“I believe that as a landscape professional, I have an obligation to be a steward of the environment,” says Laurie Van Zandt, owner and designer of The Ardent Gardener Landscape Design, Huntsville, Utah. Her focus is on landscapes that are sustainable, using native and recycled materials and plants suited to the site; working with nature rather than against it. Her work is inspired by nature, architecture, sculpture and other fine arts.
Van Zandt is an active member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) and Utah Nursery and Landscape Association (UNLA). She has led landscape design workshops for the UNLA and is a recipient of a Blue Ribbon for Excellence in Landscape for several Parade of Homes.
With an education and career in architectural design, combined with extensive classes and experience in landscape design, Van Zandt boasts plans that are “exciting, creative and beautiful landscapes and gardens.”
A recent trip to London and Paris with APLD provided Van Zandt with a unique opportunity to explore centuries-old European gardens. “I saw traditional English, French Baroque and modern geometric gardens, urban and rural that collide to form incredible public spaces,” she says.
Van Zandt’s design influence is reflected in her surroundings of Utah’s Ogden Valley, rich in design inspiration and symbolism in the form of mountains, streams, rock formations, heightened seasons and wildlife, and an acknowledgement of the valley’s farming heritage.
Her yard is a place where she can show clients a variety of ideas and plants. Potted plants on the porch are succulents that can handle the afternoon heat. The center of her acre yard is a grassy area large enough to accommodate lawn sports. The side of her yard features a meditation garden and a “secret” garden entered on a stone path through a rose trellis. Next to the secret garden and behind a koi pond is a more wild area. Tall grasses grow around the trees with a boardwalk being planned through that part of the garden. Her favorite part is the vegetable garden, which produces incredible yields annually.
Year founded: 1998
Client mix: 98% residential with occasional commercial
Service mix: 75% design, 25% project coordination
Business motto: Radiate Love. Be Beautiful. Appreciate Beauty.
Proudest moment in the landscape business: Anytime I get clients as repeat customers or referrals from satisfied clients. When clients tell me they never want to leave their garden spaces and would rather spend their time outside in their gardens rather than inside their homes, that also makes me proud.
In addition, I receive calls from clients in tears who have to sell their homes for various reasons, leaving their gardens behind. Although this makes me sad, it also makes me proud that they care enough about their garden spaces to share their sadness with me.
Biggest business challenge: Keeping up with the economy. In my 20 years as a landscape designer, there have been lean years mixed with over-the-top busy ones. Also, there’s always a challenge to match time management with the hiring of employees or, in other words, the fine balance between hiring the right amount of workers to perform the work that comes in the door. The last several years have been extremely busy for me. I struggle with the necessity to turn away work whenever I get too busy.
Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: Design inspiration comes from so many things. It can be the shape of an urn, the structural form of a piece of jewelry, the angles and repetition in architectural shapes, patterns found in nature or a line from a poem or a story. All it takes is a little snippet of something to spark my imagination when creating new designs.
Favorite plant or plant combination: That changes so often. I always have “new” favorites. The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree in a clump or low branching form is a pretty plant I have consistently used for the last few years. It is delicate and a good size for residential applications with fragrant white flowers, edible berries, terrific fall foliage and drought tolerance.
Monday morning motivation: Generally, I don’t need much motivation. I love my job. More often, it’s hard to leave the studio for the weekend.
Business worry that keeps me up at night: I tend to have a pretty laissez-faire attitude to the actual business aspect of my company, focusing much more on the design/ relationship aspect. I’ve always managed to get by, trusting that my bills will get paid more than enough to hold onto my house. So far, that has worked.
Landscape design/install mentor or idol: There are a couple of women landscape designers from APLD who I met through the organization’s events. Lisa Port and Cathy Silcox are terrific designers who are supportive of me, helping me stay focused on what I do best and building my confidence in my design abilities. Ron Lutsko in Northern California is also someone whose work I admire. It’s featured in the book “Breaking Ground: Portraits of Ten Garden Designers,” which features his super impressive thought processes and designs.
Favorite business or landscape design book: “Gardens for the Soul” by Pamela Woods is one of my favorite books. When I found it, I really connected with the message of channeling the spirit of a place into garden design.
Landscape design/installation project you’ve worked on that makes you smile every time you drive past it: Can I have two? One is Guadalupe Garden that did not come out exactly as planned due to budget constraints, but it’s intent has been met. Located in a fairly blighted part of town, it has become a spiritual inspiration for the neighborhood. Sister Maria, the driving force behind its inception and construction, is a true force.
The other is a small, urban front garden I designed a number of years ago. The site was originally a sloping Kentucky bluegrass lawn. I converted it to terraced planters with a curved stack stone and concrete bench surrounding a small seating area. Exuberant plantings create an entry so welcoming that the owners often found new neighbors attracted by wandering through it.
In five years, where do you see your business: Doing more of what I do best and less of what I don’t. I want to do less office work to concentrate more on the design end. I want to create a more even workload throughout the year so I can attend more educational seminars and networking functions. I want to be more involved in the entire process of landscaping from concept to construction.
Connect with Laurie Van Zandt and The Ardent Gardner Landscape Design: