The Great Recession literally turned Nancy Knapp’s career inside out. After her career in luxury interior design hit a snag, she seized the opportunity to trade couches and throw pillows for river rocks and water-wise shrubs.
These days, Nancy is riding high as the owner of Weeds Garden & Interior Design in Mar Vista, California. Although she still has the word “interior” in her company name and will design the occasional indoor space when asked, she’s triumphantly redefined herself as a sought-after landscape designer and contractor with a focus on water conservation.
In fact, the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment has brought her on as a consultant to help homeowners ditch their water-guzzling lawns in favor of drought-tolerant gardens and rainwater-harvesting hardscapes. “It’s my job to show people that you can have a pretty garden that doesn't use a lot of resources,” she says.
Necessity Begets Reinvention
Nancy’s chance to turn her attention outdoors came courtesy of a friend who was renovating a hotel in downtown Los Angeles asked her to take a shot at the exterior redesign.
At the time, she’d been running Weeds as a side business for several years. (That was well before the television show Weeds and its main character, also coincidentally named Nancy, whose nefarious business venture has since led to “a few strange phone calls,” our Nancy giggles.) She’d studied horticulture (and literature, incidentally) prior to completing a degree in interior architecture design, and she felt qualified enough to give it a go. Plus, she says, the two disciplines aren’t that different. “Landscape design isn't like putting pillows in a room – it’s more of a moving target,” she says. “But in the end, it’s all forms, shapes, and color.”
She completed the job with little trouble, “and guess what – I made money.”
“Weeds are amazing. They’re really tough, and they sustain themselves. If you look at a weed, it’s just the right plant in the wrong place.”
Nancy’s next job, a lawn rebate project for the City of Santa Monica, simultaneously put her on the map as a landscape designer, sparked a long-term professional relationship with the City, and made her a Land F/X user. “Santa Monica has very strict requirements – especially for irrigation,” she says. “I needed Land F/X, and didn't know I needed Land F/X.”
An online search led her to the Land F/X website, and she got in touch with CEO Jeremiah Farmer. She requested a trial and went to work learning the software while also learning how to design an irrigation system.
“I had a lot of late nights,” she laughs. “But it was amazing. I’d learned AutoCAD in interior design school, and I’d done some landscape design in CAD, but just linework. With a little help from Jeremiah and the tutorials on the website, I taught myself Land F/X and did an irrigation plan. The tutorials were simple, clear, and easy.
“It looked as if I knew what I was doing because Land F/X made everything so clean and nice,” she continues. “It was my first time doing this type of project, and I wanted to do it properly. It was transformational in my business.”
Nancy submitted her plan for the site’s planting, hardscape, and irrigation to the head of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE). His reaction set the tone for the next chapter in her career. “He said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this good of a submittal for a rebate project.’”
She credits that site plan with helping her build “a good rapport” with OSE, as well as get her foot in the door as one of its six lawn rebate consultants. (More than 100 people applied, she says.)
OSE’s lawn rebate program provides heavily discounted advice on what to do with a yard within the city limits after removing a lawn. Homeowners pay just $50 for a two-hour consultation with Nancy or one of the five other City-sanctioned consultants. It’s not a job the City hands out to just anyone – according to Nancy, the exam to become a sustainable landscape professional for Santa Monica was considerably more difficult than the landscape contractor exam.
Since her first immersion into irrigation design, Nancy’s business has grown every year. (“If you’re doing the right thing, that’s what happens,” she says.) She even has a project manager now – “Isabel, a farm girl from France who really understands plants” – along with hardscape and irrigation crews. “What’s a little scary to me,” she muses, “is that I’m supporting 20 people with my business.”
Location, Location, Location
Why is the company called Weeds? “Well, I’m a bit of a rebel,” Nancy says. “Weeds are amazing. They’re really tough, and they sustain themselves. If you look at a weed, it’s just the right plant in the wrong place.”
By the same logic (and somewhat unfortunately), a lawn may be the weediest plant of all in a water-starved locale like Southern California. “Grass is a monoculture,” Nancy says. “As such, with its root structure, it depletes and compacts the soil, which prevents it from absorbing water and nutrients. Once someone removes a lawn, we’re trying to build the soil biology from the bottom up and create a sponge that holds water.”
With calls coming in each day from Santa Monica residents interested in replacing a lawn with drought-tolerant plants, Nancy is happy to combine her dual passions for ecological responsibility and aesthetics. “I want to show people that they can replace their lawn with a garden that’s sustainable and looks great.”
Learn more about:
- Weeds Garden & Interior Design
- Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability and the Environment's lawn rebate program
– Jason Hilford