Getting started in the business
In high school and college I spent many summers doing landscape work and found it to be very gratifying and fulfilling. After graduating from college with a degree in horticulture, I accepted an internship at Filoli, the 654 acre estate and mansion with 16 acres of formal gardens in Woodside, California. Right after I was hired, even though I had no experience, the garden staff put me in charge of some key garden areas. I recall thinking to myself: “They are actually going to trust me to do this alone?”. This inspired me to head out on my own and start Terra Ferma Landscapes.
Most of the work I did in the first few years of my business was very physical, which made the appreciation of the finished product that much better. It was real-life “playing in the dirt” and watching gardens flourish. Positive feedback from clientele and seeing the creative work we could accomplish has been a big driver for me to grow my company and strive to be the best in the Bay Area. Terra Ferma experienced its biggest expansion in 2008moving beyond installation of beautiful landscapes to hiring a talented design team to produce high quality landscape architectural drawings. Now we are a full service firm, with a fantastic team that can execute professional high-quality work from design to installation to ongoing fine garden maintenance.
On his mentors
Initially, my father was concerned because he was a small business owner himself and discouraged me from going out on my own. Since he knows the tough parts of running a business, he has been the first to give helpful advice along the way. As a parent, I now realize it is his job to worry about his children finding their way in the world. So it was very meaningful to me to see him bursting with pride when our company won “Best of Show” and swept 6 other award categories at the 2014 SF Flower & Garden show.
On his passions
I have a passion for espalier, the ancient horticultural practice of controlling plant growth to produce fruit by pruning and tying the branches to a frame set against a flat surface. This technique was started by the Romans in the Middle Ages and then perfected by the Europeans. It is a great way to grow fruit trees to increase production and minimize space. While working at Filoli in 1992, I became obsessed with their espaliered pear trees and I wanted to grow some of my own. When I started my company, I couldn’t wait to recommend and install my first espaliered fruit tree. I began to grow espaliered apples and pears on a family friend’s property as a hobby, which eventually grew into a specialty nursery business. I enjoy spending time pruning and shaping them; the process became therapeutic for me - a great release and hobby. Spending so much time shaping and nurturing the trees deepened my connection with them. Eventually, I had many interested clients who wanted to purchase them. Although it was difficult to part with one of my “babies”, it was great to see it come out of a pot, get planted into the ground, and flourish.
On his sources of inspiration
Inspiration comes to me at all times and places. I love to travel and observe elements of the land and landscape especially in other countries. My hobbies are golf, fishing, and camping. As most company owners would agree, running a company can be taxing and stressful. When I fish, golf or camp, I can completely disconnect and recharge my batteries. When I head out to go camping, I like to be as remote as I can. I need to completely unwind and disconnect from work and technology – and getting out into nature is the perfect fix. My favorite spots are the Ludlow Hut in Lake Tahoe back country, Pa’s Place in Mendocino County, and Steep Ravine in Marin County.
My favorite golf course in the Bay Area is Cypress Point. Designed by Mackenzie and Marion Hollins, it is a natural wonder. By simply laying the course onto the existing sand dunes, they designed a course with very little earth moving and grading. The golf courses of Scotland and Ireland are designed in a similar way. My favorite tracks are Old Course at St Andrews, North Berick, and Royal County Down in Ireland. It is inspiring to play a course that has been around for 200+ years.
Working with clients
When I accept a job, I am totally focused on ensuring my client’s satisfaction and happiness. It is the best part of my job. I thrive on getting to know my clients and tapping into the potential of the project site. My creativity flows from the relationship I build with my clients and the site. I love asking the tough and important questions and digging deep into understanding what makes them content – if we can design and build towards that happy place, we are successful.
- Listen to your client – REALLY listen. Don’t hear what YOU want to hear.
- Communicate – you can’t communicate enough!!
- Treat your staff well and trust them. Encourage and empower them to become confident and develop their skills.