Profile of Judy

This is an excerpt from a 15 page profile. 

Domestic Landscapes

The day Judy had an interview to gain admittance to the horticultural program at the Botanical Garden, she wore a raccoon coat. At twenty-two she had minimal gardening experience, but she thought that gardening was “cool” and “great,” and she went into the competitive interview with confidence. The interviewer took one glance at Judy—who, besides wearing that raccoon coat, was decked out in a “hippie era” black dress with orange flowers—and said that he hoped she didn't think horticulture was “lollygagging around the field, playing with daisies.” “Oh shit,” Judy recalls thinking. “That's exactly what I think it is.” The man told her that she would be required to push heavy wheelbarrows, that she would get dirty, and that sometimes she would be caught in the rain. In spite of her sartorial choices, these challenges appealed to Judy. Her acceptance into the program marked the beginning of her thirty-three year involvement in the landscape-design industry.

Judy is a slim woman in her late fifties who grew up in a time when little girls still wore white gloves to the doctor's office. Today she wears dark-wash jeans, hiking boots, a sage sweater, and a Lonsdale London navy blue jacket. Her dark brown hair is in a messy bun with a pencil stuck through the middle. A Band-aid hugs the ski jump area between her thumb and forefinger. “Spring blisters,” Judy says with a practiced acceptance, referring to her leaf-raking wound. She operates her landscape design business on the road, and relies on her cracked LG cellphone to keep her connected to her four employees and nearly forty clients. When I climb into her Subaru, she is attempting to call her employees to tell them that she forgot her phone charger and that her phone is about to die, but she will be on site soon. As we merge onto the highway, we see that it is cluttered with landscape trucks. Judy notices the flatbeds and mentions that she went truck shopping yesterday, but is “useless” when it comes to buying transportation. This is ironic, considering her parents were automobile dealers in Washington D.C. for most of her life. She tested a huge bright cherry red truck, but felt that it was too big because when she stood in the bed of the truck, she swore nobody could see her. As we head east toward Mamaroneck, New York, I see at least five more landscape truck beds full of leaves and twigs. Once we enter the suburbs, I notice that most of the houses have landscape crews tending to the lawns and shrubs. These workers are preparing for the ensuing spring.

“I guess the spring hits me with apprehension,” Judy admits. For most people, early April is a time of hope and relief, as winter is left behind and spring becomes more tangible. Not so for Judy. For her, this is the most stressful time of year. When we begin discussing her upcoming season of landscape designing, her shoulders fall and she lets out a quiet sigh. This was not the reaction I expected. I wondered how anyone could grow tired of planting peonies and training baby trees. Judy has run her landscape design business for thirty-three years, and at this point in her life, as she approaches sixty, she is worn out. “You go through funny stages in your life,” she says.

A few years ago, she decided she was finished with her landscaping business. She was ready to walk away. Yet she couldn't leave, partially because she had lost some of her just-graduated-from college invincible qualities and wasn't prepared to re-invent herself. “I don't have the energy,” she says flatly. It is now 2014, and Judy still manages her small yet popular and successful business. She tells me that she is prepared to stick it out for now. I sense that Judy is a like a perennial plant—that she will continue to come back each year stronger, determined to continue spreading beauty and happiness around her.

When Judy designs landscapes, she must calculate a plan for each season. Her goal is to create a landscape that will look good all year. This involves planting bulbs that will bloom in spring, flowering evergreens, and perennials that will flourish in the summer. She prefers trees to flowers—particularly the white oak. She loves its stature: “They are just enormous and grand and strong and live for a very long time.” She loves the fall color of tupelo (tupelo is a cone-shaped tree that produces vibrant red leaves). And she describes peonies as luscious.

Planning a landscape is different from interior design. Everyone knows what a sofa looks like; it may have a different shape or color, but it is a basic object that is recognizable. “When you are doing landscapes, people sometimes don't have the vocabulary at all, they don't even know what they want,” Judy explains. “So it's really trying to interpret what somebody else wants when they come home and drive down the driveway and look out and say, 'This looks great.’” It's a collaborative effort.

Judy explains that a well-designed landscape will reflect the style of the house. For instance, a Japanese garden will not look appropriate with a Tudor house. If a customer wants Asian influences, the designer must consider the location and integrate that with the English-style houses: “You do have to marry the house to the ground plan.” In Judy’s view, the area in front of the house must be a “little black dress” —something that looks great three hundred and sixty five days a year in all seasons and occasions. You can put it on for a funeral, parties, lunches, and even for job interviews.