Up for Air

8-18-14

UP FOR AIR  

Lani Woodruff

 

 The past several months whirled past me like racers out of the starting blocks.  Only in

this case, the starting gun that went off sounded of my cell phone ringing.  Spring arrived

and with it, miles of work for me.  This morning presents the first time this season I find

myself sitting at my computer to type my thoughts on screen that doesn’t involve

Vecktorworks, plant lists, design notes or client profiles.  And it feels good to breathe!  So

much so that words evade me.  But one word keeps playing in my thoughts….gratitude.

 Sarah Ban Breathnach introduced me to the concept of engaging in gratitude when I read

her book, “Simple Abundance” back in the 90’s.  In it, she invited her readers to write a

gratitude journal recording entries on a daily basis.  It was not an exercise that flowed

easily for me at first.  I’d write really general, cliché entries like; I’m grateful for my health. 

I’m grateful for my family.  I’m grateful for my job.  But soon I found myself ‘writing’

entries in my head as I went through my day.  If I remember right, recording a list of five

things was the request.  But after practicing the exercise I found myself filling page after

page with grateful thoughts.  And the entries became simpler and simpler too; I’m grateful

for chocolate chip cookies!  I’m grateful for the cosmos I saw today –they make me smile! 

I’m grateful for Garth’s kiss this morning.  It illustrated the other truth I took away from

that read, ‘All you have is all you need.’  

 

At the beginning of this growing season I stood poised, ready to design away, but I viewed

myself alone.  Alone, in the sense that no longer was there a build component to my firm.  

RootBound, a landscape design studio.    No in house install team.  No dump trucks.  No

skid loaders.  Just me, my MacBookPro, Vecktorworks and awesome business cards.  It

was not business as usual to me.  Was all I had, all I needed?  

 After the pleasure of designing some 60 designs since April, I believe the answer resounds

yes.  And this is why gratitude plays in my thoughts as I sit and breathe these few

moments.  This is just my short list:  I’m grateful to continue my art of landscape design

here in St. Joseph, Michigan.  I’m grateful for my husband’s support.  I’m grateful for the

build firms who are my new install teams.  I’m grateful for the referrals sent to me by local

suppliers.  I’m grateful for referrals sent to me from my college professor.  I’m grateful for

the chance to help my clients.  I’m grateful for these moments to type, my thoughts on

screen.

Thirty Minutes

2-14-14

THIRTY MINUTES

Lani Woodruff

 

This is an experiment.  Over coffee this morning and heart shaped donuts, talk of blogging

surfaced.  Blogs are supposed to be short. Not long winded.  And Garth lamented how this

challenges him.  He has this landscape design class assignment where his students are

given a site and a short program and then they have 30 minutes to whip up a design.  No

over thinking it.  The students thus practice pulling from their gut.  And surprisingly

enough, what unfolds holds true design grit and creativity.  So as our discussion

continued, Garth proposed I exercise the same in writing a blog today.  Pulling from my

gut?  

These ideas open up a mix of thoughts that amuse and entertain me.  How do you tap in to

such a process?  What if there aren’t any resources in my gut?  What if my guts empty (I

did skip the donuts this morning!)?  I think designing a site in 30 minutes would come

more naturally to me than typing this blog in the same spanse of time.  Words and

thoughts are different.  They make me feel much more vulnerable.  Mostly, I have few

words.  I am the one who listens in most conversations.  I like it that way.  It’s not that I

don’t have words.  But my words rest pretty close to my heart.  They’re personal and

sharing them…..well that’s scary.  

 

But I like a challenge.  So I’ll venture on.  Today is Valentines Day, a day of expressing our

love and affection to the special people in our lives.  Why not expand that expression to my

work?  What do I love in my work?  My gut knows.  Granted it speaks from where I’ve been

(so no worries about my gut being empty or unresourceful, right?).  When I sit down to

begin a design for one of my clients, I begin with mocking it up – placing all the existing

elements of the site in their place on the paper and locating them on the page to scale.  The

next step is to organize the space.  And this is what I love most about landscape design. 

Organizing space in a beautiful way.  I simply love taking a clients profile and coming up

with solutions that take a space from disarray to art.  At least, that is what I like to call it.  I

love to see the shapes unfold and look at them in plan view like a bird would see it from

the sky.  It brings me joy to see purpose and aesthetics unite.  

 

So along with all the cliché admissions of love, I timidly add my own today.  But hopefully

a bit of sincere passion can be noted in these musings.  I think it warrants thought.  To

express any notion of love is worthy and worthwhile.  Yes that.  Who cares if Valentines

Day is cliché and you want to vomit at the site of pink and red.  There is much to love in

this world.  I know.  I pulled it from my gut.  

