Spend a day in the life of Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, Director of Waterwise Gardens
Bealandscapearchitect has a series of ‘Day in the Life of’ profiles, detailing the typical work days of different landscape architects.
Director, Waterwise Gardens. 34. She lives in Lagos, Portugal, with her husband and 3-month-old daughter. She studied Landscape Management at Hadlow College.
I’m the director of my own company, Waterwise, Gardens, but currently it’s just a company of one, although I collaborate with other gardeners, designers and construction firms on an ad-hoc basis, according to my workload. What I do can be anything from design and project management, to supervision or basic gardening, according to what is needed on the day and for the project. My role is very diverse, which is important to me – I get bored doing one thing for too long.
I normally get up around 7am. If I’m out working in the field, my day will start about 8-8.30am. I’ll meet my colleagues on site, and we’ll go through what’s needed to be done during the day. If we’re working on planting, I’ll set out the plants and they will plant them, or I’ll indicate what they need to do in terms of hard landscaping, and they’ll get on with it. I’ll do the more detailed, craft tasks – if there’s any speciality pruning, for example, I’ll usually do that myself. Otherwise, I’ll leave them there and I might visit nurseries to organise other supplies or meet with clients. In between, I might stop somewhere and reply to emails, phone messages, and do any work on publicity. I then head back to check on the site, see how the team are doing.
My “working” day is normally about 8 hours, with a lunch break in the middle, though I’ll normally go home and do a bit more work in the evening. I reply to emails, make sketches, provide quotes – just do the tasks that didn’t get done during the day. At busy times, I can be up until 2am or later finishing quotes and drawings. It’s tough, but it’s also exciting – you get a buzz when you’ve got lots of projects on.
Now that I have a baby, my schedule will have to fit with her routine. I am currently on maternity leave but am already slowly picking up work – meeting with clients, looking for new opportunities. We will have to see how it goes; I think it will be a while before I go back to work full-time but I don’t want to lose touch with the business and clients. I have a colleague who takes care of the things I can’t do myself – she has had a very similar career to me so I feel confident leaving things in her hands.
At the moment, I have a mixture of clients. They’re almost all private gardens, although I do take on occasional projects for hotels and public spaces. The demographic is mainly English, with a few Portuguese, Dutch, German and Swedish. My company is highly specialised, creating gardens without irrigation systems, using plants that are adapted to the climate here. We have very dry summers – we can go three, four, five months without any rain at all, and the way I prefer to get around this is work with nature. Mediterranean-climate plants will thrive without any irrigation. It sounds really obvious, but it’s completely revolutionary here – everyone thinks that you need to have a lawn, a palm tree, and lots of irrigation to maintain your garden. So the concept is still taking off.
I would say the best thing about my job is the landscape in general. I’m able to be outside and in contact with nature, living things, the fresh air, the weather.
Just to be outside of the house – smelling the earth, touching the plants, hearing the birds – immediately lifts my mood. It’s very healthy, inspiring and energising. I’m also a mad plant nut, and I’m a mad design nut – I love composition, design and texture – and my work satisfies both these passions. Before I studied landscape management, I worked as a graphic designer, and I have come to realise it’s kind of the same thing, just with different media.
I would say my job is completely landscape management, although at present it is mainly in a garden context. Landscape management, to me, is about being able to appraise every element of the landscape – aspect, soil, existing features, what is visible in the surroundings, the prevailing climate, and of course the client’s needs – and producing a sensitive, appropriate response whether that is creating a new area, amending existing features, or simply developing or monitoring a maintenance plan.
There are two principles that guide me; 1) choose the right plants for the right place, and 2) “consult the genius of the place”, which, to me, means looking really hard at the context. It’s important to make sure your projects connect with the surrounding landscape, make sense within it, while catering to the client’s needs.
At the moment, I’ve got ongoing work in five of the gardens I started working with last winter. I have a few new clients who have made contact in the last couple of months, and I’m about to launch a promotional campaign. Last winter I worked on 12 small to medium-sized gardens, and this year I would hope to get a few more than that, and ideally some larger spaces.
I used to rent a high-ceilinged, airy office space down the road, but that stopped making sense with the baby on the way. Now, I work from home. I’ve got a massive L-shaped desk that has everything on it; sketches, phone numbers, books, plant catalogues and encyclopedias. I also have two big bookshelves alongside that have magazines, books, and inspiration, demonstrations of hard landscaping materials, tubing, irrigation fittings.