I've known Willie Eschenfelder for two decades, and during that time I've admired his landscaping efforts as much as I admire his work ethic (hint: it's a lot). I watched him start what would become his now-über-successful landscaping business, Eschenfelder Landscaping, when we were in high school. Yup. While most kids were trying to figure out how they were going to afford their first car, Willie was trying to figure out payroll. The man is a boss in every sense of the word. He's in the business of gardening, and business is blooming. His passion is landscaping, and he's made one hell of a trade out of it over the years. Willie specializes in landscaping high-end homes, and his horticultural handiwork can be found from Federal Heights to Park City (and in every enviable 'hood in between). Toss a rock in SLC, and chances are it'll land in the yard of some amazing property he's had his hands on, and he's even made more than a few of our COLLECTIVE listings a bit more beautiful with his seed 'n' soil savvy (see here, here, and here). I sat down Willie to discuss growth, greenery, and loving where you work.
We're a lot alike, you and I (both incredibly good looking entrepreneurs from birth, etc.). You started this biz in high school, right? Tell me about that: My first word was "flower"...then "mom" and "dad". I have always loved being outside and working in the yard. I had a lemonade stand at 3.5 and it was called Wild Willies Ice cold Lemonade. I helped my mom garden and grow and sell vegetables. I started mowing a few lawns in my neighborhood and started the business in Junior High as Wild Willies Yard Services. My parents were very supportive and helped drive me around to properties so I could do my work. As I got older I kept growing the business and kept it running through college. In 2008 I rebranded the landscape company to Eschenfelder Landscaping because we wanted to make the brand more professional. Wild Willies was kept around and performs all of our maintenance services. I also started a tree farm in Oregon so we can grow some of our own materials. A few years ago we also began to run a pool company called Omega Pools. So yeah, I guess I have always been into running businesses.
Another something you said stuck with me: it was to do with finding "living art" for an individual's home. How does that work? How do you take each person/place into account in finding the perfect tree or plant? You're like an interior designer! No, wait…exterior designer! #nailedit Living art is a term I like to use to describe special plant material. We have developed many relationships with specimen tree suppliers. These people are craftsmen for trees. They have many trees that they have been shaping, trimming and contouring for decades. On certain projects we are able to find the perfect tree. Some other projects don't require just one but several. We love doing mass plantings and thinking outside of the box. Modern or mid-century projects lend themselves to these types of specimen trees or plantings particularly well. Also, rocks can be amazing. We see a lot of projects with too many rocks that are placed poorly. Rocks should be buried slightly so they look more natural. Plants and rocks can work very well together if they are placed properly.
What do you love about our state (or city)? Anything in particular that you just know will keep you here forever? There is so much to love about SLC. It is easy to get around and obviously gorgeous. I regularly have "pinch me" moments just driving down the road. The mountains, the sky, the neighborhoods, all of it. It is really a fantastic place to live. From a landscape perspective it is great because I can plant a ton of different things. We regularly try zone 7-8 plants in neighborhoods that we think might have the right microclimate. We have such a wide variety of plants to choose from, literally hundreds--and about 4x as many different plants than Denver for instance. Most gardens are a zone 2-5 but that still gives us a lot of options.
You mentioned that landscape design and architecture are (or should be) married, in effect. Speak more to that. The last few years people have started to realize that landscaping is/or should be an extension of indoor spaces. Patios, fire pits, water, and entertaining elements are just some of the things that bring people outside. Unfortunately, we see a lot of missed opportunities when we look at clients properties. A lot of people hurry and get the yard done as they finish their new build or remodel project. It is important to make sure that pathways, entertaining areas and hardscape interacts properly with view corridors and utility areas. Try to make sure pathways and hardscape do not butt right up to the house. Think about locations for air conditioner units--is it possible to relocate them or sink them so they are not a noise or visual issue? We always say that as a landscaper we spend most of our time trying to eliminate right angles that are inappropriate. Can you soften a corner with a flowerbed and a plant? Is that sod in the corner ever going to be used? Is there a different product that would work better? Could a ground cover be used, etc.
Is there anything that you wish homeowners here knew more about? Like, any practices in landscaping that you feel could benefit everyone across the board? We are big proponents of good soil and good sprinklers. If you don't make these elements a priority then you may as well not try. It is kind of like building a house without a foundation. Most clients don't know how important this step is. This step makes sure your plants will thrive, not drown and will develop a strong vigorous root structure. Most soils in the Salt Lake Valley are clay, and some are clay and rocks. This mix really makes it difficult for the plants to thrive.
Are you the lead creative for your business? How does that work for you? What inspires your growth and new ideas over there? I have taken the last 5 years to surround myself with great people. I would hate to say I am the creative lead, but I am certainly the one who has to sell our vision. Sometimes I walk into a yard and immediately know what I want to do. Other times I bring in my lead designer, Brenda Broughton, and we collaborate. She is insanely talented at designing pots and perennials. She also has a great understanding of hardscape and how spaces flow. I also have some great crew leaders who let me know if my ideas aren't going to work. So, I run the show, but have some great help. Growth and new ideas come from travel. From Sydney to Portland we have gone on some amazing garden tours and seen some great stuff. I keep threatening to drag Brenda to the Chelsea Flower Show; it will happen sometime soon.
What exactly is it that makes you love what you do? The smell of fresh-cut grass is a pretty powerful thing…but what is it for you? For me it is the transformation. It is also the fact that we are dealing with living things. It is very satisfying to head to a project we did a couple years ago and see how it has grown and matured. This is also important for our growth because it help us learn. Grass is great, but there is so much more to landscaping.
Tell me about your dream client. What do they want? Or do they not know what they want? Best job ever, basically. We regularly have dream clients! The best client for us is someone that trusts our judgement, honesty and integrity. Most of our work consists of re-landscaping existing yards. This is more difficult than new construction because we are working with existing elements, plant materials and architecture. All of these elements can limit our ability to make real significant change. Our dream clients are good at making decisions and letting us guide them through difficult decisions. Sometimes this means that we have to remove old trees, walls, patios and elements that clients didn't know would need to go. The end results always speak for themselves.
Eschenfelder Landscaping | 801.912.0077