The Juliette Interviews: Sustainable Landscapes by Lily Polstein
JH: How did you get started in sustainable urban gardening?
LP: I have always loved the outdoors, and had a particular interest in environmentalism. I grew up in a household where we were fortunate enough to have a veggie garden, and early on I gained an appreciation for what growing your own food means to our health and the environment. I majored in Urban Studies, and the more I learned about how our choices affect our environment, I realized that I needed to somehow contribute to encouraging people to make good choices and lessen their carbon footprint. My desire to become a sustainable landscape designer was solidified during the drought. I knew people could still have beautiful landscapes while being drought tolerant. I also wanted to be able to give my clients the option of growing their own food, so that has also become a mainstay of my business.
JH: Describe your first project, what was it like?
LP: My first project was in Ojai, California. The property was about an acre with nothing but decomposed granite and patches of wild Matilla poppies. My client wanted drought tolerant landscaping throughout and raised beds to grow seasonal produce. We were both inspired by the landscaping at the Turtle Conservatory in Ojai which I used as a guide for plants that would thrive in Ojai’s cold winters and scorching summers. My finished design was inspired by a recent trip to Mexico: bougainvilla for pops of color and cacti of all shapes and sizes for contrast and texture. All low maintenance and require minimal water. I started this project after the Thomas Fire nearly devastated Ojai, so the garden plan was augmented for fire resilience. The once empty plot of land now has sections of carefully selected drought tolerant plants that bloom at different times during the year. The space is always changing, which I think adds to its beauty.
JH: Tell us a bit about your process
LP: Before visiting a client, I always print out a garden consultation checklist. The checklist documents sunlight exposure, irrigation and soil type. This helps dictate a choice of plant types and placement of vegetables beds. I measure the entire space out and take a lot of photos. Then I sketch by hand, or design on my computer, so I have a working plan.The best part of the process is working with the client. I love having conversations about how they intend to use the space. That is how I get an idea of their style and overall goal. Once set on a final design plan and plant list, it’s time to break ground.
JH: Describe your clients a bit for us. Who are they?
LP: My clients are an amazing and eclectic group. Actors to film makers to doctors to social media influencers, first time home owners to second homes and pied-a-terres. All my clients share a concern for the environment and desire to make their outdoor spaces beautiful and sustainable. The most rewarding feeling is knowing that my clients are able to enjoy a beautiful outdoor space, and pick fresh organic produce.
JH: What or who inspired you most when it comes to your work?
I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled around the world starting at a young age. I think experiencing different cultures and landscapes has really shaped the way I work. Japan, Spain, Greece and Mexico are some of the places that inspire me the most. I admire how Japanese gardens are designed with the intention of aesthetic and a meditative purpose.
JH: In what public spaces can we find some of your work?
You can check out some of my front yards in homes in Ojai, the Del Rey area of West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
JH: It’s obvious that things need to change fast when it comes to global warming and climate change. What is one piece of advice you would give on how to be more environmentally conscious?
LP: I think everyone can do something to help solve this crisis. Whether it be not using single use plastics, using LED bulbs, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, driving a hybrid and reducing intake of red meat. My one piece of advice would be to plant a garden and grow your own food!
JH: What are your thoughts about the future of our planet?
LP: I think it is dire right now and I worry about it everyday. I worry about ecosystems collapsing, food production failing, sea level rising and toxic air. However, I am hopeful that we can make a difference. Maybe I am overly optimistic because I’m a Pisces, but I am determined. It is important to continue educating ourselves and others about current issues and figuring out ways to work together to combat them. The time to act is now and it is inspiring to be part of a generation that is taking a stand and making our voices heard.