As we enter a new year and a new decade, the 2020’s, we all look back on the previous decade and take stock of where we are in life, and where we’d like to be. Personally, I’m a landscape designer-installer by trade, a vocation I love every day. But let me share with you my ultimate career goal. When I grow up I want to be the estate manager of my own estate.
In a much younger day, I was an estate gardener on the magnificent 200-acre Jasna Polana estate in Princeton, New Jersey. My short tenure there made a very strong impression on me. I saw firsthand what good design, funded by unlimited wealth, could create. J. Seward Johnson, founder of Johnson & Johnson, was the estate’s owner, and he had more money than he could possibly spend in his lifetime.
Like many other billionaires, Johnson used his wealth to preserve the beauty of nature and enhance it with wonderful buildings and landscaping. He left us a beautiful garden (now a world-class golf course) to admire and enjoy. He also inspired a young man, myself, with a dream of someday creating a “poor man’s Jasna Polana”, a personal paradise, my own state park. This inspiration eventually led me to Adams County, Ohio in search of the perfect property; a rural farm where I could spend the rest of my life building and creating, and never ever run out of fun projects to design and build.
Of course there’s always the challenge of making a living. Marjorie and I tried for 20 years to make it in the retail garden center business. This was a foolish idea; it didn’t make a profit ever, even after we moved the business off our beautiful farm and onto the four-lane. From the very beginning I had to do landscape work to survive, and over two decades we built a small but successful design-build company specializing in landscape “makeovers” and hardscape construction. It’s satisfying and interesting work, no two projects alike.
For many years our farm teased me with its potential. The old adage about the cobbler’s kids always being barefoot certainly spoke to our own lives. We never had the money or time to really do justice to this amazing property, tucked in a quiet valley in the foothills of Appalachia. Our garden center drained us and sapped our strength, in many ways. It wasn’t until we sold the business, three years ago, that I fully realized how exhausted we were, and how I’d put my real dreams on hold and neglected our farm.
It was then that Marjorie and I re-committed ourselves to the real reason we’d moved to this place, away from the crowded Northeast. Marjorie revived her talent for fabric arts. My landscape projects became more fun, freed from the pressure of retail, and the quality of our work improved. Some really hardworking and dedicated local gentlemen joined our landscape crew. Discerning and sophisticated homeowners sought us out to do their landscapes.
Now it’s time to redouble our efforts to make our farm the showplace we always dreamed about. Little by little, with our spare time and resources, we add trees, trails, culverts and roads, ponds and bridges, fences and gardens. We’re beating back the invasive plants in our woods and hedgerows, and catching up on trail maintenance.
I would call much of what we’re doing “macro-landscaping” or “landscaping at scale”. “Paint with the big brush first”, I like to say. Our farm is like a painter’s canvas, and every brush stroke changes its character and amplifies its natural beauty. This is my calling; what I was put here to do. I’m sharing it with you because I believe that sharing goals and dreams makes them more likely to come true. Thank you in advance for your help.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.