Landscape architect Janice Parker came up in the industry in a more open era. Despite being raised in New York, she was a lifelong lover of flowers and the natural world, and after graduating from college, she simply walked into the most prestigious flower shop in the city, Renny, asked for a job and got it. Soon she was decorating Studio 54, working on flower arrangements for Halston, and getting so good at seasonal decorations that she could form a loop out of Christmas lights, stand back and lasso up a twinkling tree.
When she got into landscape design, she was blessed with similar luck. Parker connected with Karen Fisher, the New York interior design matchmaker par excellence, who started getting her jobs. The very first one? A rooftop garden for Robert Redford. “She was like, ‘Can you do a rooftop on Fifth Avenue?’ And I’m thinking to myself: I must be able to! I mean, I never have, but I’m sure I can?” she tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “He called me Francine through the whole project. I took it. Francine at your service!”
Parker went on from that celebrity rooftop gig to build a practice in the Northeast, winning gobs of awards for her work and appearing regularly in the pages of shelter magazines. She eventually sat for board exams that certified her as a landscape architect as opposed to a landscape designer (the difference, she says, is akin to the distinction between a therapist and a psychiatrist—landscape architects have more technical knowledge).
However, despite a board certification, a storied career and plenty more rooftop gardens, nothing could have prepared Parker for the madness of 2020—the year that made outside the only safe place. “COVID had everything upside down … What I love though, and what is making it challenging but wonderful, is that COVID changed people’s perception of outdoors. No matter how beautiful we did seating areas and outdoor areas [before], the minute it rained or was too sunny or too many bugs or the temperature changed, people just went inside,” she says. “[Now] if people wanted to see friends they had to be outside. So we built pavilions and heated them, we built fire features, heated furniture, heated mats underneath rugs on the terrace … People wanted to be outside. And I think it stuck. I think people spent enough time outside to realize how beautiful it is.”
CHANGING INDUSTRY GENDER NORMS
There are plenty of female interior designers—but landscape architecture, alongside “regular” architecture and contracting, remains a male-dominated profession. Parker would like to see that change, but she’s cognizant of the catch-22 around shifting the conversation. “You have to get inside the professions. You can’t get mad about the way things are—you have to get inside and do your work. There should not be any kind of a war; no one wins. It’s just a question of getting inside, moving up, making things more amenable for people to have lives and raise children because you can create that workplace,” she says. “But you have to get in to do that, and you don’t get in by saying you don’t like it … You get in by doing the work.”
PANDEMIC PRICE SHIFTS
COVID put Parker’s services in high demand. It also sent prices through the roof, as everything from plants to the steel required to make swimming pools became scarce. These price increases, Parker believes, are here to stay. “We’ve had a price bump that I don’t think will go away. I’ve been in this career for almost 40 years. We’ve had some price bumps and then we sat still after 2006, and we’re bumping and I don’t think it's coming back down. Once the industry can make another benchmark like that, it makes it,” she says.
CLIMATE CHANGE PARADOXES
In Washington, climate change is sometimes a contested topic. In Parker’s world, there’s no doubt—though that doesn’t mean everyone heeds the warning. “Farmers and the USDA maps don’t pay any attention to politicians. It’s gotten warmer and we can grow species that were dying for us 25 years ago. Pretty soon we’re gonna be growing bougainvillea and hibiscus if we’re not careful. It’s warmer. It’s just warmer,” she says. “What I find fascinating is that we know the seas are rising, they remapped after Hurricane Sandy, but nobody can get enough waterfront property. It’s never been more expensive or desirable … I just love people! What is it about us? We want to be right on the edge where we could die!”
Homepage photo: Janice Parker | Neil Landino Jr.