In the studio | A garden oasis in downtown Ames


The wonderful couple that approached me about this project was not afraid of hard work OR plants. They bought this house from a plantsman, and they saw how everything had slipped away from its former glory. While they didn’t want to re-create the same exact look that the previous owner had created, they did want to honor the yard and make a beautiful space for their family.

We agreed on removing an existing walkway that cut the yard right in two parts, and instead created this irregular oval space for lawn with luscious gardens around it. I honestly don’t fill many projects with plants like this- clients have to tell me they WANT to work in the yard or otherwise I keep things more simple. These amazing folks were up for the challenge, though!


For inspiration, I turned to soft textures and year-round color. The yard is in an old part of Ames and totally surrounded by trees- a woodland lot that you don’t really see much except in downtowns. We played up the feeling of seclusion and mystery while still creating an inviting space for neighbors to see and come visit. Adding in a focal point in the long, narrow property was crucial, and I actually ended up adding a few different spots to draw the eye.


In the front yard, we wanted a welcoming, open garden space that would frame the house and finish off the property, making it feel like the 100-year-old home had nestled right into the gardens. We needed to be strategic about parking areas in this downtown lot, and managed to add both a parking space AND a garden area to block it from view. The front yard will be installed in phases, with the foundation plantings going in first and the sidewalk beds added in a few years. We love the idea of giving all the walkers in the neighborhood something pretty to look at and enjoy as they go by. Also, the gardens up front give a hint to what’s waiting in the back yard.


In the back yard, we wanted to provide space for gathering and dining, but still leave space for the couple’s son and their dog to play. We also wanted access to the back alley that this darling neighborhood boasts. The view below is from the patio - looking out over the flowering shrubs, across the lawn, to the arbor that marks the entrance to the alley. The first “after” picture, taken right after plants were installed, shows the path that leads throughout the garden spaces and the view of lush turf for picnics and playing.

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While there was a patio before, the new design opens it up to include a fire pit. There’s so much room for people to gather, and different spaces to go! Breaking up small yards can actually make them feel bigger, because you can’t see it all at once.


The hardscape plan up above shows all the materials take-offs for the landscape design, so that we can calculate how much mulch, how many pavers, what kind and how many rocks and boulders we’ll need. All of that practical information set these clients up for success when they installed the project.


My very favorite part of this space is the little meditation garden that we tucked around the side of the house. WIth space for really just one person, it’s a great way to turn otherwise wasted space into a special, private, intentional spot.

What’s your favorite area?


An elegant facelift for an historic downtown beauty


I was honored to twice create a landscape plan with this amazing family! A few years ago, we completed a master plan for their property, but then they had to move before completing the project! This time around, they needed a smaller design that would still bring beauty and a bit of revival to their landscape. Their historic, elegant Tudor home had been neglected but was full of potential. We started with a foundation planting plan that would complement their house without creating a whole bunch of work for them. Keeping the palette pretty simple, I designed a planting plan that is both approachable and a little bit fancy - much like their house.


With a combination of greens and whites from evergreens, flowering shrubs, and a few perennials, we created a soft, elegant plant palette. Near the front door, we saved a small space for a combination of deep orange and bright pink - a welcoming hotspot that was small enough for the family to maintain.

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Overall, the idea was to keep maintenance to a bare minimum for this hard-working mom and dad, since they spend their time at home chasing around their busy preschooler and toddler. This project was all about the planting plan- we kept the original brick edging with all its charm - and it shows how just a few changes can make a big difference.

I can’t wait to see these plantings mature, softening the foundation of this lovely home as this sweet happy family grows along with it.

The Red Fern Landscape Design Process: Phase 4

In the final phase of our signature design process, we get to the stuff that you can touch, keep, and see. After all the preliminary background work, and all the conceptual design, and the final design work is finished, it's time to get our clients some lovely and useful materials that they can use to install the designs and to serve as reference materials for years to come.


