Writing Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping
Olivia Edwards: What initially inspired you to write Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping?
Monique Allen: I don’t think my perspective is compellingly different than that of those who also believe deeply in an ecological focus and sustainable practice. I just realized that if I didn’t write this down, there was a danger that no one would. I want this idea about the immense value of our landscape to become more common. We in the “organic, wholistic, eco-minded” community have been thought of as “outside” the mainstream for too long. I want this kind of garden-making and land-development to BE the mainstream, so writing a book felt like the right way to start.
Life-Scape: an evocative word
Olivia: You coin the term “Life-Scape,” an organized, healthy, beautiful outdoor space that resonates with people’s desire to live life outdoors. How did you think of this new word?
Monique: I once heard the term “Dead-Scape” used to describe what was being sold in conjunction with new homes – these overly compacted sites with all the original loam stripped and sold off and a dusting put back on top of the sorely damaged earth and some grass seed sprinkled on top to make a would-be lawn. It struck me that this is what’s happening. We’re killing our land in the ornamental landscape world as well as in big agriculture with compaction, tilling and chemicalizing. So…I wanted an alternative. I wanted a landscape full of LIFE…a Life-Scape.
I’m not the only one who’s used this term, but I think it’s been used more to describe the resort aspect of a landscape – a place to play and recreate – which is all good for sure…but most of those landscapes are dead too. I wanted Life-Scape to connect humans with the living land so that it was a communal event of life expression. It was imperative to me that there was an ecological focus where the powers and needs of nature were considered.
Writing from professional experience
Olivia: One message I took away from the book is that landscaping is an important discipline connecting art and science, and requiring high levels of knowledge, organization, and planning. How have your experiences as founder and creative director of a landscape company (The Garden Continuum) influenced your perspective?
Monique: I was a typical lost teenager. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I loved to dance and train my body, that was all I had to love. Growing up was hard and while my family loved me, I felt quite lost in the world. When I found gardening at 18, it was as if the whole world opened up – with just this little crack in the wall that was blocking it off from my full vision. It took me ten years of floundering around in colleges and classes and working to finally begin to feel like I knew anything. Then, I realized there was SO much more to know. I went from peering through this small crack to busting the wall down entirely and there found an immense treasure of learning to be had.
I have a veritable “alphabet soup” of letters after my name because I went after one degree or certification after another in order to learn more and more. I think because I didn’t feel like I knew enough to be taken seriously. One day I woke up and realized I knew enough, not that I’ll stop learning, I’m still taking classes to expand my knowledge. But, what I realized is that there isn’t a way to know it all, it’s wise to combine your knowledge with action to build experience. And, it’s critical to build relationships to expand your knowledge reach in directions that you can’t pursue. Because you can’t pursue them all.
Writing for an audience of novices and professionals
As a business founder, developer and employer, I’m in a constant dance between professionals and novices day in and day out. I’ve learned patience and steadiness in speaking to “know-it-alls” as well as “newbies.” My job is to teach, inform, and open up the vastness of this world to everyone I am in contact with as a Creative Director and CEO. This made writing about the Life-Scape Method as a master professional comfortable for me.
Envisioning a place of joy
Olivia: Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping describes a process for planning and implementing your Life-Scape, which involves visualizing your hopes and dreams. How is this envisioning process essential to the Life-Scape?
Monique: A critical aspect of a Life-Scape is that it is not a FEATURE-Scape. The mainstream media market pushes “Landscaping” as something people should do and have to be “complete” as a homeowner. This triggers our innate behavior of collecting “things” as a means to make us happy. And it’s a way to sell products to their consumers. This is not what will make you happy.
All people will benefit by TAPPING into their inner desire – not for things – but for experience, for emotion, for connection – and then find ways to develop their surroundings in order to help them down shift from the hustle of life to the slower paced experience of “being” in joy.
Olivia: Who do you have in mind as the intended audience for Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping?
Monique: First and foremost, it’s homeowners. Especially now that we are all urged to stay at home. Having access to a Life-Scape can shift that feeling of “stuck” at home to “gratitude” for home in such an uncertain time as this. My home is a total blessing. My two children haven’t left our property for over two weeks, and while I know they want to see other people, they feel whole here – inside and outside. We are in the process of building out a very large potager garden which I know will sustain us with healthy food and bring us together as we work for our food.
A second audience is the commercial property owner. This audience has immense power to give back to the greater community by developing their land in the Life-Scape model. We have a property that we developed in Providence that has won two awards for its environmental and organic stature. Every time we work there, someone thanks us as they pass us working in the gardens. We made sure to develop respite gardens where people can take a break, eat lunch, or walk to regulate their souls before diving back into work. This is KEY to improving life for people.
Last, I believe that all landscape professionals should read this book and challenge themselves to deepen their practice for themselves and the people they serve. This approached has enriched my practice and appreciation for my work. I’m more passionate now than I ever was about what I do professionally. That makes work easy and joyful.
