Nature, Art, Relationships
Hi, I’m Leslie Davis. My husband, Aaron, and I have been making gardens together for more than twenty years. We’re the kind of people who drop everything to watch cedar waxwings devour rose hips. The vine we planted years ago is feeding wild birds! And the rocks are growing spontaneous gardens of moss and fern and beetle. We’re filled by the wonder of it all. Three core values stand behind all we do: love of nature, love of art, and love of collaborative relationships.
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”
– E.O. Wilson
The big question we ask in all our landscape designs is how can we evoke nature’s beauty for you in your garden. Over the past twenty years, we’ve made landscape gardens big and small, modern and natural, native and exotic. They all have one thing in common: they’re each, in their own way, a celebration of nature.
When we’re not making gardens, Aaron and I get our nature fix by camping and hiking around Oregon. Observing plant communities on our treks, we’ve learned that three-foot spacing is best for sword ferns and that underneath will always be covered with green: wood sorrel, inside-out flower, and Columbia tiger lilies, if you’re lucky. A nearby stream has the sweetest layers of sound. Look, see how the stones are staggered and layered there just so? Without that, a garden water feature runs the risk of sounding like a tap left running, inducing anxiety rather than calm. We let nature’s patterns inspire our work so that you can enjoy a calm outdoor space.
“The best an artist can hope to do is to persuade those that have eyes to look also.”
Aaron and I value art in our lives and in our work. We first met in ‘93 as teens at ArtQuake, a now defunct festival in downtown Portland. Since then, we’ve always made and studied art. Our shared interest in design and aesthetics means that we approach garden-making as art installation. As artists, we visualize the whole, all details in context and relationship. The overall layout of a garden has to be a balance of intrigue and function. It has to be a beautiful design so it’ll draw you out and a graceful design so you’ll linger.
“I practice grace and care in the way I move through my communities. I am humbled by the part I play in its intricate ecology.”
Our work is rooted in an ecology of trust. Ecology describes interconnected, living relationships. Trust is firm ground, the assurance of integrity, and belief in each other. An ecology of trust is built through attending to relationships.
Why does this matter in the work of garden making? It’s a matter of ceding control a bit to a larger collaborative field that guides the project. We nod in respect to the will of the land, to the will of you, the homeowner, to the skill of our subcontractors, to the intricate quirks that connect every player. We step back to let the big picture emerge unclouded by designer ego. Imposing an artistic vision on the land that neglects to consider all these networks, all these relationships, becomes an expensive and frustrating endeavor. One that is easily avoided when approached with an open heart, an open mind, and a desire to connect rather than control.
I can’t emphasize how much this is part of the way we work. The only way we’re able to serve our first two loves – nature and art – is through attention to our relationships.
We don’t rush, rather we attend.
We want you to come home to nature’s beauty. We want your garden to be an artistic expression of the character of the site. We want birds, bees, and butterflies to find your garden welcoming. This is why we do what we do.
Want to know more about Leslie?
I’m the designer and plantsperson. Since I was a babe in the crib tracing the floral patterns on my bedding (as my Mom tells), I’ve loved all things design and plant-related. My parents had an interior design business and I grew up around their office’s drafting boards and pattern samples. Design is in my blood.
At Antioch University in Ohio and Prescott College in Arizona I studied Spanish (which has translated to a proficiency in botanical latin – so useful for a plant nerd!), biology, agroecology, and a special course in sacred garden design. After working on Mazzi’s biodynamic farm in Eugene, Oregon and studying permaculture at Opal Creek, I started teaching myself landscape design. I was lucky to connect with some generous clients early on who supported my passion for plants and landscape gardens. We tried out all kinds of ideas like growing rare plants, natives, lawn alternatives; designing ponds, waterfalls, dry stream beds, and even solving drainage and access problems.
With these successes in the ground and growing, I tested for the Oregon Landscape Contractor’s license in 2004. Always one to come in the back door, I proved that my unconventional experiences qualified me for the field. Years later, I can’t believe how many gardens I’ve designed! Each one represents a piece of my heart as well as a piece of my education.
Besides design and plants, I also enjoy wildflower hikes, writing plant poems and essays for you and for Pacific Horticulture, reading great novels and creative non-fiction, and making gluten-free meals for my family. You’ll always see me wearing earrings and a smile, even on the muddiest job site.
Want to know more about Aaron?
Aaron is my design collaborator, project manager, and all around on-site guy making the magic happen. His insights about the project in the design phase are key in giving you the best bang for your buck. A lifelong artist with an equally practical mind, he has an unusual knack for balancing aesthetics with budget-friendly options. During the installation, he’s on site getting the grades just right and placing the boulders with a craftsman’s touch. His communication with homeowners and subs is clear and compassionate.
As a former competitive runner (for all you track fans, his 5K P.R. is 14 min. flat!), he uses his strength and stamina on the job working harder and smarter than anyone I know. When Aaron worked in a craftsman woodshop as a young man, he honed his work ethic and attention to detail. Later, managing a high-end organic farm in Brownsville, Oregon, he mastered soils and the care of all things green and growing. He continued on this path working with landscape businesses in Eugene before we started Whole Gardens together. Aaron’s art sense shows in the way he works with earth and stone. He’s changed a railroad tie terrace (because who wants creosote in their garden?) to a gentle slope with staggered basalt boulders in such a surprising way that the mild-mannered homeowner grew ecstatic!
Aaron is inspired by the natural beauty of Oregon’s rivers, where he enjoys fly fishing and camping. He spends most evenings making mixed media artworks. He’s my all time favorite collaborator!
Q: Who else is on the team?
A: One or two hard-working helpers typically round out our on-site crew. We coordinate our well-cultivated network of subcontractors to complete the pieces of your project. The subs we use for decks, irrigation, or concrete are now friends through mutual respect on many successful collaborations. The good folks at our local nurseries and forest products suppliers are also invaluable. We’re a team focused on your project’s realization.
Another team member, our son Alder, is a budding artist and engineer who’s contributed his out-of-the-box perspective to some of our designs. In true family business style, you’ll see him on our job sites during summer vacations clearing sod, shoveling gravel, and planting alongside us.
Q: Are you licensed and bonded?
A: Yes. We’ve been licensed with the Oregon Landscape Contractors Board since 2006 and we maintain liability insurance and bonding as required.
Q: Can you put some sod in for me?
A: If a new lawn is part of the design, we’ll install sod or sow our favorite fleur de lawn seed mix. We focus on what we do best, which is the big picture design and installation. We’re not the best fit if you’re just looking for a new lawn. However, if you’re looking to get rid of your lawn and replace it with an alternative planting or patio, we’re on it!
Q: Do you do monthly maintenance?
A: Emphasizing low maintenance techniques in our designs means that, well, they are low maintenance. We prefer that you tend the emerging dynamics of the planting rather than maintain them at a static place. It’s a subtle but important distinction that means your garden will continue to surprise you year after year. We can teach you how to care for the new plantings yourself or we can connect you with our colleagues that specialize garden stewardship.
Q: How can I get your help with my yard?
A: Send an email to [email protected] and tell us about your goals. We’ll reply to let you know more about the process and our current waitlist.