First up is the design book.  Once the design work has all been done, and we're all satisfied, we package the design into an 11x17-sized book that will easily fit in a drawer or on a shelf.  Rather than some rolled-up sheets that you'll never open, this will serve as a reference in the future. This book contains the story of your design. Always a teacher, I have found there is so much value in including all the steps it took us to get to your final designs. We show the entire process - the base plan, our conceptual drawings and inspiration boards, and the final, annotated design.  This way all our decisions are there, so that if any changes are made in the future, you can check back to see why the landscaping looks the way it does.  


We also add more detail, like views of the final landscape from a variety of vantage points so that you and your contractor can visualize what the final installed design will look like. There are hardscape sheets with materials specified, and plant lists with each plant and its spacing noted.

The beauty of having all these supporting sheets along with the master plan, planting plan, and hardscape sheets is that you can communicate WHY we did what we did. Many landscapers don't do all the background work that it takes to produce an informed design, and fewer still actually communicate what decisions led to the final design. You have a visual story of your investment that will serve you for the future.

The other book you'll get is an 8.5x11-sized reference book that's chock full of information. We include a bloom chart for the entire year so you know what's blooming or has interesting foliage at any season, a data sheet for every single plant in your design, plant lists with every plant listed out so it's easy to do an inventory, maintenance information with a plan for the entire year, and installation guides for trees and shrubs, since these are your biggest plant investment and are often planted poorly. You can use this to communicate with the installer and make sure things are done correctly.


Lastly, our final design phase includes my involvement in the installation process. Depending on the project, this could be a multi-year commitment. I work with professional, licensed contractors that value education and service. I serve as a liaison for you with your contractor. as you go through the process of instilling the landscape. 

This includes me being present and/or available on install days, so that the contractor can follow up with any questions or concerns. We will be checking in on installation if it goes on over a few days or weeks, and know where the project stands.  With all the hard work put into the design, I want to be certain that it's installed correctly and you get what we dreamed up.  


Our final phase is the culmination of a lot of hard work and communication.  Design is basically creative problem-solving, and I love the entire process from start to finish.  We take on a range of projects throughout the year, and this method ensures that our clients are taken care of all the way.  

The Red Fern Landscape Design Process: Phase 3

The next step in our design process is the "real" design.  Combining the background practical information from phase 1 with the aesthetic, stylistic direction we got from phase 2, we rely on solid design fundamentals to site actual things in physical places.  We're not dealing with concepts any longer- we’re making the plan that will be used to create your landscape.  


Landscape design, at its core, is a problem-solving venture combining art with science.  Decisions are informed by site analysis and horticulture practices (the science piece) alongside design fundamentals and inspiration (the art piece).  You can’t separate the two and still have a useful, beautiful outdoor space.  Phase 3 of our signature process unites these two pieces.  We treat the residential site like a series of outdoor rooms, created for people to actually use.  People arrive, move from one space to another, relax, play, eat, socialize, entertain, and even work – and we figure out how to carve out intentional spaces that allow for those things to happen seamlessly.


In Phase 3, we give the bubbles and squiggles from the conceptual plan actual shape and character.  Our design process looks at form composition – the 2D shapes we’ll use to create our outdoor living spaces. A squiggly bubble that was marking the spot for a patio in the conceptual plan might become a hard-lined rectangle, serving as the core that everything else links off of.  Or maybe that bubble becomes a patio with a gentle curve that leads your eye past it and towards a lovely view in the distance. Form composition allows us to consider the layout of the space and the appearance and geometry of how everything connects in it.  

We also evaluate with design principles like rhythm, order, and unity help make sure we’re creating a cohesive space. Repeated elements emphasize an area and allow the front walkway to coordinate with the back patio, for example.  Bold foliage might grab your eye and draw you towards the front door, while an arbor in the corner shares the same arched shape as the fence’s gate.  We consider all these details to make sure that the design functions well and does its job:  bringing the party (and the people) outside.  


