Landscape Philosophy

Welcome to LAKESHORES landscape & design web site. In creating this site, I have learned that text is good for exposure to web browsers but do people actually read all this “Stuff”. For those of you who are reading on, welcome. I feel this is my chance to pass along my philosophy of design, business and life. Are you sure you want to continue? The road ahead is a bit weird.

Door County is an odd place. I grew up here and never really ventured north of Sturgeon Bay unless I was going to the beaches or the parks. Mainly I tried to avoid the tourists. I often ask why people have such a reaction to this place. I know that the cities that they are escaping from have the same affect on me as Door County has on them. Maybe it boils down to the “Nice place to visit” statement. I do appreciate the great diversity in the artistic community that resides here and the people who seek it out, but the over abundance of crap that has jumped on the bandwagon waters down the experience. If you look beyond the business interests in Door County, one can realize the enormous amount of artistic talent and expression here. My fear is the short term thinkers will reap what they can and ruin the true Door County Experience. Sales and Marketing are part of the American way. Oh I have my catch phrases, tricky eye catching ads and other gimmicks, but who do I really want as my customer and how do I let them know I am out there. Are you still there? Are you the type of client I am looking for? Are you coming to Door County for something different or is it just closer than the Dells? I want people with vision. I want people that value oddities and what ifs. Are you there? Are you tired of normal? I am tired of the question….is that a bush or a shrub. I am tired of the question………how many lawns do you mow? I am an artist! The company employs craftsmen! We are more than landscapers! We want more out of our daily jobs! Challenge us! Respect us! Understand us! Are you still there? Are you scared yet? Sorry, I’m on a roll.

Leaving Door County was the best thing I could have done but coming back was even better. I truly believe that Door County needs a landscape firm that puts artistic expression ahead of business. A landscape firm that is an advocate for its client. Idealistic? maybe, but what is wrong with idealism. Isn’t it idealism that drives innovation?

I did enjoy UW-Madison, from which I received my degree in landscape architecture. College life is much different than working world life. Yes, it can be stressful but what a carefree time it was. Does anyone really know what they are in for upon graduation? I didn’t.

My landscape career started in Appleton where I was fortunate enough to work with many people who had a great impact on who I am today. Luke and Hank, just two of the many, are very much the opposite in just about every way I can think of. Luke, the highly conservative owner, taught me the basic realities of humans, landscape production skills, how to entertain, and how best to cultivate the talents of your staff. Luke had a way of connecting to anyone from a seasonal worker to the millionaire. The most important lesson was making me realize what I really wanted out of my chosen profession. This last lesson ultimately marked the end of my stay in Appleton.

Hank, the smooth talking genius of design, could sell anything. People skills were passed to me through several tough lessons. Lessons that could jade one against humanity but instead, through his guidance, helped me to understand and except those truths. Hank had a swagger that people loved or hated. It fit well with most people; I was humbled by it. Hank taught me design; where Madison didn’t. There was reality in his designs with unreal results. I am still amazed at how fast he could put ideas on paper, sell a project and then do what he wanted in the field. Plans were a selling tool, not for production. Estimates were a necessary evil of the job. This philosophy  marked the end of Hank’s stay in Appleton. Numbers, in many forms, can rule a company and end careers. The most valuable lesson of all is the balance between percentages and humanity; a lesson that I am still trying to find the answer to.

Back I go to Door County to manage a small but growing LAKESHORES. The opportunity to do what I wanted without the headaches of ownership was a good deal for me. To be honest, I never wanted to own a business. The ownership of a business tends to take people who have a talent and turn them into business people. That’s great for a business major and not so good for a landscape architect. Management changes to ownership quickly when the company president wants out of everything. Here I am with the easy decision of purchasing an up and coming landscape design/build Company. With very few real world business skills to my name, the purchase goes through. The great aspect about life is that people have a wide variety of interests beyond my own; therefore, I again have been fortunate enough to have a great staff from which I harness their talents to keep this landscape company running.

In trying to create this website, I continue with a common theme of my life; don’t make it easy, simple, common, trendy, catchy, cutesy or small. My initial thoughts included statements of how superior we are to the rest of the competition in Door County but what do I truly know about them. I have seen some work and met some of them personally, but what do I really know about them. Do I know their drive, passions, motivations, philosophies or even their history? No but I do know what I want LAKESHORES to be….. a vehicle for my creative juices. As a potential customer of LAKESHORES I can only tell you, with reasonable certainty, what we as a company can offer. Opportunity; a chance to explore the potential of your landscape project. Craftsmanship; an assurance that the team at LAKESHORES has the knowledge to complete a project the right way. Value; the knowledge that the project is an investment and not a future liability. I am often asked how I compare to my competition. That is difficult to answer without sounding petty or high and mighty. I know that I take risks in design to stay ahead of what others are doing. I know I like to have fun with design also to stay ahead of the competition. Though, I ask, what is staying ahead of the competition? It is probably more for my big ego than anything. Instead of staying ahead of the competition, I should be thankful just doing what I like to do and if anyone wants to hire me because of that spirit, great.

Over the years of being in this crazy profession I have found my self at odds with my own industry’s focus. Shouldn’t the focus be design, craftsmanship and education? The trade magazines come by the dozen and continue to frustrate me. Articles focusing on labor issues to employee efficiencies to squeezing out every percentage you can. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to live comfortably but at what expense. Do we really need to track employees with GPS? Do we really need to burn out our employees and then discard them for younger models? What is happening to the value of craftsmanship and experience? As business owners do we really need all the fluff at the expense of others? Have I just lost my Conservative clientele? What this all boils down to is responsibility; responsibility to employees for their livelihood, responsibility to clients to deliver more than products and services, responsibility to the community for aesthetic wellness and conscience involvement, and finally for everyone, including myself, to be responsible for his or her own actions. The simple act of being responsible for ones actions restores the word TRUST to the English language.

While I am on the subject of trust, have you noticed the trend of certification? Certification is touted as the substitute for trust. It appears that every manufacturer has certifications for installing their product. In theory it sounds great, educate, educate, educate. BEWARE! Certification is a sales tool. There are only a handful of standards that this profession ultimately needs and they come from the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing and The Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection. If there are no real consequences then what does a certification from a manufacturer really mean.

Off the soapbox for now; I truly thank you for reading all this “stuff”. Although I am not trying to convert anyone politically I have tried to express what I believe as a human out for the continued health of all our senses. Please seek your own path and I hope it leads you past Carlsville at least once.

John D. Meredith R.L.A., ASLA