’s Landscape Design program.  Her design studios are a perennial favorite of students, particularly as the program often engages individuals with dreams of beginning their own firms.  Jan owns and operates her own firm, writes a beautiful blog called Serenity in the Garden, and has a book being published in 2014 by St. Lynn’s press focused on creating gardens for inspiration and reflection.  Jan’s thoughts below on beginning a firm are relevant not just to newbies, but also serve as a wonderful reminder of what is most important to operating a mature firm as well.
– Jennifer Horn, RLA, ASLA

Residential landscape design is one of the most fulfilling – and demanding – professions I know of.  Fraught with all sorts of pitfalls, transforming someone’s property is a very personal and uplifting endeavor. I find it to be all consuming but in a wonderful sort of way. Does this sound like a two edged sword? It is as if I am saying ‘come, but stay away’ at the same time.  Well, that is true. As in everything, there are 2 sides to the story and residential landscape design is definitely a ‘both sides, now’ undertaking.

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Difficult Summer for Wisconsin Green Industry

My lawn has been a light golden-brown for over a month now

My lawn has been a light golden-brown for over a month now
image: Jay Gehler

In Wisconsin, like much of the US, the weather is making headlines – way too hot and way too dry. When was the last significant rainfall, maybe in late April?  Weatherman report the rainfall level is seven inches below average. That coupled with the extreme summer heat has significantly impacted the Green Industry in the Upper Midwest.

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Rethinking the Lawn

image: Walnut Ridge Grounds Care

image: Walnut Ridge Grounds Care

Water for landscape and lawn use may not be as critical an issue in other parts of the country as it is in the Western states, but the use of fertilizers and pesticides, electricity or gas to mow, and labor to care for lawns are universal issues. If you’re thinking of retrofitting an existing lawn, your options for design are many, but you still have the starting point of: “What to do to get rid of this big green carpet?”

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Marketing Your Services to Maximize Your Exposure

Jewel Box Front Garden

Unfortunately, marketing is a necessary evil in our business, as in most others. Many landscape architects like me, have no training in marketing, even though we think we know how to advertise our services. But here is an example of how the right kind of marketing from the right kind of professionals can get your business noticed by the potential clients. I have learned that it is important to work with professional marketing companies.

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