Gulfshore Life The Magazine of Southwest Florida April 2007
Designing Mind Sammy Mack
Landscape Architect j. roland "jack" Lieber says the best results here come from making peace with Nature. j. roland “jack” Lieber has watched Southwest Florida’s flora flourish for more than 30 years. As a landscape architect and manager, Lieber has planted and pruned in many of the region’s neighborhoods, such as Naples’ Pelican Bay, Village Walk and IslandWalk in Naples. Until 2005, Lieber headed the JRL Design firm. These days, he works as an independent consultant. On managing landscapes:"That’s what holds the financial value of a property," says Lieber. He’s helped several struggling communities improve in their resale values after sprucing up the foliage. "New construction is competing with the resales—they have to keep up their image because if it’s let go and not kept up, they’re going to lose [their] value," he says You can’t always get what you want:"One of the biggest problems in working with clientele here is when they say, ‘Oh, we want color! Color, color, color!’" says Lieber. "In order to have color, you have to have sun." Southwest Florida may bill itself as tropical, but technically speaking, it’s a few degrees too far north for tropical plants, he says.
Hurricanes, the "other" landscape architects: Charley and Wilma flattened an enormous number of old-growth trees, says Lieber, "I was extremely depressed when I came back after the storm." But after the initial shock, came a budding optimism. "Nature does take care of itself," he says. "I think we needed a good pruning. It wouldn’t surprise me if, for a while, we might not have the big storms because nature is going to allow itself to regenerate."
Slow plants, smart investments: "Usually, fast-growing things are negative because they become weak," says Lieber. Avoid Washingtonian palms - the tall skinny ones with little heads and the tendency to slamdown from strong winds - and look for solid more stable palms like Sabal plams.
The Magazine of Southwest Florida November 2007
Your Secret Sales Weapon Caryn Stevens Ignoring the landscaping could turn off today's more selective homebuyers
In the battle for home buyers, the health of the hedges and the shape of the shrubs could be secret weapons.
"When people come to look at a community to buy a home, the landscaping is always on the top of the priority list," says Donna Cinadr, former president of the homeowners association at Serendipity in Pelican Bay. "If the greenery is unsightly, that crucial first impression suffers."
Cinadr says her neighbors not only agree, but put their money where their plants are by hiring a professional to analyze the 66-unit, low-rise community’s natural appearance. J. Roland "Jack" Lieber, of Landscape Management and Design, is their man.
"Too many communities underestimate the impact of good landscape," he explains, "and too few know how to achieve it." Lieber, a landscape architect who’s been in Naples since the late 1970s, notes that tearing things up isn’t always the answer. One part of the problem, he says, is that new residents aren’t familiar with Florida plants. Another is that they hire a maintenance company and often do not collaborate with the staff to get the best result. Sometimes they go for the low bid—and get what they pay for. For example, a sun-loving tree that dies is often replaced with the same kind of tree, even though changes over the years have now put it in the shade, where it’s doomed.
"And you have to be watchful that the maintenance company doesn’t cut screening hedges only at the top," he warns. "What you’ll end up with is shrubs on legs." Mary Briggs, corporate public relations director for Bonita Bay Group, says company research shows that landscaping is critical in the decision to purchase. "At Mediterra, 89 percent of the buyers say that the community landscaping was essential or very important in their decision to purchase a home. At TwinEagles, that number is 95 percent."
It doesn’t take much prodding to get Jack Lieber talking about what goes on behind the hedge rows in Naples. He loves to talk dirt.But then, as one of South Florida’s leading residential landscape architects, dirt is his business.
In a discipline known for high profile commercial projects, Lieber has carved himself a niche as an odds job man.Commercial work still accounts for more than 60 percent of his business – more, in good economic time – but he remains a backyard gardener at heart.
“I have a philosophy that if you can’t do the small parts of a job, then how you can deal with the large scope of an entire community,” Lieber said.“I don’t think there is a choice.In order to be well-rounded you have to work the whole scope of design on large and small scales.”
The key, he said, is working with the client, and often their architect, to create a comfortable outdoor space that complements the client’s tastes as well as the home design.