 

 

~30 minutes more or less.  Done.

Flower Talk

1-28-14

FLOWER TALK

Lani Woodruff

 

We’re all familiar with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “The earth laughs in flowers.”  I for

one could stand to hear some of her laughter in these gray winter days.  The Polar Vortex

provided a bit of drama earlier this month, but it sounded more like eerie howling made

more poignant by the 30 below temperatures.  Pining away here in St. Joe, Michigan

watching the snow, fall outside my window holds it’s own romance.  But it is flowers that

speak in my thoughts today.  I miss their conversation.  

I am reading a quirky book handed down to me from my mother-in-law.  In “the Language

of Flowers”, Vanessa Diffenbaugh brings back to life the Victorian practice of sending

messages through flowers.  It seems fitting, yet somewhat ironic in my mind that in an era

defined by formality and manners and all things ‘proper’ that such an intimate language

was exchanged.  Some things just must be said….and this forbidden vocabulary could be

expressed through flowers.  By way of sending a pink Camellia for example, a lover could

say he was ‘longing for you’.  Too afraid to turn that suitor away, just send a bouquet of

withered flowers (rejected love) and that’ll send the message!  But how to decipher

receiving a petunia:  Resentment; Anger; Your presence soothes me?

 

Thoughts and emotions are difficult to express.  And in such times reaching for symbols

helps to take away some of the tension involved.  Like the Victorians, we struggle to

converse, to convey, to touch.  Flowers somehow pull this off.  I work a few hours a week at

a local florist shop just blocks from my house.  We take orders for every occasion you could

imagine – birthdays, anniversaries, get well, new baby, congratulations, lovers, sympathy,

dances, apologies.  The list goes on and on.  To place an order we enter data into the

demanding computer screen until we arrive at the place for the card message.  Until we

reach this point, the customer dictates all the necessary information quicker than I can

often type and enter it.  But when we get to the message there is more often than not a

pause.  And then some kind of flustered response like,  “Oh that’s the hard part isn’t it?” 

Or, “I didn’t think about that yet.”  Some even ask what I would recommend, while some

simply leave the message blank.  Surely, some of the awkwardness stems from the fact that

it’s personal.  I am a stranger on the other line recording words and emotions meant for

someone else.  That aside though, the struggle to express ourselves makes, us vulnerable

and this discomfort presents itself often in the florist shop.  I wonder though, perhaps we

make it harder than it needs to be.  Just maybe, the flowers can speak for themselves.  And

do the individuals that leave their card blank understand this?  Maybe what the flowers

have to say is just what the recipient needs to hear.  No more, no less.  

But what do flowers say?  For me, it has nothing to do with an unspoken language of an

era now gone by.  Like a grandparent who knowingly smiles with no commentary or that

mentor who guides, but doesn’t state, flowers nod and sway.  Flowers speak to me about

innocence, simplicity and unapologetic joy.  I ‘hear’ these expressions when I look at their

petals so dainty and delicate like toes and fingers of a newborn baby.  Flowers seem to

most always be smiling too.  Gather meadows, borders and hillsides of them and I do

believe Emerson’s words ring true –-peals of laughter indeed!   But the topic I love most

flowers to talk about is beauty.  They speak volumes.  They tell me that beauty exists in the

eye of the beholder and I smile remembering the fistfuls of flowering weeds the boys

brought me as toddlers.  Beauty is not a ‘box’ to fit in, they gently say, something to

possess if conformed to the right shape.  Zinnias chatter about beauty in color.  Peony in

full, round spheres.  Iris, boast in posture and ruffles and lavender in fragrance.  All

beautiful just being.  Flowers remind me that beauty lives, even thrives in the harshest of

environments when I see volunteer petunias and impatiens sprout up in the cracks and

crevices of concrete, asphalt and stone.  Beauty unfolds, retreats, stretches toward warmth

and light and even dies.  

 

Flowers converse with me about all the beautiful dimensions of life.  And that is why I miss

their conversation these winter months.  I need to talk about it and be reminded when the

sun doesn’t seem to shine for days and weeks that turn into months.  I guess the fact that

for this season they are gone, it is not meant for talking so much.  Quiet.  Less chatter. 

We’ll catch-up come spring.  

