Here in America, we’re living in a golden age of garden design. There is more creativity and excitement in the field than at any time in the past. Today’s designers see their local soils, climates, and traditions as possibilities rather than limitations. They’re exploring new aspects of the plant palette, both native and exotic. They’re becoming bolder in their use of art and found objects. They’re transforming small, urban spaces as well as more traditional suburban and rural properties. And they’re finding innovative ways to make their gardens environmentally sound.

To focus attention on these developments, we’re launching “Pioneers of Design,” a periodic series that will feature the most outstanding designers at work today. We hope that the ideas presented here will help you look at your own garden with new eyes, that you’ll find both solutions to problems that have been plaguing you and inspiration for achievements you might not otherwise have dreamed of.

BERNARD TRAINOR Several themes resound through Bernard Trainor’s work: sensitivity to a site’s architectural and regional setting; a judicious use of plants (no everything-but-the-kitchen-sink schemes or monocultures masquerading as minimalism); and a commitment to creating ecologically sustainable landscapes. It’s tempting to call Trainor’s landscapes quintessentially Californian, but there’s no “Bernard Trainor look”—each of the firm’s gardens bears an individual stamp. It all boils down to the fine balance Trainor achieves between site, climate, materials, plants, and of course the client’s needs and wishes.

Trainor’s biography gives a clue to the skill with which he handles plants. Born in Australia, he began his career with several horticultural apprenticeships and by earning a Certificate of Landscape Design in Melbourne. A Victorian Overseas Foundation scholarship allowed him to study in Europe for two years, and an additional grant gave him the opportunity to complete his Diploma of Landscape Design at the Chelsea Physic Garden and to train with Beth Chatto at her world-famous nursery in Essex. This solid background has given Trainor an enviable versatility—he’s equally at home with Mediterranean plants, native Californian grasses and wildflowers, and the bold, architectural foliage plants that are so popular today. Small wonder, then, that Trainor’s work has earned him a shelf full of awards as he continues, as he puts it, “to advance the ecologically-minded contemporary landscape.”

Bernard Trainor Design Associates 966 Hellam Street, Monterey, CA 93940 831-655-1414,

P. CLIFFORD MILLER Cliff Miller’s firm, PCM, Inc., specializes in all types of residential design, from naturalistic, woodland, and prairie communities to more formal and traditional gardens. Miller, the principal and senior architect, has always been intrigued by the natural world and the impact a landscape has on its surroundings. He was schooled as a sculptor, taught environmental education, and worked as a carpenter prior to founding PCM, Inc. in 1980.

Miller focuses on creating soft, subtle, textural layers, which results in a quiet elegance in his designs. Whenever possible, he integrates sensitive, site-specific design with native plant communities. In fact, Miller’s knowledge of native plants and soils not only enables him to create aesthetically pleasing gardens; it also strengthens the sense of place in his designs—a central theme in his work—and results in lower maintenance for his clients. Miller’s philosophy is simple: learn the land and let it speak through your work.

PCM, Inc., is staffed not only by designers, but gardeners and horticulturists as well, thus enabling the firm to offer creative and innovative design solutions along with a knowledge of and sensitivity to plants.

P. Clifford Miller, Inc.—Landscape Artistry 11 North Skokie Highway, Suite 200, Lake Bluff, IL 60044 847-234-6664,

LAURA CROCKETT When you visit Laura Crockett’s Web site,, the words “Balanced… Fun… Bold” dance across the screen. They aptly characterize Crockett’s gardens, with perhaps a slight emphasis on “Bold.” Based near Portland, Oregon, Crockett has spent the last ten years experimenting with plant and hardscape palettes, in the process educating both her clients and herself. “My approach to garden design,” she says, “begins with observing—collecting information about the people living within. I not only note the genius loci of the site, but also the spirits of the humans living within the space. I also spend time, initially alone, simply observing within the garden spaces, asking the potential to reveal itself to me.”

Crockett’s scrupulous observation combines with other skills—a fearless use of hardscape, both traditional and nontraditional; deft orchestration of plants; and a meticulous attention to detail—to result in gardens that are not only beautiful, not only visually rich, but also witty, even light-hearted. You want to sit in them and absorb them; you also want to smile. Crockett attributes the unmistakable quality of “rightness” her gardens possess to what she calls her “softer eye.” “I also call this using my peripheral vision when seeking spatial aspects within the potential garden,” she says. “With my soft eyes, I observe as I move through the space. I’m looking for the places where the light plays, watching the patterns of birds, looking for the magical aspects, listening for the quiet areas and then asking, ‘Why is this the magic point and not that place over there?”’ However she does it, Crockett clearly has the knack of finding those “magic points.”

Garden Diva Designs 525 N.E. Edison Street, Hillsboro, OR 97124 503-648-2218,

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