“The challenge is that we have to get to know the client well enough so that what we can do for them is exactly what they wanted but didn’t know how to articulate” he said.“It’s a personality thing.You are working with people and creating an environment that they want but don’t know how to create themselves.”
In working with clients on residential projects, Lieber said he strives for a middle ground.The perfect client is an enthusiastic participant in the planning process, but defers to the expert on technical matters and implementation.
“Sometimes you get a person with a great deal of enthusiasm who doesn’t know how to curb it,” Lieber said.For example, he said he had one client who is easily influenced by casual observes that Lieber calls “pseudo-expects.”
“It was very difficult for me to hold the whole thing together because I would arrive at the property and there would be this whole truckload of plants that the client had purchased, and there may or may not be a place for them.Equally troublesome, he said, is the client that doesn’t take any interest in the process, the “just make it look good” types.
Lieber had one client against whom all of the others are judged.“It’s one of those strange artist/patron sort of relationships such as those found during the renaissance.This particular relationship started back in the 1980’s, he said, when he was asked to design a small garden area for a house in Fort Lauderdale.“It was very small, very tiny,” he said.“There was not a lot I could do with it.”Nevertheless, he met with the client and his architect and presented a few suggestions.
A couple of years later, the client bought a bigger house, with a bigger garden.The client had hired a different architect for this house, but Lieber said the two disciplines worked well together.
Typically, a landscape architect will design a project and perhaps oversee its implementation.After the plants are in the ground, the professional’s work is done and a maintenance company takes over.After that point, Lieber said, he may never see that client again.This client, however, asked Lieber to stay on and manage the maintenance.
Lieber, who has an undergraduate degree in horticulture from Cornell, agreed and would visit the property monthly, coordinating the watering, pruning and fertilization schedule and looking for insect problems and diseases.“Most people in my profession don’t get into this phase of it,” Lieber said.
A short time after the landscape was completed, the client moved again, to a larger house on multiple acres.The client asked Lieber to design an English garden for his new residence.Drawing from years of experience in dealing with this particular client, Lieber came up with a plan that he considers to be a trophy piece.
Knowing that the client was a patron of the arts, Lieber designed a small theater surrounded by English Folly gardens and open areas designed for lawn games.Throughout the gardens he has scattered various visual “surprises”, such as broken columns and other statuary.The gardens are wrapped by hedges that keep the interior hidden as a surprise for guest, who enter through a vine-covered trellis.
From Lieber’s perspective, it has been the ideal project: “The client had an idea, he worked with an architect and a landscape architect…This should happen in larger scale a project but often doesn’t.”
The consequences of a breakdown in communication between disciplines are that key elements of a home or building design may be lost or covered up by landscaping.“It’s so important that the professions work together to accentuate the positives and mask negatives.” Lieber said.“So many times I see what’s called landscape architecture and it completely destroys the key architectural elements of the building.That tends to make architects very leery of what a landscape architect would do to their structure.
Lieber’s preference for client participation sets him up for some frustrating situations.Take, for instance, the couple that came to him after rejecting four plans by other designers.“He was difficult as all get-out”, Lieber said.“We had done a concept plan.And they didn’t like this and they didn’t like that.More than once I wanted to get up from the conference table and say ‘Bye.
In the end, however, Lieber was able to deliver a custom plan that was agreeable to all.And the clients, after seeing the plan come to life, began to visualize how some of the ideas they had nixed in negotiations would improve the look.Not all negotiations have such happy endings.
“Sometimes the client insists on doing something or even changes the plans on their own and the landscape architect has no control or input over it.” Lieber said.“You have to establish a good working relationship because often times the client, unknowingly or for different reasons will want to change something, and it may have a major influence on what happens, and they may not be aware of it.”
For example, Lieber said he had one client who insisted on letting a vegetative border grow higher than it was designed to be.As a result, some columns that were a major visual element before became obscured.“That’s why sometimes it gets frustrating,” Lieber said.“That’s why some people in the profession can’t deal with residential.”Generally, Lieber said, he finds residential work to be “tremendously satisfying” on a personal level.That satisfaction over the years has been enhanced, more than a little, by the amount of residential business he has been able to generate during the downturn in commercial and real estate business.