Reflections on Landscape Design and Life Design

by Kurt Bluemel
August 24, 2010

I have enjoyed a synergistic relationship with Oehme Van Sweden for upwards of 35 years.

I came to this country to apply the landscape design theories that I learned in Switzerland. In fact, I built this business based on my passion for design. In the first 30 years of this business, I had the opportunity to design and help others design some very significant projects not the least of which was Disney's Animal Kingdom. I had the great fortune of being a consultant, purveyor and grower for that project along with dozens and dozens of other talented people. Among my great opportunities, was the chance to work with other European designers such as Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden

In the early years we all struggled to find specific plant material that we required to make our hardscape designs come alive and become true garden rooms. There were very limited choices, most of which were not hardy or had vivid unnatural color scapes that did not blend nicely with my use of natural materials such as flagstone, indigenous stone and water elements. You can imagine the frustration of designing a beautiful flagstone patio only to be offered white petunias and red geraniums to surround it. Spring in America was a veritable riot of color and then lawns, lawns, and more lawns for the rest of the year. Our collective desire and demand for four (4) seasons of garden interest was also a new idea. Sure, you hear all about garden rooms, outdoor living spaces, and naturalizing your environment now, but at one time these were such foreign ideas here. A collaborative of European horticulturists was able to effect those early changes and transition the American landscape into what it is today.

If you have been involved in landscaping as long as I have you'll well remember those days and that look. Front door flanked by enormous trees manicured into a stunted mess until they became uncontrollable, white crushed stones in little garden squares around the mailbox, linear gardens like runways that outlined the house all surrounding the ever-important green lawn, and neat little rows of rainbows of marigolds, geraniums, petunias and the dotted-in annual asters. That wouldn’t do for us.

The demand for plants as the New American Landscape spread bi-coastally became greater and greater. I decided that I would become the grower of the plants that were struggling to find and make them readily available. Oehme and Van Sweden have been buying plants from my
nursery for their designs from the very beginning. I have been keenly focused on providing the most interesting, vigorous, and dramatic plant material that speaks to our original design theories.

I have and continue to work shoulder to shoulder with landscape designers such as Oehme and Van Sweden for years. I taught some and learned from others, but ultimately growing the much needed ornamental grasses, hardy perennials, and bamboos that would give their designs life was and will always be my true passion and purpose.