How to structure and write a landscaping book Tweet This
Olivia: You point out that hands-on learning is essential in landscaping. How does the structure of Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping, such as the “Today’s Tasks” section at the end of each chapter, help with this goal? How do you envision readers will interact with this book?
Monique: In fairness, it was one of my editors that helped me come up with that idea. She felt that I would serve my reader well if I could give them something to do after each chapter. As I started writing this list, I realized that I needed to keep it simple so as not to overwhelm the reader, but rather to nudge them forward in the process of developing their Life-Scape.
My hope was that the incremental work would help the reader to feel engaged in the process and start to feel some small wins and some support outside the pages of this book.
There is no Life-Scape to be had by reading alone. You have to act – it’s especially okay to take imperfect action as you start. It’s too easy to hold back for fear of doing it wrong. But that’s the thing, when you do the work, slow down by “thinking” it through before you grab the shovel, you are poised to do more correctly than incorrectly.
Organizing the information
Olivia: Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping organizes a lot of information in the form of lists. What process did you use to organize all the information in this book? Do you have tips for other authors on organization?
Monique: Oof – that was so hard. There were several steps. First was telling stories about how I approach a project – recording those stories – getting those recordings transcribed and then trying to organize all that data in a step-by-step way. I had amazing help from my first editor in doing this. Sometimes I think she was scratching the information out of my head by asking me questions and getting me to ramble on about what I do day-to-day. We’d talk for like two hours and record the whole thing. There were some funny stories and some profanities that made it into the transcripts making them hilarious to read. That helped take the seriousness down a notch.
The next step was the table of content creation. Again, huge help here from my editor who is deeply experienced in technical writing. One thing I realized is that I was going back to the beginning and unpacking my thinking and my actions – things that had become so second nature to me that I didn’t even think about them anymore. I had to tease it all apart and codify it. It was the TOC that finally made the process feel linear and logical. We went through at least a half a dozen iterations of it before we were happy.
Advice: meet your readers where they are
My biggest takeaway tip for anyone who has mastered a skill is that you have to climb back down the mountain to meet your readers where they are. It’s so easy to write right over your readers’ head if you don’t really deconstruct what you know. I had to keep cycling back and back and back to get to the beginning of the thought process so I could teach it. There were definitely some places where my editor wanted me to unpack the information more, but I just couldn’t go there. That was when I realized that my audience had to be intermediate level gardeners and landscapers because it would be too much to try and teach Life-Scaping to someone who’d never had a garden or a plant to care for.
The Writing Process for Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping
Olivia: Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping conveys information about various topics, including plants and ecosystems, the history of landscape design, and more. What was your research process like?
Monique: As an academically trained designer, I had to study landscape history as part of my graduate education, so I was able to call on that learning as I navigated my writing process.
As an educator and faculty of the Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association, I’m well versed in using complimentary disciplines to teach my classes. In particular, I wrote a class called Garden Ecology which I give to every new class of Master Gardeners. It’s a 6-hour class that covers the beginning of ecology as a field of study through to plant strategies, ecological succession, and all the way through the process of analyzing a site.
As a 35-year veteran of the industry, I didn’t have to dig too deeply into new research because I’d already spent a lifetime doing this research for my own projects. And, we have a vigorous training protocol in my company, so I was able to call on that knowledge and skill to help me with research.
From blogging to writing a book
Olivia: You share that even as an experienced newsletter writer and blogger, writing an entire book was challenging for you. What are some ways that your previous writing experience did prepare you to write a book? And how did you overcome the remaining challenges?
Monique: My mother had an amazing mind. She was a linguist, a lover of the written word, and a well-read academic. She was my rock in the early years of my writing. She pushed me when I was a kid and failing in school, she home schooled me where the school system failed me. She taught me that editing work was where the magic could happen.
Blog writing asks you to be consistent and relevant so requires you to be deliberate in what you write about and be aware of what your audience needs. I was tapping into that when I thought about what my readers might need from this book.
A blog or even a class has a very easy beginning middle and end. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back now, I realize that blogging is like traveling under an overpass – no sooner are you under than your out. A book is like a long dark tunnel that gets darker and darker with no light or end in sight. You think there’s an end when you start, but the deeper you get into it the longer the process feels like it will take. You can’t do it alone – or at least I know I couldn’t for my first book.
Overcoming the challenges of writing a full-length book
The critic when you blog is nothing compared to the critic that comes out when you embark on a long-form piece of writing. There were times when I wanted nothing more than to burn the projects. I was paralyzed with fear to get the book out to readers. And, even when I was told that it was good – I still felt like they were just being nice. It was very hard for me to believe that I was worthy of this project. And still now, I’m not sure that what I’ve done is all that great.
What I did learn – is that my work is authentic – it is my perspective – it’s not perfect – and it’s exactly what I needed to do for the evolution of my passion for this industry. That has be enough. Do I want people to love it and buy it and follow the method? Yes. If they don’t will I see it as a failure? No. It was my start. My pure and truthful start to writing and I’m very glad I did it.
