Who’s Heritage?

At a recent business seminar, I spent the day with about 20 other small business professionals in self-discovery mode. The seminar discussed everything about each participant’s goals, aspirations, hopes, dreams, and desires. The idea of how to apply those dreams to either forming a business, or transforming a business, into an entity that each seminarian desired. We spent that day discovering what was important to each of us personally. Then we examined those concepts in light of what each of the business people present wanted their business to be, that somehow it wasn’t. The seminar was perfectly timed for me as the web site and formation of Heritage Studio was under way but still early in the process. The culmination of this day was the formation of 15 Business Strategies for 2017 that would help owners reach their goals. Among my top 5 list was to write the Magic Story of Heritage Studio [cue large choir singing angelic harmonies in a vast echo-y cathedral]. Friends, colleagues, and clients may wonder “where does the name Heritage Studio come from?” This is that story.

So where to begin? Those wonderful years of junior high, 12 or 13 years old, 1970-71. Middle schools weren’t even around yet. This was the time in educational history when educators thought “why don’t we take all those kids with hormonal issues and put them together in one location.” My son Chris is a middle school teacher…tip of the hat to him. Those years when you think your life really sucks but you don’t know why. Then, Dad decides that he’d be better off without this family around to hold him back…or maybe it was my Mom that said “get the hell out”? Anyway, a lot of anger and angst all the time. Angry at everyone. Until many years later, I didn’t realize that the one person in my life that showed me consistent unconditional love, beside my mom, was my grandma Mildred.

Asheville Heritage StudioGrandma was one of those people that have chlorophyll under their fingernails. Her mother, Dora (my great grandmother), had a huge vegetable garden every year. I remember Dora’s basement had that earthy smell of freshly dug carrots. Mildred got it honestly. She could grow anything, but loved picking up African Violet leaves that had been run over by shopping carts about a hundred times at Acme Click. She’d take those leaves, and root them in a glass jar with plastic wrap over the top to create a small terrarium. Voilà. An African Violet. Some of my prized possessions are grandma’s books. Just ordinary Reader’s Digest kind of gardening and plant books. The prized possessions I found inside, pressed flowers from her garden, dried in the book and forgotten. Heritage Landscape ArchitectThat’s memorabilia without value. She had a garden that had one of everything. I remember visiting and she’d take me around the garden showing off whatever was blooming. Or tell about the new plant that so and so from church gave her. It was wild, chaotic beauty.

In the mid 80’s, Mildred was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, cylindrinoma. Cancer cells that are shaped like cylinders. She had never smoked or used tobacco in her life, yet strangely, lung cancer. My Uncle David told me that her doctor said the treatment for cylindrinoma was as painful as the disease. Since the disease was slow growing, they decided against chemo or radiation. She lived well over the next 5 years. In fact, during those years she took art classes at the University of Akron alongside traditional students. I’m told they thought she was great and enjoyed her as a classmate. There are three landscape paintings hanging on my office wall that she painted. She is my heritage, my creative inspiration.Asheville Landscape

In early 1991, that insidious disease began taking a heavy toll, and she became home bound. On May 30, 1991 God called her home. Living in Georgia, grandma knew of my interest in studying landscape architecture, but she didn’t live to see that as a reality. In August, 1991, I entered the University of Georgia as an undergraduate Landscape Architecture major, three months after her passing.

Fast forward 26 years, and now a licensed landscape architect. Heritage Studio was created to pursue my passion, designing intimate spaces and residential gardens. This story about heritage wouldn’t be complete without telling of the landscape architects who’ve taught me. Three I’ve worked for…John Broadbooks, C. Clay Mooney, and Bob Grasso. In frustration after failing the grading and drainage component of the licensing exam, I muttered something like “I don’t want to be licensed anyway. Why should I be licensed?” Clay looked at me in sincerity, and empathy, and said “because it’s the culmination of your education”. It was then I dug in my heals, determined. Thanks, Clay. Bob Grasso is not the humanitarian nor nurturing individual who would ordinarily be considered an inspiration, but Bob kicked my ass when it needed kicked. Thanks, Bob. Interviewing with John as a senior at the University of Georgia, John and Jane hosted Tammi, son Chris, and myself for a weekend in Asheville. We stayed at his home. No kidding. That says so much about this man that he let us stay at his home. We had a lovely time and I took the job and began working 3 months later. I learned so much from John it’s difficult to collapse into a small space. Maybe a blog on that topic later. But I’ll say that John is the most quietly moral, competent professional I’ve had the privilege of knowing and learning from. Thank you, John (and Jane).

But everyone has regrets. Things they’d change, do, or say differently, were they given the chance. My regret is that my grandmother and I never had the chance to walk gardens together. She was never able to experience some of the public work I’ve had a part in. Robert Marvin, FASLA, said “God made whales to be in the ocean, and God made camels to be in the desert, and He made man to be in the garden. Everything we do should reflect that garden.” He made man to be in the garden…Where did God plant Adam and Eve? The garden. I believe that heaven is a garden. Someday grandma and I will walk that garden together. Wild, chaotic beauty, watered by the River of Life and God’s love.

My Heritage.