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An Eye for Art: Working with plants the 'perfect palette' for artistic Westminster landscape designer

An Eye for Art: Working with plants the 'perfect palette' for artistic Westminster landscape designer
Westminster landscape designer Sharon Bollinger says her job “is a completely artistic endeavor that also combines technical challenges, site conditions and client interaction." (Courtesy photo)

Sharon Bollinger is a landscape designer living in the rural Westminster area. Bollinger was always involved in art as a child — she liked to do mixed media, drawing, charcoal, pencil, hand building, sculpture and papier mache.

Bollinger took art classes at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. She did a lot of clay figures and sculpture.

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When Bollinger graduated from high school, she attended Tyler School of Art, part of Temple University. Her concentration was in crafts and metalsmithing. Bollinger had never done metal work before. “It was a strong program there. I was fascinated with metal and the many options a craftsperson has in manipulating it,” she said.

Bollinger made mostly jewelry and small sculpture from metal. Working with metal, taught her that she preferred something more malleable, such as clay. “I love to handle clay and make small sculptures,” she said.

She graduated with a fine arts degree. “It is a start in exploration of how you fit into the art community. When you graduate with a fine arts degree, you must figure out how you are going to make a living,” Bollinger commented.

Some of her friends became professional jewelry crafts persons, but they discovered that to sell their jewelry, they often had to reproduce similar items. Others became teachers.

Bollinger worked different jobs that were creative, using her skills as an artist. For example, she worked in a flag making company. She managed production. Bollinger also lathed metal pieces such as knobs and legs for a furniture maker.

Then Bollinger came to work in Baltimore and worked for a company that created custom holiday displays for malls such as the Santa area. “It was a fun experience in my 20s,” she said. She purchased the displays from studios around the country that made sets for movies and theaters.

That led her to her landscaping career.

Travel and commercialism took a toll on her after a while and led her to soul searching of what would be next in her life. She had always been a gardener. Bollinger saw an ad for a procurement manager for a local landscaping company. “I thought that would be a perfect transition,” she said. She convinced them to hire her without any formal horticultural education.

It was not long before she knew that she wanted to do landscape design. After two years in procurement and taking night classes at the Community College of Baltimore County in horticulture, Bollinger convinced them to let her design.

“Landscape design is a completely artistic endeavor that also combines technical challenges, site conditions and client interaction,” she said. “I have to consider all the elements any artist would such as balance, color, scale, rhythm while also taking into consideration the environment, soil conditions, sun exposure, borrowed views and client expectations. I enjoy the left brain and right brain thinking process.

“I felt that when I started doing landscape design that all my artistic talents came together.”

Bollinger spent 15 years in design sales with Maxalea, Inc. in Towson. They are a third generation, design/build landscape company.

After 15 years she got married and moved to Carroll County. Bollinger decided to start her own landscape design consulting business.

“One of my favorite clients is a grandmother who has always had a love of nature. She lives in a wooded neighborhood and has a big hill in her backyard. We installed a pondless waterfall on the hill with an informal dry laid flagstone patio at the base of it. There are boulder steps along the side that lead to an overlook at the top of the hill,” Bollinger said. “Her children and grandchildren regularly use the waterfall for picture opportunities for special occasions such as proms and family pics. Although she is a lovely person and they would visit anyway, I feel that having that space keeps them closer and her more involved with the big and small events of their lives.

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“I want to encourage people to see how plants and hardscapes fit into their outside space as a reflection of who they are and that will hopefully encourage them to appreciate and use the space,” Bollinger explained. “So many people are caught up in technology and screens that they forget to look at what’s going on in nature. If I can get them outside then I feel that I’ve done my job.”

“As I work through the design process, I point out details to my clients such as how a red maple’s leaves will change color in the fall; how a Kousa dogwood’s bark will start to look like camouflage as it ages or how the scent of a Korean spicebush will fill their yard in early spring,” Bollinger said. “I will explain the visual characteristics of different plants such as the stiff and formal form of a spruce verses a loose flowing asymmetrical form of a weeping willow. Working with plants is the perfect palette for me because it is never stagnant. Plants change throughout the season and as they mature. The biggest compliment that I can get from a client is that they use their outside space more because that means they’ve made the connection!”

Contact Bollinger via email at sbegin66@gmail.com.

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