The Best In Outdoor Living
Redoing the patio? Adding a pool? Want to scotch the lawn for native plants? Here's our roundup of top-notch professionals who can help with this and more.
David Johnson, The Outsider Landscape Design
Photography by Dilip Vishwanat
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PERHAPS BECAUSE WE CAN'T AFFORD TO GO ELSEWHERE, or maybe because we don’t want to go elsewhere, our private outdoor spaces are more cherished—and more used—than ever. It’s crucial, therefore, that the professionals charged with building, renovating, and styling them are nothing less than top-shelf. We need them to be reputable, responsible, on time, and on budget. Good taste helps, too.
Here we share our list of St. Louis–area companies that we consider to be all of the above.
Baker Pool & Spa
Forty-two-year-old Baker Pool & Spa is one of the more senior pool companies in the city, and it is also one of the only ones to combine construction, installation, service, and retail. Still, it’s integrity and quality it talks up the most. “As far as the swimming-pool industry goes, our advantage is that we design intelligently,” says Ray Holt, the man in charge of Baker’s construction arm. “Sometimes a customer chooses really expensive bells and whistles that they may not realize are going to add several thousand dollars to the price. We walk them through all the implications of each decision they make.”
On John and Amy Ryan’s original pool wish list was a diving board, saltwater, and expansive concrete decking, all of which Baker explained might not be worth the money. “They were very honest, very upfront,” says Mrs. Ryan. “We followed their advice, and in the end were so glad we did.”
Liquid Assets Pools
Prior to opening Liquid Assets Pools six years ago, John Jacobsen worked for several other pool companies in the area. He took away many lessons from those tours of duty.
“So many times, you have foremen not showing up, no one telling the customer about it, and the customer ends up getting upset,” he says.
Determined not to let his business become a cliché, Mr. Jacobsen checks in daily with his clients, usually via text message or email. And whereas most pool builders offer a choice of pool type (concrete, fiberglass, liner), Liquid Assets sticks with concrete. “That’s because there are only so many designs to choose from with liners and fiberglass,” he says “With concrete, you get a completely custom design every time.”
Garden Heights Nursery
1605 S. Big Bend
At first glance, Garden Heights Nursery looks like just-a-pretty-face garden shop. Look past the bright interior and becoming displays, however, and you’ll discover a real-deal, full-service garden center. Its catalog of vegetation includes the usual suspects, plus bonus doses of shade plants, small-scale ornamentals and shrubs, citrus trees, and organic edibles. The accessory and tool selection is equally deep. Keep an eye out this spring for two pretty but hardworking new additions to Garden Heights: a conservatory and a kitchen garden.
Poynter Landscape Architecture & Construction
1518 Jedberg Ln.
Most businesses that boast this many services, staff members, college degrees, and certifications are commercial firms, not residential. Poynter Landscape Architecture & Construction chose to focus on homes when it opened in the early 1990s, and since then it has become virtually the gold standard in that market. “Our staff,” says Poynter’s marketing director, Mandy Purviance, “is made up of landscape architects, horticultur-ists, floriculturists, engineers. Our ironworkers are artisans.”
Poynter’s services run the gamut from landscaping and hardscaping to erosion control, decking, and pest prevention. What makes the company special is the fact that it handles all of these services in one business.
Moynihan & Associates
Aside from his exceptional talent and somewhat famous reputation, designer Matt Moynihan is also extremely easy to work with. “We don’t have a ‘look’ that we push,” he says. “If you look at our portfolio, you’ll find contemporary gardens, wild meadows, a whole variety.”
Mr. Moynihan is known for certain things—pushing the design envelope, for instance, and more recently, gardening responsibly and sustainably—but in the end it’s what you want that he delivers. It’s a refreshing surprise in a business where talent, success, and high demand can sometimes equal snooty, dismissive attitudes.
Engele Landscape Construction
Customers’ calls go straight to Tyler Engele’s cell phone. And it’s his face they’ll see on the job site each day. If homeowners have a problem with the work being done on their property, “The problem is mine,” Mr. Engele says. It’s that kind of diligence that gets some St. Louisans to sign up Engele (based 50 miles away) for its landscaping, hardscaping, irrigation, and lighting. “We don’t have multiple crews,” Mr. Engele says. “My brother works for me—we both have degrees in plant and soil science. My dad does my ironwork.”
Sugar Creek Gardens
1011 N. Woodlawn
Sugar Creek Gardens’ selection of more than 2,000 perennials is maybe the best around, and the company’s “We Plan, You Plant” program invites gardeners to bring in their ideas, photographs, and magazine clippings for a free consultation. “The perennials we sell, you’re not going to find at The Home Depot or any other nursery in the state,” says manager Kim Reiss.
Longtime customer Mary Ellen Hetenyi shops Sugar Creek for both her contract-garden business and her own home garden. “I think their selection of shade plants is the best I’ve ever seen,” she says.
The Outsider Landscape Design
David Johnson finds himself undoing ponds and other water-garden features nearly as often as he builds them from scratch. The reason, says the man behind The Outsider Landscape Design, is that
other companies don’t always listen to their customers. “I had a homeowner in Lafayette Square who wanted a formal, Victorian-style garden,” Mr. Johnson says. “They took me to their backyard to show me another company’s attempt. What I saw didn’t match what was coming out of their mouths.”
Mr. Johnson took over the reins and delivered a scene so on-point, the homeowner has asked him back multiple times to expand and freshen up the garden.
The Pond Guys
They call themselves “The Pond Guys” because that’s their specialty. Owner Art Ruebel has been designing and installing ponds for 22 years, long enough to know exactly what each project will entail, how much it will cost, and how long it will take. Kathy Deckelbaum saw The Pond Guys’ work all around her Austin Ridge neighborhood, but was surprised by how unique it was able to make her pondscape, as well as by its straight-talking professionalism. “They’ve been here twice for projects,” Mrs. Deckelbaum says. “Both times they gave me an estimate, and both times the estimate is exactly what I paid. They back up their warranty, too.”
West Winds Earthscaping
It was about 17 years ago that Todd Rundquist realized Mother Nature wasn’t the only one who could make waterfalls. Since then, he’s been at the helm of his successful Wildwood water-gardening business, West Winds Earthscaping.
“I’m the boss who is always working,” Mr. Rundquist says. “First with the pencil to design it, then with the sales hat to market and sell it, then with the shovel and tractor in the field.”
Mr. Rundquist also strives to be eco-friendly. He devised a natural biological filtration system that keeps his ponds crystal-clear without any chemicals, maintenance, or danger to wildlife. And he tucks native, wildlife-attracting plantings around his waterfalls and ponds.
The result is happiness not only for the homeowners, but also for the creatures that walk their properties. “I learned a long time ago that a good name is to be treasured more than gold or silver,” Mr. Rundquist says.