On Design: Isabelle Greene

On Design: Isabelle Greene

January 31, 2006
Photo by: Kimberly Hahn

Q: Who are your favorite artists?  
A: Isamu NoguchiAlbrecht DürerLuis Barragán, Roberto Marx (somewhat), E. Fay Jones, Henry Greene (my grandfather) and his brother Charles, and Michelangelo. Oh, and a local artist who was my teacher, Michael Dvortsak. I admire people who don't let their ego decide their pathway.

Q: What client request do you most dread? 
A: A shopping list of items desired that have no relationship to each other and give no freedom to pull things together in context.

Q: Who or what prompted you to go into landscape architecture?
A: It's such a long story, in a nutshell, there wasn't any single decision. I certainly was primed by the time I was about two or three years old when I sat in a clump of clover grass and loved being there in the sunshine. The path was inevitable, but I didn't know it (at the time).

Q: How important are trends in your work?
A: I find it very onerous to jump onto some bandwagon that's been rolling for a while. On the other hand, in California, our scarcity of water has given rise to a great deal of interest in drought-tolerant plantings. This leads to the use of native plantings, which is a wonderful idea.

Q: Lawns — for or against?

 A: Well that's a trendy question! A lot of our gardeners are trained to know only how to maintain lawns and shear the bushes. In general, lawns fight with our climate and our environment, require copious amounts of water, maintenance, gasoline-powered machines, pesticides. However I am never a purist. Pasadena was kind of fun, with expansive green lawns that set off the house. I wouldn't take that away. I have some clients with children who want to run around and play ball on a lawn, and others that agree to plant their entire nine acres in native plants — with no lawn.

Q: Name one plant that you think should be more widely used. 

A: We should always be open to trying something new. The botannical gardens are great sources of new plants. However, my suggestion is based on the fact that there are a lot of plants that are so common, people have passed them up for years. The Jade plant is an example of a good, old plant that should be more widely used.

Q: Where do you go to watch people? 
A: I would have to say that I don't really do that. I am usually too busy thinking about how I could redesign the city!

Q: Which architect, living or dead, would you most like to work with?
A: E. Fay Jones, whom I once had the pleasure of visiting at his home. In fact I took a pilgrimage to view the art of his buildings throughout the southeast.          

Q: Which contemporary designer, in any field, do you find most interesting?
A: I would say that 15 years ago there was too much repetition in design. Today that is not the case. There are wonderful innovations everywhere, so many, that I would not like to single out any one designer.

Q: What is your favorite movie-for the scenery? 
A: There is a Mexican film called that I love for its striking images.

About Isabelle Greene:

"Isabelle Greene, who has gardened, drawn, and painted since early childhood, studied both botany and studio art before she was invited to create a garden for a small office building. Her first project won a design award, and the rest is history. Her distinctive projects are informed by a deep knowledge of plants, climate, and geography and enlivened by a whimsical sense of art. They have been honored and featured in Vogue, The New York Times, and in many other design publications. In projects such as Longwood Gardens' Silver Garden, where the visitor experiences a metaphorical desert, her sensitive use of materials and her high standards of design detail are always apparent." Source: New York Botanical Garden