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15yearsagoBy Stephanie Rose

‘With a busy schedule,’ wrote Stephanie Rose to open her March 2005 Natural Companions column, ‘it’s too easy to use the same tools repeatedly in project designs.  

‘Yes, you can mitigate the repetition to a certain extent by using those tools differently each time, but the fact remains that many of us tend to design over and over again with the same plants, hardscape materials and structural approaches because it’s what we know and trust.’  She continued:  


‘From a design perspective, selecting new plants every time is a risky prospect, but nothing ventured, nothing gained:  If you don’t take those risks and try new things, you’ll really end up in a rut.  You may stay busy and keep pleasing your clients, but your own level of satisfaction will eventually diminish and you’ll find that clients simply won’t be as enthusiastic about what you’ve created because they sense that your spark is gone.’


‘I’d propose that we need to continuously elevate our performance and profession by constantly creating new and exciting landscapes.  We must consciously step beyond what we currently know – the “tried and true” – and focus on generating designs that use new plants and hardscape materials in ways that keep the creative spark burning.’


‘One easy step in the right direction . . . involves speaking with (and listening to) other landscape designers and architects.  . . .  Everyone has their special selections, and while it can be humbling to speak with someone who rattles off the names of ten plants you’ve never heard of (let alone seen), I console myself with the thought that he or she probably has much the same reaction when I run through my own list.’


‘I’m constantly trying, as someone who likes change and variety, to make sure my palette of favorite plants is constantly growing and evolving.  The thought of letting this process get tedious and dull offends me.’


‘[And] there’s more to be done to expand the scope of your contact base:  I strongly recommend finding conferences, meetings or workshops featuring landscape professionals at the top of their field.  Learning from them and seeing how they function may spark new ideas for your business and keep you competitive.’  


‘[Print and digital publications] are vital to keeping up with current thinking.  WaterShapes, of course, is a prime example of the value of looking beyond our immediate field to expand our knowledge.  Whether you ever design or build watershapes, its coverage lets you in on developments that may affect your work as a landscape professional.’


‘I’m addicted to looking around in the gardening sections of bookstores.  If I’m feeling stale, a fresh look at some of these volumes often inspires me to think differently about a design.  . . .  Books are the authors’ way of communicating their ideas to you, and if they’ve been published, chances are better than good that they have something interesting to say.’


‘When I spot a plant in a nursery or garden guide or even identify a general need, I always check things out on the Internet.  . . .  That information prepares me to have informed conversations with local nurseries and has led to the addition of many gems to my planting plans.’


‘There’s a saying that there are no original thoughts and that all new ideas are built on old ones.  If that’s true,’ Stephanie concluded, ‘what we need to do most as landscape designers and watershapers is to look around and be inspired by what we see created by other landscape professionals, garden lovers, hobbyists and Mother Nature.  Open up:  You never know how it may change your life!’

Stephanie’s open-eyed, open-minded, collaborative sense of what her work was about was a hallmark of her columns.  How does your approach align with hers these days?  Have competitive pressures since the recession made it more difficult to feel you’re part of a community?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below!


Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine.  She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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