Reel Mower

10-20-13

REAL MOWER

Garth Woodruff

 

For the sake of the rain today and my focused mind fogging over, I found myself perusing

a list of famous people and places in Gloucestershire, England.  Interestingly I found

quite an impressive legacy of faces, those at the top being Prince Charles, Prince William,

Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and the like.  To no surprise the list included many

names one would recognize from the silver screen, countless musicians and artists. 

However, to my great disappointment Edwin Beard Budding (1795-1846) wasn’t

anywhere in the top 100.  This man single handedly stole millions of precious Sundays

and summer evenings from humankind worldwide with his devious invention, the lawn

mower.  Yes, August 31, 1830 marks the birth of the reel mower.  And like many bad

habits we seem to collected from other countries we adapted the mower.  I, like many

this time of year, am facing my last pilgrimages across my lawn tottering behind some old

friend who helps maintain and shape the way others look upon me and my home. 

With the long weekend break from the University Lani and I slipped back to Virginia for

a day of maintenance on our home there and I was one of those men missing a Monday

night football game in exchange for quality time spent in the yard.  I do love our

mountain there and found myself saying on the drive back to Michigan how I could have

mowed the lawn 100 more times just for the opportunity to be outside in the woods.  In

Virginia I have a reel more.  I do!  It’s the same design that Budding patented over 180

years ago.  Little has changed and with nothing to complicate it.  My wife raves about this

simple thing.  She needn’t struggle with it up the steps as it’s light and she needn’t fight

with starting it, as it has no motor.  If a twig gets caught in the blades she stops, reaches

down, pulls it out and keeps mowing.  It’s like the perfect mousetrap.  Now, in all fairness

our lawn there isn’t much larger then my office here and can take up to eight whole

minutes to mow, thus our happy marriage to the ‘reel’ mower. 

Michigan, and a larger lawn have brought a new challenge.  After seeing the grass grow up

at this new home the first few weeks I quickly realized that it was high time to buy a ‘real’

mower.  Yes, a man who may not philosophically support lawns has a reel mower and a

real mower.  Oddly enough I quickly fell into line and felt like I was a true Middle

American too, with someone picking up my trash for the first time in 40 years and

mowing my lawn on Sundays foolishly waving to the new neighbors.  How cool.

 

Well the gardens are facing their own seasonal maintenance.  The mowing there is

quickly wrapping up.  The string trimmers have been set aside and larger pieces of

equipment take the place in the fields.  Plastic pullers remove the row covers where older

crops are done; manure spreaders are starting to dump fresh fertilizer on the soil to rest

the winter away in preparation for next year.  And before we seed a hearty winter cover

on our resting land we will disk that fertilizer deep into the earth… with none-other than

an implement that was first seen on an Egyptian wall painting dating thousands of years

back.

The Office

10-06-13

THE OFFICE

Lani Woodruff

 

Ordinarily, my work of designing space involves the out-of-doors.  But this job of drawing

outdoor living spaces must be done somewhere.  Not just any place, but a specific place

conducive to getting the creative process flowing for me and for Garth.  Having just

moved into a home new to us, we’ve been living this journey while transforming part of

our basement into a design studio and office.  What was once a dark, dreary dungeon now

has become an inviting, warm expanse of light and color from floor to ceiling.  Over the

past 19 years of working in the landscape design industry we have had several offices. 

The faces of which have all looked very different, but have been very instrumental in

shaping what works for us today. 

 The face of offices has changed in America over time as well.  Historically, the arrival of

the railroad birthed the need for offices in America.  No longer was the ‘mom and pop’

run operation adequate to keep a business thriving.  The physical needs required multiple

personnel to perform the needed tasks once simply done in one’s head and this need

spread nationwide as businesses were expanding commerce from coast to coast. As the

railroad industry grew, it demanded more organization and by 1840 to 1850 management

was a permanent fixture in the industry and their employees began to see the railroad as

a career with opportunities to advance.  Thus began modern business and offices.  Post

WWII however higher wages were paid for skilled and semi-skilled workers in factories

than in offices.  This from demands of the American people for the lack of consumer

goods available during the war.  Since employers didn’t raise the salaries, office work had

to be made more attractive and so did the offices themselves.  Employers began to color-

coordinate and buy comfortable and attractive furnishings for the workplace.  Corporate

image was the focus of the face of this era.  Well-furnished, carpeted and softly lit offices

were the norm by the 1960s.  The ‘Action’ office, better known as the ‘cubicle’ was born in

the late 60s and thus began the modular business furniture system.  The concept was

taken to an extreme in the 1980s with the dawning of modular walls.  Now offices were

like graph paper and the cubicles made the grid.  Today, workplace design is largely

influenced by competition, technology and working styles.  The process of work versus

the corporate image is more the driving force.

