Experimentation: The Nature of Design

by Mark Dennis, ASLA, PLA, AICP

Residential planting design in winter
image: Austin Eischeid

An Interview with Austin Eischeid, Planting Designer

Describe your background a bit, and how you came to do planting design?

I started out experimenting in the vegetable garden as a kid. My parents wanted to show my sister and I where our veggies came from and I took a liking to it. I began experimenting with roses and found out how much work they were. I wasn’t willing to put in the time for dead-heading, watering through droughts, and treating them chemically. I was amazed to see entire sedum plants grow from a couple of cut stems, but I grew tired of them very quickly as my garden became overrun by sedum! I began experimenting with adding more annuals, perennials, and grasses, and the learning never ended. It was the only thing I could imagine going to college for, and it seemed I was destined to go to Iowa State University for a BS in Horticulture with an emphasis on landscape design.

While at Iowa State I heard Roy Diblik speak on perennials. His plantings were so vivid and inspiring, like nothing I’d ever seen before, and this was when I knew I had to become a planting designer. He spoke about his ‘Know Maintenance‘ approach to design, how there would always be some degree of maintenance, but that you had to really know your plants to build a sustainable plant community. Roy then became my mentor and introduced me to strong, hardy, long-lived perennials. For Roy, using perennials was about much more than just the flower; it was about overall texture and form for visual interest, winter structure, seasonality, and whether it behaved itself or not (for example, spreading or over-seeding).

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