APLDWA Featured Designer:
Owner and Principal Designer at Orion Rockscapes, Inc.
Member since 2012
This quarter, Jade Waples tells us her story—from starting as an aspiring graphic designer to managing the complications of running a landscape design+build company.
Jade Waples with her daughter at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
When did you start designing gardens? Tell us about your path from then to now.
I grew up with a mom who was a big gardener. She greatly influenced my love of plants, appreciation for nature and interest in sculpting the beauty of the natural world through landscape design. I began my career in horticulture and landscape design with a serendipitous summer class at Edmonds College at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. A friend of mine was taking the class and invited me to join her. I was intending to enter a graphic design program the following semester. Through that class, I learned that I could make a career choice that combined my love of art and design with the natural world, backed up by science and environmental awareness.
After that summer, I continued to take classes at Edmonds College, eventually graduating from their landscape design program. During that time, my husband and I were growing our landscape construction business, Orion Rockscapes. I was able to apply what I was learning in the classroom directly to the business, which was extremely helpful both to our business and to my career development. I also worked part-time for several years at a small woman-owned landscape design firm. The team I worked with provided invaluable hands-on design experience and one-on-one mentorship that helped build my confidence and skills as a designer.
Currently, I spend most of my time managing our business. My skill set in this role has grown to incorporate other aspects of running a company, such as HR management and financial planning. And, I have expanded my abilities in project management and landscape design. My weekly schedule is a mixture of client meetings, bookkeeping, project planning & estimating and collaborating with other professionals on current projects.
I love solving the puzzle of creating intimate and peaceful spaces for my clients in the middle of the city. All garden photos: Jade Waples.
How would you describe your design style?
First and foremost, I want my gardens to feel like home to the clients who live, breathe and move around in them. Getting to know my design clients and discovering what inspires and moves them is important to find out what type of outdoor space will speak to them. Are there scents that remind them of childhood? Did they grow up in another part of the world where particular plants or materials were more prevalent? What are some daily rituals that will occur in the garden space (i.e., afternoon tea, Sunday family dinners, reading the morning paper in the one speck of sunlight that makes it through the tree canopy…)
The spaces that most speak to me personally are gardens that feel like a perfect marriage of the wildness of nature and the functionality of the space on a human scale. Stone and other natural materials are timeless and can feel at home in a wide range of garden styles. In my own garden, I love full, lush and unexpected plant combinations, as well as hidden spaces that change with the seasons.
Natural Stone is my favorite material to use in the landscape. It is timeless and looks at home in virtually any setting and with any style.
Natural stone gas firepit for a family that wanted to recreate their love of campfires in their own backyard.
Every time I go for a hike or a beach walk, I am newly inspired by the beauty that Mother Nature effortlessly provides. I strive to keep that inspiration as a driving force in my design work. Travel is another source of inspiration. It’s not uncommon on a trip to find me taking a photo of the underside of a cool park bench to see how it was constructed, or the interior courtyard of a restaurant with an impressive plant selection.
Inspiration from recent travel in Mexico. I’m constantly examining how things are built in my surrounding environment.
Is your focus design? Or do you also manage installation, build, and maintain gardens?
These days, I am solely focused on running our business, which includes landscape design services, but most of my time is spent on the landscape construction side. Due to the constraints of running a business and raising a family, my current focus is on using my designer brain to work out details on the job site in order to keep our projects running smoothly. Recently, my design skills have been exercised mostly in problem-solving and strategizing on our installations, as opposed to large-scale design projects. I can often be found coming up with a construction detail for a gate or covered arbor that we need to build. Or at times, working with other designers and architects to research and fine-tune the selection of materials, hardware and many other details.
One of the best parts of my job is being on-site and observing how elements are constructed. Here custom-built steel mesh fence panels are set in place along a slope.
What experiences as a designer have you found to be most challenging?
Perhaps this has more to do with running a business than being a landscape designer, but I’ve found that achieving a healthy work-life balance is both challenging and elusive. Balancing clients’ expectations with the demands of simultaneously running a business and a home has forced me to set some boundaries on the type of design work I can realistically take on. I have found that larger, more time-consuming projects are best referred out to other designers who have the time and resources to spend on the design phase of the job. Once the design is ready, we can start collaborating on planning for the installation. This is one way that I have managed to maintain a reasonable workload without over-extending myself.
On the job, I’ve found the most challenging moments to be when clients have unrealistic expectations or are unwilling to accept the reality of their site conditions and/or budget.
Do you collaborate with other designers?
By far, the most rewarding experiences I have had are when I’ve come up with a unique design solution for a client and get to watch it become a reality. I really enjoy working with our construction team to problem-solve and brainstorm the best way to achieve what we want to do on a site. Sometimes, this involves researching a new material we are using for the first time or designing a gate frame to fit a particular gate latch that the client has selected. I’ve found that the smallest and seemingly mundane details of a project are often the ones that require the most planning and thoroughness.
Collaborating with others in our field, whether they are subcontractors (especially our metal fabricator!) or other designers and architects, has also been incredibly rewarding and informative. Each project we work on teaches me something that is useful for the next one, but the learning process is what I enjoy the most.
Design. Challenge. Solved! A unique solution featuring a folding panel at the end of the gate, as well as a walk-through gate incorporated into the frame, to accommodate a site that wasn’t wide enough for a traditional sliding driveway gate.
What experiences have you found to be most rewarding?
As a designer, working on a wide range of projects and collaborating with other professionals is always a valuable learning experience. Not only do I understand the perspective of the contractor when it comes to building a design but working with other designers and architects has opened my eyes in many ways. On each new project, I learn something new, whether about new permitting requirements, a new building material, or a fresh perspective on a design solution for a challenging site.
I thoroughly enjoy the experiences I’ve had working with fellow landscape designers when bidding or installing projects with them. I truly believe that working collaboratively with a team can achieve the best possible outcome for everyone involved.