Forming partnerships to write your book
Olivia: One theme of Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping is that partnerships with the right people are essential when undertaking any landscaping project. How does that message apply to writing a book?
Monique: I couldn’t have done this project without the people I worked with and paid to help me. This book cost a lot of money to produce. More than I will likely ever make in book sales. But remember, I wrote this book as a companion to what I do. If one reader hired me to develop a Life-Scape for them, I could make the money back 4-fold.
What is important to me is that I got a full-on crash course in book writing, publishing, publicity, and marketing. That knowledge and new skill will always stay with me. The people I worked with were amazing on so many levels and I know I could call on them again. There’s no way that I would have been able to produce a book without them.
The value of working with professionals
In my home landscape, I worked with several professionals to get it where I wanted it to be. My dream was far more complex than my skills could fulfill. The time I took to plan it out afforded me the ability to parse out the sections that were going to be built by me so that I could get clear on what I needed help with. Could I have built more of it myself? Maybe… But I’ve become crystal clear in my business that I would rather pay a pro to do work faster and at a higher level than I can in the interest of getting the best possible work completed.
The correlation for me between book creation and life-scape creation is clear. Find the best possible partnerships – stay in your zone of genius and then surround yourself with other genius to get you to the finish line.
Getting help from professionals to avoid “perfection paralysis”
Olivia: You point out that both designing a landscape and writing a book require extensive planning, but at some point, you have to stop planning and start building. How did you avoid “perfection paralysis” when writing Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping?
Monique: Oh yes, and this was the genius of Lisa Tener. I was trying to learn to be a better writer. For years I took classes to learn writing technique and blogged to practice. I thought, one day I’ll be ready. But that wasn’t happening because I never felt “good-enough” or “ready-enough.”
Then in a consult session Lisa asked me a pivotal question. “What’s more important, that you write this book on your own, or that this information get out there in the world?” Without hesitation my answer was that the information needed to be put into the world. She pointed me to people that could help me get the writing structure on the right track and the rest is history.
I needed Lisa to point this out to me. AND, on some level to give me permission. Funny – as a grown-up we need permission – but sometimes we do. That’s why having professional partners is so critical. I have them inside my business in the form of a curated leadership team. I also maintain relationships with many business owners and “gurus” of sorts whose brilliance I can access to help me get out of my own way and onto attaining my dreams both professionally and personally.
As a business coach, I work with emerging and evolving business owners to help them through this same process. Business ownership is highly isolating and it’s easy to live in “repeat-mode” rather than “evolution-mode” and perfection-paralysis is one of the main hurdles I address with owners.
Launching Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping
Olivia: Early spring seems like the perfect time to launch a book about creating beautiful outdoor living spaces. Is the launch date of Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping significant?
Monique: Yes, spring was key. I wanted to make sure that the book hit when people were starting to feel the first pangs of desire to be outside. This would allow me to speak about the Life-Scape Method for many months and have it stay relevant.
In truth, I feel that the very best time to start planning a landscape is in the mid to late summer season. Using the active and full landscape that you can see as a guide to help you Dare to Dream and Picture your Plan. Then, in the fall season you can start to assemble a team and work your budget. Then you schedule what you can in the fall or start your project in the spring.
March 23rd is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 76 this year. She passed away 20 days before her 74th I wished so much that she could have held and read my book. So much of her love and support is bound up in the pages of this book. So, I wanted to honor her with the release on her birthday.
Lisa: How has the Corona-virus affected your launch and what have you changed in your plan?
Monique: I had to cancel four live events. We did the launch over Facebook live and that was scary – but fun too. It was so early in the “stay in place” order that we definitely scrambled to pull it together. Had we had more time, we would have been able to be more strategic about how to publicize the launch. And, in just three weeks, people have become far more “remote access” savvy. In hindsight, I should have canceled the event and rescheduled with a proper publicity campaign for online, but I was so determined to launch the book on my mom’s birthday that I didn’t even consider it.
About the Author
MONIQUE ALLEN, Founder & Creative Director of The Garden Continuum, is a master creator, interactive employer, and fierce industry advocate.
As a lifelong gardener, business developer, and educator Monique has dedicated her career to sharing actionable information to spread a positive message about how we can all improve our land, our lives, and our professional satisfaction through Life-Scaping and compassionate business building.
Thank you for sharing.
I noticed when I begin to life scape plants would stay alive in my care. My daughter would always say to me as a child, “Mom plants don’t stay alive around you. You forget to water them”. She was really great with taking care of our plants.
Now when she visits from college, I have living plants all around our house. She pats me on the back and congratulates me for taking good care of my plants!
It was when I began to honor stillness and healthy boundaries that the plants came to life. ???
I created space to life scape <3
That is so inspiring, Unee.