 As Frederick Taylor did for America in being one of the first to actually design an office

space, we did for our small ‘world’ and actually designed our workplace for the first time. 

We thought about the physical needs we had (i.e. pretty things to look at, large work

space to spread out drawings, light to see by and comfortable chairs).  We thought about

a work environment that successfully embraced the creative process and how this

connected with our ‘corporate’ image.  Interestingly, I think the largest concentration of

thought convened around the process of how our work gets done.  We asked ourselves

what about our office space would propel us to create? 

 

Below the name Rootbound on our logo are three words:  create. place. connect.  The

ultimate goal in taking on a design project is to help our clients connect in some way. 

Connect to nature.  Connect to warm and fuzzy feelings.  Connect to dreams and

aspirations.  Connect to Life.  We want to create spaces that give our clients a sense of

place.  This is the sense that they belong and are connected to their surroundings in a way

that is unique to them and can only be defined by them.  Likewise, we figured, why have

our office space be anything different?  As a result, there are pine-scented candles that sit

on our desk for Garth.  Smells evoke memories for him and help him feel connected.  The

once ugly brick fireplace now stands with two coats of ‘River’s Edge’ blue for me just

because I always wanted to try painting brick.  Both of us enjoy working together and

while our current jobs have changed what that looks like, we decided a desk large enough

to share would be a fun way we could design that into our new lives.  A hand-me-down

dining room table perfectly fit the bill!  There are more details to implement and ideas

that keep flowing, just more fun to be had. 

 

Why all this talk about the office?  An office is just an ordinary part of life.  But I love the

sentiment in the closing line of The Office when Pam said, “There’s a lot of beauty in

ordinary things.  Isn’t that kind of the point?”  It’s when we take the time to look and see

that we elevate the ordinary.  Staying home for dinner becomes dinning al fresco on the

patio or painting the bathroom becomes an artistic adventure.  Yes, work and the office

are average, normal parts of our existence.  But perhaps that is not their endpoint.  It is

only the beginning.  It is how we design them into the space of our life that makes the

bigger picture of beauty.

My Wife's Steel Balls

10-20-13

MY WIFE’S STEEL BALLS

Garth Woodruff

 

My wife is an artist more than any woman could be.  And, like most artists her craft

doesn’t always consist of dabbling in the same media but rather is constantly in flux of

creating new perspectives.  New layouts to a home, new ways to present landscape

designs and whether they impact our food, home, her job or dress they may at times

come at me with some surprise.  As did her balls of steel.  Yes, globes seem to be the

fashion and rage in great gardens these days, some as large as me.  However one can

imagine what a steel sphere of designer breed can demand in a boutique shop.  So, with

the help of a DIY (do it yourself) site she found a way to create her own balls.  With less

surprise, last week I came home to these spheres in our front planter.  Subsequently, with

no surprise I came down to my office to find more balls on our partners’ desk.

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 Early on in my career the owner of ‘The Pebble House’ introduced me to these notions of

transcendentalism.  Less in the philosophical or religious notions of transcendentalism

but in the practice.  She, the owner of a fine bed and breakfast in New Buffalo, hired me to

bring a fresh design to her inn and a revamp to a large, natural pond in the backyard. 

After meeting multiple times in the home I started to notice all the decorations and

treatments.  She being a lover of design and a cohort in beautiful things took the time to

explain to a budding artist what and why she treated her home.  It wasn’t just decorations

but decorations with meaning.  In every room she had decorations with stone: a tray of

polished black river stone, a series of crystal vases full of colored rock, etc.  After all, she

was the pebble house so each room needed small rocks or pebbles in its décor.  That was

where she expanded her perspectives on transcendentalism.  In each room also, as much

as possible, she incorporated outside nature, live nature and real seasonal nature into the

decorations.  Windows were used as views into outdoor rooms rather than mysteries

cloaked in heavy cloth.  I was comfortable wondering her halls but it wasn’t until she

pointed out what she had done did I realize what was going on.  It felt like I was outside…

while inside.

 With the seasons also come the opportunities for these visual home changes.  We have

small decorative gourds, sunflower seed tops and fall flowers in our gardens.  Many

patrons, including myself, are scooping these up for tabletop ornaments.  Many are taking

it a step further and cutting their Miscanthus or Pennisetum grasses to add to the

arrangements.  And I would suggest that scattering these pieces of fall nature all over our

homes helps us connect to the nature around us in a season where the days are only

getting shorter.  If it’s beautiful outside bring it in.  Even…if it’s steel balls.