Do you ever wonder what it’s like to do something else for the day? Whether it’s choosing a different career path or stepping out of your comfort zone, this series dives into the crazy-interesting lives of those we’ve always admired. From pilots and chefs to charities making a difference, go ahead and read a page in their life.

Today’s post features the multi-talented Billy Goodnick, a landscape architect from Santa Barbara who is also an accomplished author, educator, speaker, and musician! With spring in the air, we’ve got gardening on our minds, and Billy is an expert in creating functional, beautiful outdoor spaces. Read his interview with us for some back-to-nature inspiration, and make sure to check out Billy’s website for further reading!

Billy Goodnick - Landscape Architect

To start, could you tell us a little about yourself? What’s your backstory?

Billy: I started life in Brooklyn, New York, when I fell in love with drums at the age of five after listening to some guys jamming under the boardwalk at Coney Island. We moved to Los Angeles when I was eight and I started drum lessons. Drumming was my life into my twenties, doing studio work and touring as an opening act for the Jackson 5 for a year. Now, I live in Santa Barbara.

What made you want to become a landscape architect? Was there a particular event that led you to this passion/career?

Billy: I had what I consider a “premature musical midlife crisis.” I had fallen under the spell of houseplants and bonsai, then discovered the exquisite world of Japanese gardens. I quit music, went back to school, and then worked for a while. Later, I went back to school again for landscape architecture.

What does a typical day look like for you as a landscape architect/educator/writer? (Or is there such a thing?!)

Billy: A typical day for me looks like a Road Runner cartoon with a little Tasmanian Devil thrown in. It’s a constant balancing act to meet writing deadlines while also keeping my clients happy. I teach a college course in the fall, making life crazier. Also, I fly around the country speaking and promoting my book, Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams.

Is there a certain person, object, or place that you look to for inspiration with your landscape designs?

Billy: My inspiration comes from my clients. Every client is different, each with specific needs, varying site conditions, and different ideas about taste and style. I ask lots of questions to figure out what they need. Then, I wait for my muse to show up. Sometimes her bus runs late!

Do you find it difficult to constantly be thinking of new ideas for your designs?

Billy: I’m not that concerned with every solution being unique or original, as long as it meets my client’s needs. My job is to create a garden that’s a stage for outdoor living. Appearance is secondary. One tactic I use is composing a “concept statement” for each space I plan to work on. For example, a concept statement might go as follows: a cool, secluded retreat where my client can relax and listen to the sound of birds. If I nail the concept statement, the design flows from there.

Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams

In addition to being a landscape architect, you are author of Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams. Can the everyday Joe really do what you do?

Billy: Maybe not as well as a professional, but they’ll certainly be better informed and have a good idea of their needs. I’ve figured out how to demystify a very complex process and break it down to understandable, doable steps. I wrote for two audiences: do-it-yourselfers who want to improve their skills, and informed consumers who want to use their knowledge to work with and hire a professional.

If you could give one piece of advice to people who are looking to upgrade their underperforming yards into beautiful gardens, what would it be?

Billy: Form follows function. First, create a landscape that works for your space. Start with a list of needs and desires, and create spaces that supports those. Then, you can deal with the visual enhancements.

You’ve been spreading the mantra of “beautiful, useful, sustainable gardens.” What does it truly mean to have a sustainable garden? 

Billy: “Sustainable” is so overused. To me, it means creating a garden that’s as close to a natural system as possible: not needing a lot of unnecessary inputs like water, fertilizer, labor, and money. In addition, a sustainable garden doesn’t generate negative outputs like polluted run-off, toxic byproducts, green waste, or air pollution.

We are a reading glasses store, so we have to ask: What is your favorite pair from Readers.com?

Billy: I’m an adjunct college professor, so I love The Bookworm!

Thanks to Billy for spending some time chatting with us! You can learn more about Billy’s many talents on his website.