Sunday Opinion: Not One Minute To Spare

A landscape company in another state rang me up last week. They do a lot of commercial landscape design and installation.  They have a big maintenance division.  They do holiday decorating for commercial clients on a big scale.  They just purchased a 16,000 square foot building which will better enable them to handle this holiday business-that’s how big their business is.  This particular design principal was interested in developing a retail landscape division.  At this point, I still had no idea why he was calling me. 

He got around to that part.  He was interested in whether I would consult with his company.  More specifically, he was interested in the seasonal containers we do for clients.  He liked them.  Could he arrange for his designers to travel to Michigan, so I could make a presentation?  Could he arrange for me to conduct this consultation in each of the four seasons?  My internal reaction was immediate-could I teach about what I do every day?  Could I adequately teach about what I do during a time when I am so busy?  How could I make time for this?  What would I have to say that would matter?  Who are these people?  Would I have time in the course of a day to meet them, understand something about them, and make a contribution?  All the time these questions are swirling around in my head, I am looking at my calender for a date that might work.

There is nothing surprising about this.  I am a designer, but more importantly, I am a person who tries to facilitate the design process. No design goes on, in my opinion,  unless there is a relationship between a design professional, and a client. I routinely see the results of landscape design lacking that relationship.  Those installations may be impossible to maintain.  They may be incoherent.  They may put lots of effort towards an end the client has no interest in.  They may miss the mark.  When I see landscapes that miss the mark, I look to the designer.  Perhaps they have not taken the time to explain a plan thoroughly.  They may not take the time to disagree with a client.  They may not have taken the time to rethink their design, given the comments of a client.  My idea is to take more responsibility than a client-as well I should.  They come to me for help-do they not?  Relationships-this matters much to me.  This person and company from  another state-could I help him?  This colleague-I had the immediate and initial idea to accomodate him. 

Accomodating a client or colleague-why wouldn’t I?  Their issues are my issues.  A client or colleague- should they have notions that I think warrant intervention, a different point of view,  I will voice that.  My point of view, melded with their point of view-this endows any design project with potential. Residential landscape design, well done, respects the individual, the family, the land, the circumstances-so many things influence design.  As for consulting with another firm, would I have anything to offer? 

A few days ago, a woman came into the shop at 3 minutes to close, who had never been here.  She lives in the immediate neighborhood.  For fifteen years, she has driven by the shop, and never stopped.  Who knows what she thought we were!  The holiday lighting outside encouraged her to park, and come through the doors.  I could tell she was having a perfect moment.  We turned up the music-Handel.  We left her alone.  For 40 minutes, she looked, and studied.  I knew from the look on her face that she was experiencing a perfect moment.  We did not disturb her.  She thanked us for keeping the shop open.

Why am I telling this story?  I knew watching this person see the shop for the first time, that I cannot in good faith consult with other companies.  I have no rules, or recipes to offer. This visit from a new client was not anything I can really explain, or quantify, but her visit meant everything about how and why I do what I do.  From my side, my business is about the people who conduct it-their point of view, their creativity, their passion for the garden, their work.  This cannot be transferred to another time, place, or person.  How Rob shops for the store makes the fifteen years he has spent doing so obvious.  Everything he has seen and done for 15 years informs his choices and opinions.  His eye cannot be transferred elsewhere.  There is no one else like him.  Our clients understand and value this in him.  He treasures their interest, and spends the time it takes to respond in kind.  Any client, old or new- we both like the idea of engagement.      

The upshot of the previous discussion-I realize I really do not have one minute to spare, nor the inclination to consult with another company.  I doubt I could help them, beyond suggesting that they focus on representing their own point of view in the best possible way they can.  There is plenty of room for lots of good design.  Good design needs to come from what is within.  I have people and projects that need my attention.  This what I want to do-pay attention to, and interact with, the people who approach me.  What Rob and I do is very personal.  It is about our place.  It revolves around our singular point of view.  We have clients who like this.  This makes for a life.  The group of us, interacting, describes our day. 

