Jeff Minnich describes a good gardener as the anti-Julia Roberts character in the movie “Mona Lisa Smile.” Roberts plays a professor who teaches art history to her well-traveled students but has never traveled to Europe to see the works of art she’s teaching herself.
“I think (traveling) opens your eyes to possibilities as a designer,” Minnich says of good garden design. “I think they’re richer for it for looking around.”
He’s traveled very far from his Arlington, Va., base – all the way to California, Australia and Europe – just to find richer ideas. He’s found that the gardens in England are spectacular and Washington, D.C., has beautiful state gardens.
“You go around the world, and you see what you like and what you don’t like. You might bring one little piece of it home, and if you go to 20 places, you have 20 new pieces, all unique to you as a designer,” he says.
Minnich says getting away from your area brings in a different perspective.
“Stretching it out away from the Anglo-Saxon (of the East coast), trying to get to other places where the gardens are so different just throws you,” he says.
Minnich is a one-man band at Jeff Minnich Garden Designs. He works mainly alone with the help of subcontractors for his elaborate and elegant garden designs.
“My business model is that I am the company,” he says. “I design everything the old way – by hand. I’m 51 and still stuck in the old way. I love the process of growing. I think it makes me more creative.”
Minnich finds creativity in many different places, learning new ways to affect climate changes or how different plants can grow in unheard of areas.
“Palm trees aren’t seen in northern Virginia, but I have a few in my garden,” he chuckles.
Particular about his work, Minnich only installs his own designs to a specialized clientele. He works mostly by referral in residential areas, using an “outdoor room” concept to make gardens feel like functional spaces. He considers himself a horticulturist first, landscape designer second.
“I really love design and I love hardscapes, but the thing that really turns me on is plants,” he says. “I have one of everything I could possibly grow in my garden.”
Recently, Minnich filmed an episode of “Curb Appeal” on HGTV. He says it was a wonderful experience that allowed him to reflect who his clients were into a distinct garden.
“My aim is to create a haven for my clients – an integration of indoor and outdoor living – a refuge that reflects who you are and a place where you can truly be yourself,” he says.
Minnich says he loves gardening because it gives people something to look forward to: a fresh start. It also instills good values in hard work and provides the joy of accomplishment. He knew he wanted to play in the dirt for the rest of his life at an early age.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was 5 or 6, an elderly next door neighbor – who was like a grandparent to me – made a little vegetable garden for me. From then on out, it really influenced me,” he says.
Minnich suggests finding influence around you—whether it’s the local gardens in your state or what’s growing in the mountains of Australia.
“In Australia, I did not know one single plant, not a clue,” he says. “It really opened my eyes. That’s the thing you learn with travel: how much you don’t know. I’ve been to Europe and thought, ‘How in the world can this plant grow here? It’s at the same latitude as Quebec!’
“It’s very interesting. Travel – I love it. The more the better.”
The author is an intern at Lawn & Landscape magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.