Think landscape design is only about plants? Look around. An aesthetically pleasing outdoor space isn’t complete without the deliberate inclusion of non-organic materials. Margaret Joplin, founder and owner of Design Collaborations, strongly believes in incorporating a variety of elements and textures in her work, including artistic accessories.
“Hardscaping is a huge component of what we do; it’s one of our strongest components for clients – seat walls, free-standing walls, patio areas,” Joplin said.
But where she stands out from many other landscape architects is her use of metals and glass in her projects.
She recently redesigned an existing 400-square-foot brick patio using the client’s brick in a new pattern and integrating 119 glass tiles in three colors and adding flagstone.
Metal, especially rusted steel, is becoming a signature for Joplin. Her interest began when she saw rebar handrails at the Temple of Music and Art at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. She began scouring scrap yards, seeking interesting shapes left behind by steel laser cutters. At Antech Corporation she found steel mailbox flag cut-outs. “It got me looking at steel in a different way,” she said. CAID Industries became another supplier for Joplin, who doesn’t always have a project in mind, but said she recognizes pieces she can use later.
Trellises, some with moveable plant shelves; weaved fences; water fountain vessels; and patio roof structures have all been fabricated from Joplin’s scrap yard finds.
In 2005 she submitted an ambitious design for the World Trade Center memorial. “I was one of 5,000 people,” she proclaimed. “I didn’t make it.” But the work gave her ideas for future public art projects, including last year’s bid for the City of Casa Grande, which she won. “It was to honor fallen employees of the city.” The design resembled a modified, scaled-down version of her World Trade Center entry, which included 8-foot-diameter glass columns with spinning rings. “It was over the top,” Joplin said.
The Casa Grande structure is a 7-foot-high, 18-inch-diameter column with five rings of cast glass, each with a name plaque for those memorialized. “It took four years to get it figured out,” she said. “With public art, they haven’t done it before so you can’t look up the specs. It’s been an evolution of ideas.”
These forays into public art led Joplin to her latest venture, producing glass beads and integrating them into her designs. The company makes the molds and kilns the glass beads in a variety of sizes from less than 2 inches up to 12 inches in diameter, the latter of which weighs 18 pounds. “We have a range of glass colors from transparent to opaque. They’re very hand-crafted looking.” Her most common application is stacking them on top of pipes strung with Light Emitting Diodes (LED) for use in outdoor illumination. She’s also producing back-lit glass house numbers and has used the beads as finials on fence posts.
The designer’s husband, Michael Joplin, partners with her in the glass production process. It only seemed natural, considering he’s a glass artist. But, she claimed, in the 20 years she’s owned her business, the Casa Grande project was the first time they worked side-by-side. “We’d always kept our business separate before. Working with him is a unifying interest and we bring different skills together.”
Joplin’s innovativeness has landed her several appearances in high-profile publications, including Sunset, Phoenix Home & Garden, Tucson Home, LUXE and Garden Design. Forming relationships with the media gives her invaluable expo-sure. “Sunset will run one photograph and for over five years I still get calls on it. I can’t pay for the volume these magazines get.”
The yard behind Joplin’s office and retail shop has become a showcase where she displays her creations and offers planting suggestions to clients and shoppers. She believes that everyone’s concept of beauty is different, and when selecting plants, she uses what she feels is best for the space and her customer’s needs. “I lean toward the right plant in the right location.”
She recognizes, too, that individual tastes have a large role in the selection of artistic elements for a project. “Some people are modern, others are into whimsy. Everyone has unique criteria of what makes it right for them.”
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Christy Krueger is a Tucson-based freelance writer.