APLDWA Featured Designer:
Lara Elizabeth Vyas
Owner and Principal Designer at Natural Greenscapes LLC
Member since 2015
This quarter, Lara Elizabeth Vyas is telling us her story – from helping in her mom’s tropical garden in India to realizing complex landscape projects in the PNW.
When did you start designing gardens? Tell us about your path from then to now.
Lara is also the Treasurer of the APLD Washington Chapter. Photo Credit: Lara Grauer Photography.
After moving to the Pacific Northwest, I volunteered at Bellevue Botanical Garden and local non-profits like Seattle Tilth to find my plant community. The experience inspired me to become a Certified Professional Horticulturist, a Master Naturalist, and a Master Pruner. At the same time, an encouraging conversation with a small business advisor led me to start Natural Greenscapes in 2011. Running a small business was a steep learning curve for me but nevertheless, I found it empowering. Soon after I also became a WA state registered contractor.
Joining APLD in 2015 marked a huge milestone. I had found my tribe! Be it encouragement to take on tougher design challenges or valuable advice on handling difficult situations, my APLDWA POD (Peer Organized Discussion) mentors and colleagues helped me grow in different planes simultaneously. Through volunteering in the APLDWA Program Committee, I have gotten a chance to meet so many wonderful designers and get inspired by their work. Certification by APLD in early 2020 was a huge boost in my confidence. The whole experience, from selecting potential projects to submission of the designs, gave me the ability to push beyond my comfort zone and work on more ambitious projects.
A backyard that functions as an outdoor extension of the house. A place to relax in a hot-tub or for a quiet tête-à-tête, a place to cook, to gather around and share, a place to entertain. All photo credits: Lara Elizabeth Vyas.
How would you describe your design style?
My approach to landscape design comes from a problem solver point of view. I put myself in my clients’ shoes and try to see what they want and what is not working for them. Bridging that gap with an environment-friendly focus then becomes my primary goal. Being an analytical thinker helps me see through the chaos or see beyond the emptiness in a space and create a plan that marries their short-term goals with their long-terms goals while staying true to my environmental ethics.
The existing old-growth trees and mature rhododendrons make this 1918-built property feel like an oasis in Seattle.
My designs are straightforward and rely heavily on the principle of “Form Follows Function” where I focus on the desired function of a space before creating a shape for it and filling in the details. For example, is it a 4-person or a 6-person dining space? How much area should I allot for it? I look at traffic patterns - how does one enter and exit this space? Will a rectilinear or curvilinear shape fit better with the surroundings? What materials should be used to build this space? Will this design fit the client’s wants and needs while staying within their budget?
I also borrow and repeat patterns and styles from the house and the existing structures and landscape elements to create a flow that my clients have come to appreciate. Finding symmetry and balance in the design, especially in the three-dimensional space, is important to my own design sensibilities and I often go through several concepts before I can narrow down to the ones I present to the client.
I am a sucker for foliage. My planting schemes often reflect combinations of color and texture achieved via foliage. That said, when clients specifically ask for blooms to dominate a garden, I am happy to create a plant palette that works for them.
Who inspires you and your designs?
I love going on garden tours! It is always such a rewarding experience to see and learn how designers tackled various site challenges to create outdoor spaces for their clients. I often browse through my tour photos to get inspired while creating concepts on my own landscape projects.
My travels are a constant source of inspiration as well. On vacation trips, my family indulges in my passion by including at least one public garden visit for me. Be it the horticultural artistry of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay or the amazing flora of New Zealand or the symbolic plants in Montserrat, Barcelona or the Brugmansia growing in roadside ditches in Boquete, Panama, they all sustain my obsession with plants and landscapes. I am truly blessed to be in a profession that feeds my soul.
My travels are a constant source of inspiration for me. From top left to bottom right: a tree fern in New Zealand – a courtyard in Montserrat, Barcelona – Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – Supertree Grove in Singapore.
Is your focus design? Or do you also manage installation, build, and maintain gardens?
My initial work was primarily design only. However, many of my clients had a “what now” feeling after I submitted the Master Plan. They often called on me for advice as they navigated through the process of implementing the design. This led to project management and oversight of construction of the landscape.
Just as newly installed plants in a garden have a “Sleep, Creep and Leap” growth cycle, Natural Greenscapes also flourished in a similar fashion. As my designed gardens matured, clients called on me to coach them in pruning and maintaining their gardens. This opportunity grew into a fine-gardening business wing. A team of three employees now take on garden stewardship for not only the gardens I design, but also for other designers and contractors. Container plantings are the ‘icing on the cake’ for me and I so enjoy creating them every season.
“Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers”: Container Gardens are one of our specialties. The key is to really play with the shapes, textures, and colors of both the foliage and the blooms.
How have permitting requirements (stormwater, ECA, etc.) or site limitations affected your design process and creativity?
In my earlier years, I would either refer projects with ECA (Environmentally Critical Areas) site limitations to other designers or simply refuse those projects. Over the last five years, I have educated myself on the ecology and geology of steep slopes and have become familiar with the codes and regulations governing such sites. Now, I see such projects as a potential for ecological design advocacy, creative growth, and education not only for myself but also for my clients. I recently submitted native re-vegetation plans on two ECA slope restoration projects (Seattle and Lake Forest Park) in collaboration with a geo-technical engineer and am excited to see them being implemented in 2022.
Tell us about one of your favorite or most memorable projects.
In 2019-20, I worked on a design project in Hollywood Hills, Woodinville, which turned out to be a dream project with wonderful clients who appreciated my skills and vision, combined with a cohesive collaboration between various trades people – metal fabricators, water feature artists, an old-school masonry craftsman, a low-voltage lighting designer and more. The knowledge and experience I gained on this project have been immense. It was a joy to see the clients thrilled at realizing the full potential of their property. My fine-gardening team helps them steward their property now and I hope to feature this garden in 3-4 years.
Some shots of this completed project taken soon after installation. Can’t wait for this garden to mature!