After form composition and design principles, we consider this thing called spatial composition.  This is basically the process of evaluating the three-dimensional rooms we are creating. Along a walkway – how high do the plants come up on each side? On a patio – is there a pergola or cover overhead? In a seating area – can you see out in all directions, or should you be sheltered by a hedge? These are the spatial composition questions that drive our design process forward. What’s fun about landscape design, compared with residential home architecture, is that we get to decide all the rules! It’s our call how high the “ceiling” is, how thick our “walls” are, and what they’re made out of.  We have so many choices in an outside space: walls can be a planting of grasses OR a stone retaining wall… the ceiling can be the open blue sky OR the arching branches of a tree. 


During this phase of the design process, we are considering more and more detail to create the master plan. Once the initial design is ready, we present it to you during our working design meeting. Either at the studio or using a shared screen, we go through the design and talk over the whybehind each element.  We show you in 3D what the space will feel like, what the views will be, and we articulate all the plants and hardscape materials that are used.  You have a chance to weigh in, ask questions, and give feedback, which we take and use to adjust the design as needed.  This process goes back and forth until we’re both happy with the decisions the design is complete.  

Landscape design gets to be this combination of down-to-earth data and ethereal inspiration. We always celebrate when phase 3 is completed – it’s like giving birth to something completely new.  Stay tuned for phase 4 – this is when all that good stuff actually gets used.  

Prairie-inspired landscape design

This lovely brick home was newly built in Ankeny and the owners were desperate to get some landscaping to soften it.  We worked with them on a landscape design that was inspired by prairie plantings -  and just wild enough to give a nod to their roots - while still able to stand up to all the strong lines and hard surfaces around the home.  We combined a few ornamental trees, many different flowering and evergreen shrubs, grasses, and perennials to give them year-round color and interest.  

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It will be a few seasons before this project comes into its own - the trees will fill out, the shrubs will form sweeps of color, and the perennials will grow in nicely.  Can't wait to see this through the years!

Want to try out your own little wild and wonderful garden area?

These “just after” photos give you an idea of what things look like right after planting. It won’t be long before this fills right in!



Next up in our tour of the Red Fern Landscape Design signature process is Phase 2: the Conceptual Design.  Once we are done with all the basic core discovery work from Phase 1 and we have the background we need to make good decisions, we move towards the design concepts for your landscaping.  

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In our conceptual design phase you share with me all the secret Pinterest boards you have- the fire pit you love, the big tree with a bench underneath it… All those Houzz ideabooks with pictures you’ve squirreled away. These are useful to our process- even though we won’t replicate exactly what’s there- because it gives us the ideas, the feeling, the look that you’re going for. And pictures really do speak louder than words.  Going through all these helps me know what you want AND it helps you know what you want. I will look through the images you share, reference the answers you gave on our questionnaire and my notes from our initial meeting, and I’ll make sure I have a sense of the style that appeals to you.  

Next, I curate images to create your inspiration board.  These 12 different pictures give us something to work off-  we’re not trying to copy them, but to use them as a jumping-off point to create a design unique for you.  

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The two boards shown above are great examples.  One is very modern and clean and simple, the other is loose, romantic and wild and full of curves.  The inspiration boards show us the lines and shapes and materials we’ll use.  We’re going to make two very different projects from those two looks.

While the inspiration boards help, the plants are what make our outdoor spaces come alive.  The plant palette helps you know what I’m talking about when I pull out plants for your landscaping.  The palette shows you the core features that we’ll be taking advantage of: evergreens with a soft blue tinge, big blousy flowers during the dog days of summer. Again, these aren’t set in stone, but it gives us an idea of what we’re looking for.  

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We take the inspiration board and the plant palette, mix in your responses to our questionnaire, allow your design program to weigh in, and run those past the site analysis to create the conceptual plan.  

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It might look just like a bunch of shapes and squiggles, but actually the conceptual plan is the WHY… the big decisions are made here, and the details wait until Phase 3.  Your landscaping is an important investment, and we don't just quickly drop some things in the ground. In the conceptual design phase, we know the basic shapes and layouts of beds, we know what’s going where and how it’s all connecting to each other.  When we meet, we’re still talking in broad strokes, but because we have inspiration boards, plant palettes, and the conceptual plan, we can get on the same page without wasting any time and get ready to hone in deeper to the master plan. 

