Between weekly airings of her award-winning Central Florida call-in radio show “In Your Backyard,” giving down-to-earth advice in her “Gardening with Soul” blogs, teaching gigs for the University of Florida’s Natural Resource Leadership Institute and taking on dozens of landscape design consulting projects for private clients and HOAs, Teresa Watkins is also wrapping up a six-volume Gardener’s Compendium to be published at the end of this year. And somewhere in her schedule, Watkins also manages to get a little rest.
A recognized leader on water conservation principles and biodiverse landscapes, Watkins, landscape designer and environmental consultant for Sustainable Horticulture Environments in Orlando, designed the landscaping of the first energy and environmentally efficient dream home in the State of Florida certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition. She was the environmental landscaping consultant for the first green builder — Vision House 2008 in Florida. A fellow and past vice president with the University of Florida’s Natural Resource Leadership Institute’s board of directors, Watkins serves on the USGBC-LEED Technical Advisory Group.
Running the gamut from working with individual clients, private nurseries, commercial retail garden centers and homeowner associations, Watkins’ landscape consulting business also assists city, county, public and private water suppliers on water conservation and stormwater pollution education efforts.
Client/service mix: 80% residential, 20% commercial
Business motto: Every garden is unique with a multitude of choices in soils, plants and themes. Finding your garden theme is as easy as seeing what brings a smile to your face.
Proudest moment in business and why: Designing the landscape of the first Vision House for Green Builder magazine for the International Builder Show 2008 in Orlando. It was an opportunity to showcase Florida-friendly landscaping principles of low-water use and low maintenance, yet still be beautiful. Six years later, it’s still a low-water use, low-maintenance landscape — even more beautiful than my clients anticipated.
Biggest business challenge today: Balancing my time. My workweek can range from consulting and designing landscapes for my clients; researching and writing articles; editing my new book; engaging in social media; fulfilling speaking engagements; hosting my weekly radio gardening show; and teaching landscape classes to homeowners and certification courses to municipal employees, government agencies and the University of Florida’s Florida Master Naturalist programs.
Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: I love being out in nature, smelling moss and decomposing soils; seeing plants growing in their own environment; hiking through primeval forests, swamps, prairies and various other ecosystems; and figuring out what kind of wildflower is blooming as I drive by. But then I clean up, change my shoes and love to visit private gardens, botanical gardens and World Heritage sites to take photographs, find out the history of how a particular garden evolved over time and learn about various cultures in a country.
Monday morning motivation: I just love my life. I love not having to report to an office and work inside from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. I love digging in the dirt, installing landscapes and seeing my clients get so excited about having a garden of their dreams. All this helps pump up my creative genes.
Favorite plant or plant combination: My specialty is themed landscaping. I create gardens for clients with flowers, shrubs and trees that evoke another world — whether it’s the country where they were born, their favorite childhood memory, a special trip or showcasing their favorite collection or hobby. I name each landscape I design to personalize it with unique plant combinations for that one-of-a-kind client.
Business worry that keeps me up at night: I don’t worry about business. What keeps me up at night is my passion. My energy level becomes heightened when I’m designing a new landscape, thinking of a new article to write or researching and editing my book. I’m a night owl, answering emails at 2 a.m. and still getting up at 7 a.m. to install a landscape or drive to a workshop.
Landscape design mentor: I love Piet Oudolf’s design philosophy of perennials and grasses. Also, Gertrude Jekyll’s color schemes and plant combinations. I feel a kindred spirit to Tony Avent’s gardening philosophy, which uses humor. I love his native plant beliefs and quotes, such as “I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself — three times.”
Favorite business or landscape design book: I’m an avid reader and researcher. My home office is a library with four walls of books and two entire walls (and extra shelves) for more than 400 gardening books. I have books from the early 1900s to this year’s best sellers. My research books include the “Encyclopedia of Ferns,” “Complete Guide to Orchids” and “Mushrooms of North America.” My favorites include: Billy Goodnick’s “Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams” (for DIY fans) and Tom MacCubbin’s “Month by Month Gardening in Florida.”
Describe one landscape design project you’ve worked on that makes you smile every time you drive past it: My “Cosecha Por Del Lago” (Harvest By The Lake), a beautiful Spanish-tiled home with a landscape of edible plants, shrubs and trees. Roses, figs, plum and nectarine espaliers for fences; an arbor with four types of grapes; citrus; apples; avocados; bananas; blueberries; moringa; peaches; pears; pomegranates; star fruits; olives; strawberry trees; lemon grass; raised beds; and pollinator-attracting flowers like African Blue Basil. Their backyard is a lakefront paradise with a beautiful fragrant border garden providing privacy, and an exquisite view of the dock house and lake framed by Phoenix robellini palms, queen palms on one side and Senegal date palms on the other. My clients are devout organic gardening enthusiasts, and my design and installation helped them live their dreams.
Describe your business in five years: I will be traveling more, designing more and writing more garden books.
Connect with Teresa Watkins & Sustainable Horticulture Environments:
LinkedIn: Teresa Watkins
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated.