Meet Plant Designer Stasha Switzer
Stasha discusses her plant design background, her approach, and her favorite plants for indoor and outdoor spaces.
Q: What is your design background or experience?
A: I originally went to school for marketing where I really enjoyed creating graphics.
I whet my appetite for plant design by working as a gardener for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I worked with a very talented landscape architect who opened my eyes to all the ways plants could be used and combined. That inspired me to complete a garden design course through Cornell University Extension.
Later in life, I went back to school to study landscape design & construction at Hennepin Technical College. I’m also a University of Minnesota Master Gardener.
Q: How would you describe your plant design approach?
A: I try to design things that work well from a utilitarian perspective: Right plant, right place.
We want plants that will thrive in the environment we put them in and look beautiful. It’s nice to innovate and do things that are surprising, that bring an unexpected pop of color, or use something people don’t see all the time. But it also has to be proven enough to put it in a client’s site and know that we are setting it up for success.
Q: When you first sit down with a client to discuss plants for their space, what questions do you ask?
A: My questions are always driving at two things: beauty and utility.
Sometimes people know exactly what plants they like or colors they prefer, and sometimes I need to intuit their taste from what I notice in the surroundings. What shapes and colors appeal to the client? Are there colors from wall coverings, a company logo, or the furnishing that we can pull in or complement?
In terms of utility, I ask, “What problems can be solved?” For example, how can we use a well-placed planter to direct traffic or provide privacy?
Q: How do you tailor your design plan for a client’s individual needs?
A: Every space and client has different needs and tastes. It’s my job to listen well, ask good questions, and make observations to roll into a cohesive design plan.
I think about environmental factors, such as the type and amount of light the plants will receive, proximity to HVAC, drafts, and traffic patterns. I try to pick up on the shapes and colors in the decor of the space to give me cues to use fine or bold foliage shapes, bright or subdued colors, shorter plants or something really tall and stunning.
Q: Is there a project from the last year that you are particularly proud of? Why?
A: I’m proud of the way the lobby redesign turned out at 50 S 10th Street in downtown Minneapolis. They did a major remodel and used a lot of really beautiful black natural stone. We had the opportunity to reflect that in the planters and do a large-scale installation that was super fun to work on.
We also do a lot of work for the State of Minnesota. We’re in a lot of government buildings. We’re in education spaces, healthcare, and office buildings. It’s really important that spaces where people go to work, go to the doctor, go to school are enhanced by plants because they’re so good for people’s wellbeing and happiness. Whether it’s the polished marble lobby or a place where people clock in and work for eight hours, it’s important to be really intentional about the design.
Q: What are your favorite plants to use in indoor spaces?
A: My favorite plants are easy-going and sculptural. I particularly like Reflexas, Ponytail Palms, and Kentia Palms.
Q: What are your favorite plants to use in outdoor spaces?
A: I’m really excited about using tropical plants in exteriors. Expect to see a lot of palms, ficus, dracaena, and bromeliads in our spaces next year! I’m pretty crazy about the Bossa Nova series of Begonias. The colors are amazing!
Q: How do you adapt your designs for Minnesota’s vastly different seasons?
A: Our four seasons are one of the best parts of living in Minnesota! It’s so fun to get to reflect the weather in our seasonal containers.
When we’re out planting daffodils and violets and green ferns first thing in the spring, passersby always smile and say something nice! It’s such a welcome breath of fresh air after a cold winter.
Q: What kind of plant designs do you do in winter?
In addition to evergreens and holiday decor, in the winter, we do a lot for exterior containers. It’s our second biggest season after summer. People really want to have something beautiful to look at through the winter months.
Winter stretches the creative muscle the most. It’s the most limiting in terms of materials available. I’m always looking for and learning more about dried and preserved products, like seed pods and berries that provide color all through the season. And you really have to be creative and ask, can I interpret the material in a new way?
Q: If budget was not a constraint, what would you bring to a client project?
A: Plants make people happy. This is backed by research! The mission of Plants by Design is to delight people with nature in the spaces where they live, work and play. To that end, I would use an abundance of plants in a variety of ways including free-standing planters, preserved moss art, and a living plant wall.
Q: Are you originally from Minnesota?
A: I’m from Wisconsin, but I have lived here for 14 years. It’s my adopted state and I love it here! We’ve got a great quality of life, excellent access to green space, and I’ve got a lot of family and friends here.
Q: What is a favorite space of yours in the Twin Cities?
A: The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. I love to go there to relax, and it’s wonderful in all seasons. Especially in the middle of winter when you need a little pick me up!