The Red Fern Landscape Design Process: PHASE 1

Maybe your landscape is a blank, new-construction slate, complete with a tiny, useless deck, some not-so-interesting sod and a couple of spindly trees.  Or maybe (like me) you inherited someone else's shrubs around the house, a patio and deck that need lots of work, and a walkway that makes no sense.  If you're hoping for landscaping that shows off your house, brings beauty to your life, and gives you more reasons to enjoy life outdoors, you need a plan.  A landscape design ties together all the pieces of the puzzle - an educated understanding of the nuts and bolts of your specific site, a clear reflection of YOUR style, and a knowledgable selection of plants and materials that are worth the investment.  

We take all the problem areas of your property and all the dreams you have about living more of your life outdoors, and we create solutions that bring that party outside.  Ever wonder how it all goes down?  We follow an in-depth, comprehensive process to give clients a landscape designed to live in.  On the website there's a simplified overview of our process, but here's a more detailed run-down of what we do and what you get when you hire Red Fern to transform your property.  We'll walk you through each step of our signature process, so that you can imagine yourself surrounded by lovely plants and walking over to a patio or fire pit that you WANT to sit around.  We'll start with Phase 1, which gathers all sorts of information to keep the landscape design moving forward.   

Signature landscape design process

There is so much information to gather!  We start with our signature questionnaire, which lets you work through what you're really after.  There are all sorts of questions meant to pull out both the practical details of the site and also the more subjective style and impression you want to have.  We use this during our first meeting at the site, where I work through what the scope of the project is- how much we're trying to accomplish.  We talk, walk the property, and answer tons of questions.  This initial meeting helps both of us- you get to articulate what you're after and size me up to see if I'm a good fit, and I get to see the site and fully understand what your goals are. 

After this first meeting, I create something called the Design Program.  This is super valuable even if you don't take the project any further.  I write up all the elements you're looking for along with your style, beloved colors and plants, and all the other info that gets things going.  You get the program along with your proposal so that you'll know exactly what the design fee will cover: every project is different, and we need to make sure that the fountain you want designed isn't lost in all the other elements of your new yard.  

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Once the project is booked and the start date arrives, I get going with all sorts of practical work.  If you already have an accurate site map, I'll use it; if not- I create one.  We evaluate the entire scope of the project, noting every major tree, building, existing hedge, and structure that's there.  This is called the site inventory.  Next up, the site analysis happens when I evaluate it all:  what's shady, where the water tends to collect, which old trees are hazards, the important views, and on and on.  The site analysis is an important working document that drives all the pretty stuff that happens later.  

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Circulation and use analysis tell us where you go now, what it's like, and how it could make more sense.  Is the trash can in the dumbest spot possible?  Do people cut across your lawn rather than walk over to the walkway?  Do you avoid the veggie garden because you hate walking through wet grass?  How do guests get from parking to the front door?  All of this helps us down the line, because form really does follow function.  A homeowner myself, I'm not going to design something that isn't first useful.  

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All of this core discovery work gets us set up to begin to create - to layer some beauty on top of all this data.  Tune in next week as we move to the conceptual design phase, where we ask even MORE questions and begin to develop the design direction for your project.   

So, there's Phase 1.  It's certainly an in-depth process, meant to solve problems rather than create them.  Are there areas of your landscape that need attention?  Are you unsure of where to begin, or what plants to choose, or how to achieve the outdoor escape you long for?  Reach out and start with the questionnaire! We have a few design project openings for this fall and winter, so that you'll be all ready to go in the spring.  






What a Landscape Designer Loves to Hear from Clients


I finished my master's degree 16 years ago, and have practiced as a landscape designer in various capacities ever since- that’s a third of my life in this field. I've run this business, worked for other companies, moonlighted while I taught school full-time, and fit in projects while I kept two babies alive. But only in the last two years have I realized I am a small business owner, and this has been a pivotal shift in my mindset. I run an operation that affects my family, my community, and my peers in the industry. When I got serious about my landscape design work as a business, I hired a brand designer and poured through her blog. 

One of the first things I read was a post titled “the worst thing you can say to your designer”. It was enlightening to me as her client, and I wanted to think through what I could share with my own clients to open up communication.  Irene's post is pretty much exactly what I would say, and I can't just copy it - but basically, be honest and let me know if you want something different!  Don't be afraid to ask for changes, new ideas, clarification, or help.  You can check out Magnoliahouse Creative’s blog post here.

With all that honesty and open communication taken care of, I’d like to encourage you a bit more.  Here are two completely different statements that I hear all the time from clients, and I want to explain why I love them both. 

“I saw this on Pinterest/Fixer Upper/my neighbor’s yard...”I LOVE that! Go ahead and get inspired- find ideas and pin away. Check out other people’s patios and seating walls. Envy your neighbor’s blooming shrub that you're not sure the name of.  People are often so sheepish about their secret Pinterest garden boards!  It is my job to cull through #allthethings and distill out what you really want.  Just recently a client requested (among other things) a rose garden.  We talked through what aspects of the rose garden appealed to them, what it felt like to be in a space like that, and finally determined that it wasn't the roses particularly - it was the order in the space and the cacophony of color that they wanted.  Didn't have to be roses particularly.  Sometimes clients hand over a file folder stuffed with magazine pages or share Houzz boards with hundreds of images, apologetic that they have so many possibilities.  I can talk you down from the analysis paralysis that often follows all those ideas, and come up with exactly the outdoor spaces that are right for YOU.  

“I have no idea what I want.” This is gold, too. Seriously.  After a zillion conversations about how many people come over for a bonfire, or what views really matter from the back of the house, I know how to ask the right questions to draw out what’s going to work for you – even if you don’t.  I have this four-page questionnaire that covers everything from inspiration to irrigation, so that we all know where we’re headed even before we get started.  This is why I create an inspiration board to communicate the style and feeling that your landscape will have. Design is all about solutions - it's not just loveliness for the sake of loveliness.  We have a full toolbox of design fundamentals at our disposal: texture and focal point and rhythm and many more.  We'll take the particular details of your site and create plan that fits your needs beautifully.  I'm a relentless over-explainer and an educator to my core, so you'll end up knowing why we made the decisions we did, even if you weren't able to articulate what you wanted in the beginning.  

Landscape design is all about creating outdoor living spaces.  It’s this beautiful intersection between communication, art, and science, all with the goal of getting people to bring the party outside.  Design provides solutions based on clear communication.  Whether you are overwhelmed with all kinds of ideas or frustrated because you have none, my job is to listen and arrange all the pieces to fit perfectly together.  

Where do you fall?  Are you overwhelmed with ideas or stuck in a rut?  I’d love to hear about it either way! 

Introductions: Hey Central Iowa! We're new in town!

Red Fern Landscape Design is starting fresh in the Des Moines area!  We are thrilled to be kicking off the business in a new planting zone, new time zone, and new area code.

After years with great clients in New Hampshire, our family of four had the opportunity to move to Iowa to be closer to extended family.  While I miss New Hampshire (and North Carolina before that!), I am excited for this new start in a part of the country that captures my heart and imagination like no other.

Our new logo, website and brand reflect the elegance, professionalism, and love of plants that is unique to Red Fern Landscape Design.  Owning this business is a dream come true for me – I get the privilege of planning and designing landscapes for welcoming, enthusiastic clients eager to enjoy their yards.  It is a delight to consider the demands and dreams that each family has for their unique property.  Having lived and worked in three very distinct regions of the country, I’ve noticed one consistent thing for sure- we love to be outdoors, regardless of the climate! 

As the years have gone by, I have grown more confident in my niche: an independent, design-only firm.  Clients comment on how they can trust recommendations and selections from a designer unaffiliated with a particular nursery or contractor, and meanwhile I get the pleasure of working with (and sending clients towards) a wide variety of talented, dedicated landscapers and plantspeople.  I look forward with great enthusiasm to the next season of life for Red Fern Landscape Design, here in Iowa! 

