Chris Miracle is a strategic member of the Milwaukee-based Landworks design team specializing in “sensitive” designs for homes in historic districts with strong architectural elements, lake homes, country estates and sites with challenging topography.
Beyond design, Miracle oversees the installation of the entire project from start to finish, and then provides an ongoing landscape and garden care program for his clients upon completion. “With each new project I think long-term with my recommendations, giving my clients fresh ideas, functional spaces and attentive service.”
Colleagues say Miracle is one of the most renowned, recognizable and respected names in the metro Milwaukee landscape market. They also comment on his reputation as a dedicated green industry professional, genuine, humble and soft-spoken, which makes him extremely easy to work alongside and one of the best frontmen for customers. He is also known as someone who gives his personal time to community projects and professional association initiatives, including those for the Wisconsin chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Year company founded: 1997
Number of employees: 150
Client mix: 90% residential, 10% commercial
Service mix: 50% design/install, 50% maintenance
Business motto: We deliver what we promise, our employees enjoy rewarding careers and we have customers for life.
“Every day, I am inspired by the enthusiasm of my clients, the challenges I face, and the responsibilities involved when the land is my canvas and living things are the colors and textures I use to define a space,” he says. “This gets me excited about my work.”
When Miracle’s not tinkering with his client’s landscapes, he finds the time to enjoy being with his wife, Lori, and three sons; strum a little guitar; collect and sell rare books and work in his own garden.
Proudest moment in the landscape business: When I spearheaded an industry-wide landscaping service project for a family in need. We landscaped a new home that was built to house a financially challenged couple with three of their own kids and 12 adopted children from around the world. Our landscape contractors association chapter received maximum participation from its members. They all grabbed their shovels and brought along install crews. It was a special experience I will never forget.
Biggest business challenge: Finding more skilled staff to augment our great team to keep up with our company’s growth. There are not enough young people interested in the building trades, especially in our production ranks. We’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out to our young people about all the fulfilling careers and well-paying positions available for building gardens and landscapes.
Best sources of landscape design/build/install inspiration: Reading and research is my favorite way to get inspired. I am a student of history as well as an admirer of the fresh new looks that are evolving these days.
Favorite plant or plant combination: Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) hands down. It’s such an expressive and stately tree, especially when allowed to grow with a full-skirted canopy right to the ground. Its incredible four-season beauty is hard to top — flowers, glossy foliage, bright fruit, rich fall color and rugged winter silhouette.
Monday morning motivation: I am motivated every morning. I’m so blessed to work at an incredible company with visionary owners and the finest staff of designers, horticulturists and installers around.
Business worry that keeps you up at night: The pace of my practice and the constant flow of project sites to visit each day. Designs to develop, proposals to prepare — that’s always running through my mind. I worry constantly about how it will all get done, but somehow our team figures it out and gets it done.
Landscape design/install mentor or idol: Del and his son, Tom Lied, were my employers for many years. They were true plantsmen instilling in me the love I have for all things growing. We’d climb into a client’s 35-foot Scots Pine and trim out 50 percent of the branches and limbs to create an awesome windswept specimen. They showed me how to truly care about customers and their landscapes beyond just selling to them big hardscapes and loads of plant stock.
Another is Dennis Buettner. When I was a first year horticulture student, Dennis taught me about focal points, framing views with good plant placement, layering of textures and how to install clay pavers and divide peonies. He suggested to customers that they relocate doors and windows on their homes to get more interesting entrance sequences, change roof materials, try different trim colors, add shutters, remove driveways and totally reroute things … mind-blowing stuff for a young student.
Favorite business or landscape design book: “An Introduction to the Study of Landscape Design” by Henry Vincent Hubbard and Theodora Kimball. Written in 1917 with fabulous drawings and renderings, it’s a timeless guide to all things relating to landscape architecture and fine gardens. It offers great insights on garden styles from around the world and how landscape designers should approach their work, billings and project management.
Landscape design/install/renovation project you’ve worked on that makes you smile every time you drive past it: Our team renovated a large 1890s residence in Milwaukee along Lake Michigan. Grand home, grand clients and great site. We rerouted the driveway to properly align with the home’s side-facing formal entrance, endured an exhaustive process with the city planning office and secured a variance to install a crushed greystone drive with limestone cobble curbing.
In five years, where do you see your business going: In five years, I will be 65. Our landscape company currently employs 150 people in peak season, so in five years we hope to grow that. The demand seems to be there. I hope to also maintain my residential practice, possibly slowing down a bit to get more time in the field working on project sites with my Felco pruners and marking paint. I want to pass along my love of this work by helping nurture young employees.