Meet the Designer: Janice Parker

Learn about landscape design from an expert.
Janice Parker Portrait By Sandrine Lee

Photograph by Sandrine Lee

Growing up in New York City’s Greenwich Village, landscape designer Janice Parker sought out urban green spaces. “I loved parks and I knew every tree along the West Side Highway,” she says. After working in florist shops, Parker began studying at Parsons. Later, she found herself in England working with garden expert John Brooke. Eventually she set out on her own, location in Connecticut for its ease of commuting.

Wife of an agricultural businessman and mother of two grown sons, Parker draws, writes and contributes to public works. Her 2017 book, Designing a Vision, remains a popular compilation of case studies, anecdotes, diagrams, illustrations, insight, and visual aids from a landscape designer who appreciates the transitory nature of gardening. “It gives me faith to constantly recognize that it’s cyclical. Not being in control helps me accept inevitable loss and change. It’s spiritual,” she adds.

What engages people in a landscape?

A strong design has the sense of a room: you know how to enter, travel through it, and leave. There are views or a gorgeous plant as focal points. And there must be somewhere to sit when you get there. Empty rooms are strange, and it’s the same with patios and terraces; they have to have furniture to be occupied.

Why do you want clients to feel as if they’re on vacation?

We ask people about their favorite places, and we want to design a place where they can have an ‘aha!’ moment, forget what happened during the day and relax, a sanctuary.

A Claude Lalane Apple Sculpture

A Claude Lalane apple sculpture is supported by a step wall which matches the home’s stone work. Photograph by Neil Landino Jr.

What’s the biggest challenge with clients?

I wish they knew patience and had the trust and love of nature to expect and accept the changes that come in the garden.

What role do trees play in design?

They are the framework of the garden. Evergreens are there 12 months of the year, and others have beautiful barks and branch structures. Even in winter, beautiful Japanese maple branches glow iridescent red, and white birch is incredible against deep evergreens. Trees are incredibly soulful because of how long they live, and if you look carefully, they can tell so many stories. A house on a lot that has been cleared has almost no character.

What’s the difference between public and private gardens?

Public spaces have to meet the requirements of health, safety and welfare, including accessibility, shade, easy flow and circulation. There’s more freedom when catering to the specific needs and desires of private gardens: no railing on stairs, higher walls, narrow paths, subtle lighting.

How do you accommodate “green” awareness?

We try to put the right plant in the right place, use compost and less fertilizer, water just for growth. Selected and properly planted plants establish themselves.

Stepping Stone Path To Pool

A signature “dragon’s tooth” stepping stone path leads to a pool surrounded by perennial beds and flowering apple trees. Photograph by Neil Landino Jr.

What has been an effect of the pandemic?

All of a sudden, outside was deemed much safer, no longer the place for sunburn and bug bites. Backyards and fire escapes became the ‘world,’ and people loved it. I was getting calls from people who had never gardened, who wanted to know how to plant vegetables and flowers.

A pair of Felco pruning shears is your favorite garden tool. What’s your favorite foliage?

Southern magnolia leaves are glossy green on one side and velvet brown underneath, you can’t get better than that. They’re hardy and I use them as evergreens.

What was your 2021 New Year’s resolution?

More roses. They are such good flowers, non-stop blossoms, disease free, the more you learn their history and background, every rose is a fascinating story.

What is special about gardening in Connecticut?

Rocks. There is so much ledge and swamp and wetlands, lots of grade changes and the possibility of lots of good views. It’s a very gentle topography, like foothills, and it reminds me of my work back in England.

You’ve worked with Robert Redford and Bette Midler. Who’s a celebrity client you’d like?

Lady Gaga! I’d love to match her outfits; she’s so creative and visual it would be fun to create with her.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Meet the Designer: Janice Parker.
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