12 Jan Our Roots Run Deep
When you have a multi-generational business, sometimes you can just fall into becoming a part of it. But our business has always centered around a real, honest love for plants.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of helping my grandmother garden. She grew her plants on greenhouse benches, and from the time I was just able to reach up to them, I would help her water and care for them. She had a genuine green thumb — anything she touched, she could make grow. She transplanted hundreds of thousands of fragile little seedlings, and she was able to nurture them and help them thrive.
My father loved growing things, too, and my parents were in the garden center business. So I spent my youth surrounded by plants. However, I didn’t know that I wanted to consider plants as a career until I got to college. I went to NC State, where I majored in horticulture and botany.
In my early 20’s, I decided to come home and help the family business. Initially, I was a grower in the greenhouse, and I worked in the nursery and the garden center.
A pivotal moment for me was a lecture I attended by Dr. J.C. Raulston. Dr. Raulston was famous in the horticulture industry; he was one of the leading plantsmen in the South, and he started a huge Arboretum at NC State in Raleigh. Hearing him speak and seeing his pictures of gardens from around the world opened my eyes to the beauty of gardens, and to a whole new world of possibilities. I began to imagine the things I could create, and I got very inspired.
I started devouring books, attending conferences, and visiting gardens – anything to learn more. I received formal training at Garden Design School USA. I searched out who the best designers were, and I took a look at what they were doing. I studied the gardens of Thomas Church and learned how he integrated the house and the landscape together, so the garden was an extension of the home.
Our landscaping business started unexpectedly. I delivered a large plant order to a client who had just built a beautiful new home. She told me she could use some help placing the plants, so I assisted her in figuring out where they should go. The project turned out so well that I got another job almost immediately, and then another one after that. From there, it took on a life of its own.
I was very fortunate because some of these earliest clients were well-established, respectable people who were passionate about gardening. For them, it was a way of life. They saw the garden as a living, breathing thing that was, in some ways, just as important as the house, and they were willing to invest a lot of money and time in creating something extravagant.
I learned so much from those clients about the value of a garden, and about the kind of designer I wanted to be. I have never wanted to be the guy who comes in and plops down some trees and shrubs to meet the minimum standards. I want to create a beautiful space where people can linger, and rest, and experience nature at its finest. A space where they can build memories with their families. A space that will grow, and change with them, as a familiar and treasured part of their lives. Gardens still drive me to this day, and it’s why, after all, these years, I still love what I do.
I still have as much passion for gardens as I did in the beginning. I still strive to learn everything possible about the industry. And I still love the simple joy of watching green things grow. It takes me back to a good, and beautiful, and simple place in time. And now that my son Shane is part of the business, I feel that things have come full circle in some way. We’re carrying on a family legacy. And that’s a great thing.
Our Roots Run Deep: Founder John Phillips
John Phillips, Landscape Designer