Not everyone finds landscaping as their first career, but when Edamarie Mattei discovered her deep love for horticulture, she soon traded in her teaching job to become a garden designer.
She started her company, Backyard Bounty, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, back in 2009 and has been working in the DC metro area ever since.
Mattei’s favorite thing about being in the landscaping industry is designing and building gardens that are specifically suited for her clients.
“I love that we can create these beautiful spaces that are also environmentally responsible and beautiful, and so it’s really that working with clients and land together,” she said.
For Backyard Bounty, Mattei says planting is a big part of their designs and they typically incorporate hardscape features such as retaining walls and patios and elements like pergolas and raised vegetable beds.
“In terms of our design, I would say that we very much are designing for the site and clients’ desires,” she said.
A majority of her clients prefer to have native plants installed, but Mattei says these can be designed for either formal landscapes or more meadow-like spaces. One element that Mattei says is a unique feature to the landscapes she designs is the tendency to have a denser ground layer that traditional planting landscape designs.
Rather than using mulch to keep weeds down, Mattei opts for low-growing groundcovers. While initially, the extra plants are more expensive, she says they are less expensive in the long run in terms of maintenance.
“We like to use things that have multiple benefits,” she said. “And we find that when you have a ground layer and you use plants as what you would call green mulch, you get the benefits of all the attractive features of the plant while minimizing the need for mulch.”
Mattei draws her design inspiration mainly from the site and the client.
“We really enjoy spending time trying to get to know our clients well,” she said. “They really become the biggest inspiration. It is very much the site and the client that inspires us. In the larger world, we’re always visiting gardens.”
By visiting large and small botanical gardens alike, Mattei is able to gather fresh ideas to incorporate in her designs.
As for the design process, Backyard Bounty conducts the majority of its work on the computer.
“We really try to do as much as possible on the computer; as a result, we can play around with understanding where the light is coming from, what’s happening with drainage,” Mattei said. “We can move plants and patios and go back and forth with clients as we develop the design. That’s definitely how we prefer to design overall.”
Mattei tried some other software early on, but she uses Vectorworks primarily now. While she says the learning curve for Vectorworks depends on the individual’s background, Backyard Bounty was fortunate enough to have met an end-user who had been working with the program for years.
“We contacted her and asked if she would help us learn the program and she very kindly did, and (she) came down to our office and worked with us over the course of several months and continues to be a resource when we have questions,” Mattei said. “She’s really become our tutor and our go-to expert.”
For example, Mark Dennis, a landscape designer for Backyard Bounty, mastered the software in a matter of months since he was already well-versed in CAD, but it took Mattei a good year to reach the expert level since she was new to computer drawing.
“That might just be me,” Mattei said. “I had a lot to learn about thinking in the way that you think in terms of layers, and I’m older, so there’s a lot to get past in my own head and a lot to understand.”
While the company currently uses Vectorworks to create 2D designs, Mattei would like to up their ability to create 3D designs as well, but currently, they don’t have the time.
The main reason Mattei prefers Vectorworks for her landscape design work is the efficiency.
“Honestly, I think that when you can make changes quickly, it frees you up to be more creative,” she said. “If I were drawing it and I had it all laid out, I’d think something is very, very wrong. I’d hate to just trash all the work that I had already done and start over. But adding another layer and modifying, it’s so easy that it’s actually incredibly freeing, and I would say that’s probably one of my favorite features about drawing with Vectorworks.”
By no longer being limited by having to redo a plan entirely, Mattei says she feels liberated to make modifications and be more creative.
Another aspect she enjoys about the software is the ability to modify the appearance of the designs so they can look almost hand-drawn and are accessible to her clients.
“We don’t want our plans to feel like you’re looking at some big architectural drawing,” she said. “We want soft lines. We want things to look like they’re growing in a garden. And we find we’re able to do that and that is incredibly satisfying for us as designers. It’s really important.”
A feature Backyard Bounty often utilizes is Vectorworks’s planting library. Mattei likes that they can add plants to it as well as customize cultivars.
Coming up with something she didn’t like about the software was harder for Mattei, and she only mentioned the ability to manipulate curves could be tweaked some.
According to Mattei, the software is a good fit for landscapers working on a detailed project with many elevations, as well as to someone working on some very simple layered designs.
“We can make really beautiful looking plans,” she said. “Plans that read as if they were hand-drawn, but we can do them with the efficiency of computer design. The program really works well and can be worked in very simple ways.”