When your team first visits a site, what are some of the factors you consider before you begin your design work?
DG: When we come to a site, it’s already a thing. There’s no “clean slate” in landscape architecture. We try to minimize demolition and be kind to the existing conditions. We’ll consider how water moves on the site or how the sun interacts with it. We'll consider the topography, as building on hills is wildly more difficult than building on flat ground. We try to make sense of the existing planting and decide if it's good or not, (and it's never that black-and-white to say whether it's good or not). In southern California, for example, in areas of remnant undeveloped land, we are often presented with relatively intact indigenous ecosystems.
Ultimately, the design proposals that we come up with are a culmination of doing right by the land, doing right by our clients and respecting the history of the site. Having that sort of approach has allowed us to create a body of work that doesn't necessarily have a particular style. What we come up with will look wildly different from one project to the next. Beauty is diverse and broad, and it's fun to distill all that and make the proposed garden at the confluence of those various constraints.
DG: We're currently working on a project 15 minutes from the office, in Mount Washington. There are coyotes and this undisturbed forest of native plants, like Juglans californica, the California Black Walnut, and Rhus integrifolia, which is Lemonade Berry. These are plants that evolved to exist in this exact place in the world and have always existed there, previous to European development. This land is, in part, functioning the way that it's meant to. Part of our job, then, is to educate our client. To show them that the existing vegetation on the site is truly what is meant to be there, and getting them to understand why it's beautiful.
On this project, we’re doing something that we've long wanted to do, which is propagating new plants for the future garden from the existing plants that are already on site. We’re interested in getting as close to closed-loop garden making as we can. We’re also figuring out how to create a thoughtful, respectful interface between the coyotes, our clients and their dogs. Making a space that is designed and curated, while delineating boundaries so they can all safely coexist. We try to always think deeply and honestly about what the best thing to do is. How can we make our client happy and give them a garden that's beautiful and useful to them, while also making sure that it's a damn fine landscape for all the other creatures.