 Rob and I have been here every day, for fifteen years.  We have made it a life’s work to make that experience exceptional.  We cannot imagine what it would be like, to walk into the shop for the first time.  Or the fiftieth time.  But we have pinned all of our hopes and dreams on creating that special experience, for anyone who walks through our doors.   This is our story.





  1. Amen.

    So refreshing in this day and age where everything is brought to the lowest common denominator. Sometimes you just have to do what is right… for you, too.

  2. A tissue, anyone?

  3. Perhaps a big box, Michael. Every visit to the Works is so magical and therapeutic plus a marvelous way to celebrate every season all season long. When I read the first paragraph I thought selfishly..”oh no!” Please know all your admirers are very close to being a DGW’s cult.

  4. Aren’t you consulting with us every time you post your writings and photographs on your blog? How can we learn about the creative process if we don’t have access to good proponents of unique ideas? Perhaps someone from the landscape company could spend a day in your shop several times a year to observe and listen? It is your story but isn’t it for sharing?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanne, you are right-the more good design there is, the better for all. I have posted 894 essays since April of 2009. I think that speaks to a willingness to share. I am very open about my ideas, materials, process and construction methods. Every person who reads and is interested has access to what I think is good design. I did suggest to this professional person that he probably could get more from reading what I have written, than talking to me in person! I did invite him to visit any time that he wants- and that after my holiday work season is over, I would have more time to talk with him in person.
      Perhaps this will explain better what I was trying to get at. A while ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (I cannot find it) about violinists. The columnist said that there was no way to know who the best violinist in the world is, but he (or she) they did think one of the violinists discussed was the best at being himself. This is the hardest part of design, as it is the one thing you have to figure out for yourself. Thanks, Deborah

  5. Beautifully written, truthful and honest thoughts and expression. And integrity. A rare gift in the world today. Kudos.

  6. The essay is a philosophy of life….a way of seeing the world…and a way of being in the world…a parable for us all…a philosophy in action. God knows that DS and everyone at DGW deserve to make a million bucks…but at what cost? Is she ambitious?….yes…in just the right way. People used to ask me back in the day if I was ambitious…and I would emphatically say “Yes!” (Long pause.) “But not in the way you mean.” A balanced, textured, connected life…both professionally and personally (sometimes both)…a life grounded in a place, a place associated with people…and experiences…that are, in turn, connected back to the world. That is my ambition.

    DS beat me there.

    And thanks to Suzanne for beating me to the punch. IRONIC, indeed. DS puts it all out there…generously sharing tirelessly her ideas and opinions. It is simply all there for the taking —

    Online…and Onland…

  7. It seems as if you pay attention……not just the garden variety attention but the kind of ATTENTION I call deep listening. You speak to the world (you and Rob) thru your business in myriads of ways, thru a nonverbal language of Beauty. The depth of your relationships come about, because your clients and customers can “SEE” this and maybe not even be able to verbalize it all the time, but it is THERE. You both KNOW this.

    You cannot teach this. Each individual must find it within themselves and speak it for themselves. you speak this language in your descriptions of a rose,…… or weeds in a vacant lot,…… or a few red berry branches added to an arrangement in the store……….nothing escapes your creative gaze and how you can celebrate even the humblest of materials. You show us.. that Beauty is Everywhere. Much Gratitude!!!!!

    Your words here on this blog, are not elaborate but rather… simple and direct…..i love that! and the way you get us to look, and look and LOOK……… you are taking our hand and showing us… making us appreciate even more, this natural world we live in.

    your story about the “lingerer” at the store speaks volumes ….an encounter/ a brief moment……one never knows what that voice may speak.?. ..or the laughter that may come out of a startled mouth?… or the callography of delight you may have caused………….much sweetness.
    Respectfully yours, ….. cice

  8. Boy, you had me crying! You and Rob are definitely special designers that I really admire!

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