On The Spot Q&A with Landscape Architect Janice Parker
As outdoor spaces have become even more integral to our lives in the past year, we put award-winning landscape architect Janice Parker on the spot. Janice let us in on how the pandemic has changed the way people view nature, the one thing she can’t live without in her own outdoor areas, what it’s like to live out her own story of The Secret Garden and so much more.
Great landscape architects change their clients’ lives as much as they do their outdoor spaces and gardens. How do you see what you do?
I love this question. What I work to do is enhance people’s connection with nature, and then their connection with themselves – nature will take it from there. Quite simply, if I can make inviting garden rooms that are beautifully furnished, Mother Nature will do the rest of the work. I would like people to step beyond the domesticated garden and into nature itself. There is no better partner than the sun, the shade, the weather and …. the call of the woods!
Claude Monet once said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” What is your favorite project to date and why?
I have had the great fortune of being able to work on some historical estates that were designed by legendary women landscape architects at the turn of the last century. This has been a great honor, as women’s role in landscape architecture is compelling for me. One project in particular gave me an opportunity not only to work to recreate the older existing gardens but add new ones. This was a chance to save the past and create the future. Three neglected gardens to restore, and I added two more. The chance to design five completely different gardens with five separate themes, planting schemes, colors and features was more fun than I can explain. Challenging as well, but that is part of the fun.
It also allowed me to live out the story of The Secret Garden. That is a wonderful book, and if you haven’t read it since you were a child, I can’t suggest it strongly enough. It is a book with an adult theme, one of becoming lost and being found. In the story the children manage to break into a locked walled garden that has been abandoned. They work to bring it back to a state of beauty, and in the process they and their families are healed.
Outdoor living has become more important and popular than ever. How has the pandemic affected what you do and how you do it?
It has been a total shift the perception of outdoor space. Before the pandemic, people viewed the outdoor space as possibly uncomfortable, exposed to weather, insects, too hot, too cold. Nature has many uncontrollable factors. If the weather was not cooperating, one could simply move inside. However, we were told that only the outdoors was safe, that we could not socialize with others safely inside a closed space. What a change of awareness! Suddenly nature was safe, and our homes were not. People are now looking at ways to spend more and more time outside during the year, as they found that they loved it! There are simple solutions for all of the challenges of entertaining outside year-round, and people were incredibly resourceful in finding new solutions and innovative ideas.
Name something that you can’t live without that helps keep you stay clean and organized in your own outdoor space.
I cannot live without a great hose, and that is not an easy thing to find. People can be outwrestled by trying to put a hose away!
A hose needs to be strong and solid, to maintain pressure, as well as light enough to easily wind up and put away. A great and simple hose reel is essential, and having it be there hung on the side of the house or sitting on the ground, there is often a need to create a storage area around it that hides the entire apparatus. A hose is essential for cleaning furniture, terraces, pets and feet as well as watering the garden and pots. During the entire season outside, water is always required. A storage area by the hose for other garden equipment is vital, as well as a good pair of rubber boots.
What are your go to strategies for designing for families or people with pets?
This is an issue! First, the animals, especially dogs, will truly benefit from an area near the door or mudroom for a dog shower and plenty of towels. I like to have an outdoor pet wash station as well.
It is important to know the route the pets take in the garden, and the plants they regularly use as their port-a-potty. The plants they rub up against will have wear and tear and we design accordingly.
A dog run is a good solution for everyone. This is most useful if it is located near a covered doorway, so one has cover in inclement weather when letting the dog out. This area can be graveled and planted with tough plants. For summer color, impatiens is a good choice. It is surprisingly resilient and keeps on flowering despite animal trampling ….and more!
What was the most impractical element you’ve ever sourced or designed for a project but just had to include?
Years ago, I was working on a wraparound terrace on Fifth Avenue for a well-known whimsical fashion designer. She requested color all year, and an area for a trampoline. The trampoline was not for her – it was for her boyfriend who insisted it was safe, with no netting or railings on the edge. Meanwhile, it was 16 stories up and I could just see him bouncing right off the roof – he always had an electric guitar strapped on and never wore shoes, so I was concerned. I was so worried about safety, but at the time there was no ‘trampoline’ safety code in the NYC building Code, and the co-op board agreed to it. I planted high hedges on the perimeter of the terrace around the trampoline and wove red and purple silk rose vines through them. This satisfied the year-round color request – and the client loved the silk roses so much, we added them throughout the terrace plantings. They do look amazing blooming in the snow! The boyfriend never had an accident but wore out his welcome. We removed the trampoline (much to our relief!) and added planters with peach and apple trees. A good and delicious ending!
Biggest influence in landscape design
Sir John Brookes
To be able to play piano
Dream home locale
Overlooking the Hudson River with a western sunset view
Biggest cleaning / organization pet peeve
In landscape – weeding activity without a container to put the weeds as you go, and a place to dispose of them neatly.
Debris accumulation under pots and planter boxes
Neglected garden shears
Get inspired! See more of Janice Parker Landscape Architects’ work, visit her website: https://janiceparker.com/