APLDWA Featured Designer:
Tom Lawson

Mad Gardener LLC
Member since 2012

This quarter, we are going to meet Tom Lawson. The APLD Board brain-stormed some questions whose answers we thought the rest of us, along with potential clients, would find engaging and informative and maybe pull some inspiration from. We put these questions in front of Tom… let’s find out about him and his company, Mad Gardener LLC.

When did you start designing gardens? Tell us about your path from then to now.

I started designing gardens when I was working as a massage therapist in the Hamptons and in NYC. In the Hamptons I rented a cottage on a property with two houses and an overgrown landscape design from the 60s. I “played” in the garden and fantasized about what I could do with that property, were it mine. Be careful what you ask for. Eight years later, I bought that property and started a 17-year journey of transformation and learning.

backyard landscape design, behind patio

sideyard landscape design, tall hedges with pink blooms on shrubs

I was the general contractor for the renovations to the house and property. My life partner at the time was a gifted designer, Gary Guerette, and together we were able to create a beautiful place to live and thrive. We designed the renovations based on the landscape that we were transforming, every window was placed according to the views of the landscape. Gary’s interior design was published in the November 2003 issue of Elle Décor.

During that time in the Hamptons, I was exposed to a wide variety of people in the design and art world. Many of those friends urged me to “do this professionally”, based on what I had created on my own property; how we had transformed and revealed the beauty and spirit that was hidden from years of neglect.

backyard landscape design, patio with chairs and table and mature tree

After 27 years as a massage therapist, I was ready to transition to a new career. Landscape Design felt like a good fit, based on what I had done with my own property, my construction skills, my ability to create a vision, and the love I had for ‘playing ‘in the garden.

In 2011, I launched my study in Landscape Design & Garden Design at The New York Botanical Gardens, and started working with clients in the Hamptons. I completed those certificates in 2013. I joined APLD as a student in 2012 and in 2014 won the Top Student Design award in the APLD International Design Contest.

In 2015, my husband Rob Haydt and I moved to Seattle, where I began to settle into a new climate and plant palette. I also re-joined APLD, eventually joining the Washington Chapter Board of Directors as Secretary. I knew that I could find like-minded designers and the resources I would need to find contractors and suppliers by joining the local chapter. Having the support and encouragement of skilled and dedicated professionals has been invaluable.

How would you describe your design style?

Personal, eclectic, functional, and healthy for the environment. My experience developing my own property led me to landscape design, so I come from the perspective of a homeowner. My first question is: How will the client live and experience the space? My experience with a gifted designer as a partner, taught me that personality is the essence of style. At NYBG I learned the principles of environmental stewardship, solving problems on multiple levels with a feedback system to confirm the efficacy of the solutions. All of my experience has led me to create personal spaces that reflect the people that inhabit them, as well as work for the health of the planet.

backyard landscape design, pool with pool chairs and tall ivy on both sides of entrance

Who inspires you and your designs?

Actually, my clients inspire me. I get excited when I make a connection with my client. When I understand who they are, then the creative juices flow. I also get inspiration from seeing the work of other designers when I go on garden tours and experience the space they have created.

Is your focus design? Or do you also manage installation, build, and maintain gardens?

My focus is primarily design. I have recently been working with a design/build company, designing projects for them and managing the installation. With my own clients, I work to find the right contractor for the installation and maintenance, usually making regular site visits to assure the designs are being executed according to plan. Good stewardship involves making sure that everything is working the way it was intended.

What experiences as a designer have you found to be most challenging?

Client expectations are the most challenging. People frequently do not understand what needs to be done to create the space they want. I believe that is one of my most important jobs, explaining the process and how things will happen. Second on the list would be navigating the permitting process for environmentally critical areas (ECA).

Which experiences have you found to be most rewarding?

Seeing the smiles on the faces of the clients when the project is complete Also, seeing the projects fill in with time, becoming the design, that was created from a vision.

Describe a typical design project and your process.

I start with finding out who the client is, what they want and what they need. We catalogue all the issues that need to be addressed. We then proceed to solve all the problems and create the space they want. Once the decisions are made on plant choices, material choices, traffic flow and space allocation, we then find the best match for installation.

What would your ideal project and client be?

My ideal client would be someone who knows who they are and is ready to create something that is personal and environmentally healthy. The ideal project would be one where you can feel the possibilities the space has to offer, that has the potential for people to live in harmony with the environment.

Tell us about one of your favorite or most memorable projects.

backyard landscape design, gravel walkway with plants

My first full property renovation was one of my favorites. It was in the town of East Hampton, New York, and we renovated the entire property, new driveway, new front entrance, the existing deck and patio, and added a new entertaining area and planting beds. The property was a modern house in the woods and they wanted to retain the feel of the modern aesthetic within the natural environment of the woods. The challenges were many, and we were able to come up with creative ways to solve them all, executing the clients’ vision within their budget.

backyard landscape design, deck with surround shrubs and pool in back

backyard landscape design, back landing with shrubs and gravel path

Do you collaborate with other designers?

Yes, but usually in a support role. I have been doing site measuring and base maps for several designers in APLDWA. It has been rewarding working with other designers, talking about the possibilities of their projects and helping them get everything down on paper, so they can do their work.

How has permitting requirements (stormwater, ECA, etc.) or site limitations affected your design process and creativity?

Permitting requirements are some of the more challenging aspects of design. When I bought my house here in Seattle, I didn’t realize the slope at the back of the property would be so difficult. I quickly found out that an ECA classification has restrictions for anything you do to the exterior of the house and property. All the things I had fantasized about the property needed to change. It required me to be more creative to accomplish my goals.

I am now helping clients understand and navigate the ECA permitting process. Restrictions on ECAs are critical to protecting the health and safety of everyone. When I began designing landscapes, I wanted to be involved with design that emphasizes Environmental Stewardship. ECA, and storm-water regulations are the essence of being good Stewards of our environment. So, I am doing the kind of work I wanted to do, helping people become good stewards of their environments.

Tom Lawson

Mad Gardener LLC
Phone: 206.751.6833