A BRIEF CONVERSATION WITH JENI WEBBER
Q. How would you describe your design philosophy?
A. Responsive and collaborative. I do the best I can to understand what the clients want, and to work with them to bring all of their needs and desires together in a way that suits the site. I really do like working with very specific client requests and with their input--whether they want to use space in an unusual way or to plant their own gardens. I find that such an approach encourages my clients to feel that it really is their garden, that I am a conduit for the expression of their desires. It is satisfying to see so many of my clients become very involved with their gardens.
I take a horticultural and ecological approach to design. I feel really fortunate to be able to work with the cycles, forces, elements and materials of nature. It is quite grounding and humbling. From the nuances of naturalistic stone placement to siting plants to be backlit by the setting sun, I strive to create gardens that become much more than the sum of their parts and which make the most of the resources available. I then find that the gardens take on a life of their own.
I basically paint with plants--creating horitcultural compositions while honoring plants' individual needs and establishing an environment in which they'll thrive. Although few, if any gardens, are care-free, I want plantings to be as symbiotic and self-sustaining as possible.
Also, I want to create places where people can relax, be soothed, connect with nature and find joy in the moment. I use color, form, texture, sound and fragrance to emphasize the ephemeral aspects of the garden and to help people tune in to the changing moments, seasons and cycles of life.
Q. What inspired your love for gardening and your interest in design?
A. Although I did not grow up in a gardening family, my Mother always talked about her childhood on a farm in Yorkshire, England, and my Dad enjoyed describing the Connecticut countryside where he grew up. They instilled in me a love and appreciation for nature and a respect for those who steward the land.
After studying painting at Boston University, I took time off to explore the world beyond the easel. I hiked and bicycled throughout America, Mexico, and Canada. During this time, I developed an even greater appreciation for how gardens can improve the quality of life in a community. I subsequently enrolled at the University of Maryland to study Horticulture and Landscape Design. After graduation, I packed my bags and headed for the West Coast, where I later graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley.
Q. Who inspired you along the way, or served as mentors?
A. There are many people who have inspired me along the way. My high school art teacher, Jack Bledsoe, who has a strong appreciation for color and nature, always encouraged me to put passion into my work. My aunt, Sydney Eddison, a very talented gardener and writer, showed me just what one woman is capable of doing in a garden. She helped me to understand the importance of working from the coarse to the refined in garden design.
Garrett Eckbo, one of the fathers of modern American landscape architecture, who served as my senior thesis advisor, instilled in me an appreciation for dynamic site layout. I've also been inspired by many great designers and horticulturists that I've never had the pleasure to meet, such as James van Sweden, Wolgang Ohme, Gertrude Jekyll, Penelope Hobhouse, Kurt Bluemel, and more recently, Piet Oudolf.