During the design process, I’m also thinking ahead to how the landscape will come to life – considering the contractors and vendors who might provide expertise and materials for the project.  It really matters whose hands are on your work!  In the same way, building this brand required an incredibly skilled team.  I’m forever grateful to Irene Farrimond and her team at Magnoliahouse Creative for their design work – I learned so much from this process AND scored a stunning logo and website!  John Benford Photography took photos of a few past projects in New Hampshire, and Morgan Moon Photography shot the pics of me at work.  Both of these professionals really captured what the process and results look like.  I’m thankful to have worked with such experts.

Please make yourself at home!  Feel free to poke around the beautiful new website, learn more about who I am and how this business works, and check me out on social media!  I am delighted to get to know you.

Studio Renovation: Work in Progress

When I started Red Fern Landscape Design, our kids were babies and my office was carved out of a corner of our bedroom.  Since that first year I've had an office in each home we've lived in that was dedicated to the business - that has been wonderful.  Design work involves spreading out lots and lots of paper, so having been able to close a door and not have to clean up the dining room table or the bedroom each day was a big, helpful change.  Our acreage came with a number of animal outbuildings AND a heated over-sized garage in need of some serious TLC.  We plan on dividing the space into a woodworking shop, upstairs storage, and most exciting to me-- my studio!  Thinking of having a separate studio space, away from the laundry and other household distractions is delightful.  I can imagine inviting clients to the property to go over plans or see inspiration, having an open house with other designers in the winter, and most importantly my daily "commute" to separate work life from home life. It's not the most welcoming exterior right now!  And the interior... well, it's pretty rough.  My amazing husband has been working to demo the "office" side of the building, removing over 50 years of various uses: dog kennel, lambing room, and fur drying area, to name a few.  While I love the history of this property, I'm excited for this space to have a new life as my studio.  In the middle of the demo stage, it's pretty dismal right now!

The kids helped out with demo this weekend.  A wall came out, strange wall board was removed, flooring came up, trim was pulled off, and all sorts of debris cleaned out.  We worked hard!  Thankfully the weather was fabulous for January in Iowa.  This part of the project is simple - it doesn't require much thought, just elbow grease.   Lots of elbow grease.  The renovation shows I love on TV don't do justice to the time it takes simply to pull nails!

Over the next weeks (months?) we'll be taking the room to its studs, removing every bit of wall board, ceiling, old insulation, and flooring.  After we've got it down to the bare bones, we'll start putting it back together: new electrical, heat, insulation, and on and on.  The room has water already and the *potential* for a bathroom, which is super exciting.  Soon I need to figure out the layout of the studio and get a design plan, but for now we're just clearing out, cleaning up and hauling away.  So thrilled to see the next chapter of Red Fern Landscape Design unfold- stay tuned!

New Hampshire Photo Shoot Preview

Photography at work
Coneflower blooms in NH

A few weeks ago I got to travel back to New Hampshire to work with John Benford Photography on three residential properties that we've designed.  I had this very limited window to score great photos of some of my work in New Hampshire, and John juggled rain clouds, slopes and shadows while wrangling ladders and lenses to get the best shots. It was a crazy thing to organize from another time zone - between scheduling the availability of the clients' properties, getting clean-up accomplished, and waiting on weather to cooperate during the two days I was there, my type-A skills were stretched.  I had help from John's Landscaping of Madbury, whose team worked hard to clean up the properties and get them ready for their big day.  My sweet friend Danielle helped my preview the properties the day prior to the two-day shoot, and she helped me cram a bunch of thank-you plants into the tiny rental car.  The late summer blooms were in full effect in New Hampshire. It was really fun and satisfying to see how the properties I've worked on are beginning to grow into their own. 

One of the properties

Above is a quick snap of one of the properties we shot over the two days.

It was a great experience for me and I learned a lot about what you need at an outdoor photo shoot!  I have a whole list now, from a whisk broom to a spray bottle of water.  So excited for these pictures to come out.