How I Became a Gardener (Just Five Years Ago)

This is how I went from being a graphic design student to a gardening nut, only five years ago. I recently stumbled across an old sketchbook filled with ideas for turning my balcony into a chic and modern garden. My wife and I (we were living in sin back then) had just moved into our apartment together and I was going to school to be a designer. It was around that time that our hikes in South Florida and a book on houseplants coalesced into a gardening obsession.

One of the sights that first inspired me: looking up at a pink tabebuia in bloom while eating French pastries with my wifey-to-be on one of our trips.
This sketchbook brought back so many great memories of feverishly drawing up plans for imaginary gardens and magnificent living sculptures - memories of buying my first sea grape tree and my first houseplant. I was still working at the bookstore back then as a manager and became transfixed by the books about houseplants, buying up several in the span of a couple weeks. Books like "Beyond the Windowsill" slowly began to merge my appreciation of interior design with my love of nature. The same fiddle leaf fig and Dracaena 'Limelight' that I saw in those pages are staples in our apartment to this very day.

The plant against the wall is supposed to be a Cassia alata. Sadly, it didn't like our shady conditions.
My college textbooks slowly began to mingle with the likes of Jamie Durie, Debra Lee Baldwin, Andy Goldsworthy and Will Giles, and my notes in class were contaminated with sketches of what Jamie Durie called "Dream Gardens." I spent the time between classes admiring the unusual plants around the University of North Florida campus. It was there that I first saw bromeliads grown outdoors in north Florida, and there where the landscaper saw me hypnotized by an architectural Cassia alata and shared some of their ribbed seedpods with me. I promptly drew them next to my drawings of gothic architecture and noticed a pleasing similarity to flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings. Maybe those architects were inspired by a similar seedpod centuries ago. It was also around that time that I realized just how much I loved writing. I was an incredibly shy guy, but writing gave my thoughts wings and made it possible for me to say all the things going on in my head.

Here's a drawing of my first houseplant, a bird's nest fern purchased at Target. This guy sparked a bit of my epiphyte enthusiasm.

I got a little excited on the next page of the sketchbook and designed an imaginary epiphyte tree wrapped with sphagnum moss and chicken wire. Maybe this is how my Rainforest Drop idea came about.

I thought of ways to create benches and seating on our balcony without wasting space that could be used on plants. This is one of the ideas I came up with. I didn't finish the drawing, but you get the idea.

I also thought of inventive planters to build, including a tiered one that would have storage space underneath and one that would have different divisions like a bento box in which different textures of plants could be mixed and matched.

Can you believe that this sudden burst of inspiration happened just five years ago? Mind you, my only gardening experience before this was planting marigold seeds for my mom or keeping a little barrel cactus as a kid. Sure, it's a shame that I didn't get bitten by the gardening bug sooner since I would have become a landscape architect by now if I had the chance. On the other hand, my limited education as a designer must be of some use to me as a garden writer someday. At least I have some nifty business cards!


  1. Wonderful sketches, thanks for posting them! I do wonder though why you can't still become a landscape are young!

  2. Very nice...I think in my field, we start with plan views too much, instead of the loose sketches you did. Your sketches would inspire much, even if fulfilled in the future.

  3. Steve, as you know, I only began gardening (for real) in 2005, so I'm new to this, too. But I think we're making up for lost time, don't you? I still love gardening as much as the first day I realized I wanted to do it. Soldier on, friend! There are many more gardening adventures to come! (And writing adventures, too!)

  4. It's funny how new interests develop. I enjoyed reading about how you came to gardening. You are a multi-talented guy and i see great things in your future.

  5. How fun to see how your gardening interest has progressed. Your flair for design works well with landscaping and balconyscaping for that matter. There are some great ideas in that old sketch book.

  6. Danger Garden: That's okay. I think garden writing is in my future anyway! Thanks for the complement. :)
    David: Hey, it's fun to dream up stuff when you're not a landscape architect because you don't have to live up to standards! Thank you. I'll do something with all of my crazy ideas someday.
    Kylee: We ARE making up for lost time! I pretty much eat sleep and breathe horticulture and it's almost as if I'm frantically trying to catch up. There's so much that I could have been learning before I started!
    Susan: Thank you so much Susan! I guess art, nature and gardening all go hand in hand, don't they?
    NanaK: Thanks the nice words. I discovered the sketches while my wife was doing her drawing for SAP Sunday and said "THAT's where they were!"

  7. It's nice to see how you traced your love of plants and gardening and how much this interest/addiction has developed. With everything you've learned in the last 5 years, you can think up even more designs for plants in (and out of) the home.


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