PHYLLIS ODESSEY began her career in the fine arts at The New York Studio School. She received a BA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and subsequently attended Parsons School of Design. She began her career at Time Warner as a Junior Art Director and rose to the position of Creative Director. Following a long career in graphic design, Phyllis studied garden and landscape design at The New York Botanical Garden. She worked on The Battery Bosque: the garden designed by Piet Oudolf in Battery Park. Phyllis was the Director of Horticulture for Randall’s Island Park Alliance until 2020. Winner of The Perennial Plant Association’s highest honor for landscape design, Phyllis says her education as a gardener began “by picking the bloated buds off my mother’s peony bushes.”
She currently lives in Vermont where she designs private gardens and works on her photography projects. Phyllis is currently President of the Board of Directors of Vermont Center for Photography.
More interested in structure, then individual plants, she approaches every landscape with a painter’s eye. The starting point of all her designs is the site specific landscape. For Phyllis every landscape has a particular emotion. She uses seasonal change (winter decay and summer decadence); light and shadow; changes in topography as tools to create emotional resonance. Her designs reinterpret traditional garden motifs. This translation produces landscapes that are both contemporary and personal.
Working collaboratively with clients and artists, the first step is to discuss what makes a garden a garden. Inspired by art and architecture, Phyllis explores in depth with clients their aesthetic ideas. Many of her gardens include works of art, which actuate structure, mystery, and beauty. She believes all contemporary landscapes should be sustainable and respectful of the environment. Whether large or small, the gardens Phyllis designs reflect the owner’s individuality, “gardens are explorations of who we are: this is the journey I encourage clients to undertake.”
“I know that I cannot make anything new. To make a garden is to organize all the elements present and add fresh ones, but first of all, I must absorb as best I can all that I see, the sky and the skyline, the soil, the colour of the grass and the shape and nature of the trees. Each half-mile of countryside has its own nature and every few yards is a reinterpretation. Each stone where it lies says something of the earth’s underlying structure; and the plants growing there, whether native or exotic, will indicate the vegetable chemistry of that one place.”
~ Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener
A Second Chance
from In the Eye of the Garden by Mirabel Osler, 1993
“Gardening is unique in many ways. Not only for the personal aura which it manifests, but because it is an occupation to which there is no end. Gardeners are always on their way, but never arriving. Unlike the poet or the architect, we cannot walk away from our creations. What a writer writes remains on the page, the painter’s brushwork, the architect’s building, or the composer’s score, passes from one century to another. A garden is temporal.
Yet this is the magic of gardening; we become enthralled however unaware we are of what is stealthily happening while we are dividing irises. Gardening is unique, too, for giving us a second chance. That doesn’t often happen in life. You cannot have another go with a job you have bungled, with the crucial advice you failed to take, or with the high-rise flats you have built; or even with a child you despair of, a husband, or the bailiffs.
But gardens, however disastrous, are beneficent.
The return of the seasons allows us to try again. Again and again – there is no end. What failed last summer can be attempted in the next. Even as the flower dies it is preparing for revival in spring. The continual cycle of decay and regeneration gives us forever the opportunity to broadcast fresh seeds, for there is one intrinsic truth: a garden never repeats itself. Never again can you have this year what you achieved in the last.”