In the beginning, there was Foliage Design Systems, a little-known, niche business. It was the mid-80s, and a husband-and-wife team, Scott and Jody DeVecht, placed plants in decorative containers, delivered them to West Michigan offices, and stopped by a couple of times each week to water and maintain the plants. And the business was very, very good.
You may well remember this trend. I do.
But as a growth industry is wont to do, the little niche business took root, then branched out and began creating plantscapes on an increasingly grand scale, until 25 years and 10 employees later, Foliage Design Systems renamed itself Integrated Plantscapes
to more accurately reflect what the business does: “work collaboratively with architects, interior designers and owners” to create green environments and “ensure the building is properly equipped to meet our installation needs and to ensure healthy plants for years to come.”
Besides their work at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, the team’s green thumbs are responsible for the lovely green spaces inside Spectrum Heart Center, Spectrum Health’s Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, Bronson’s indoor atriums in Kalamazoo, Holland Hospital’s healing gardens, Herman Miller’s Greenhouse, and other places in West Michigan, as well as in Las Vegas and Florida.
To say the work is topnotch would be an understatement. Interiorscape Magazine (no longer publishing) bestowed 13 “Best Project” awards on the firm’s accomplishments. The firm also received an FNGA Award of Excellence for its work on the Frederik Meijer Botanical Gardens.
The design process goes like this. “We divide and conquer,” explains Jody. “Scott handles primarily the sales and I’m the general manager. We’ll work together on the design. I’ll get the blueprints from the architect, and Scott creates an end result.”
Scott and Jody then work together on fine-tuning the design, keeping in mind that for an indoor installation, the garden must be practical and sustainable. The logistics of window washing even comes into play.
“How are the window cleaners getting in, are they using machinery? Also, the client may want a 20-foot tree, but will that tree make it through the building, around the corners? Will it be too heavy for the floor? The root ball can weigh a ton. There is so much to consider,” says Jody.
The designs allow for growth, but cultivating a tree indoors takes more work than one might think. Tropical plants come from Florida, and you know what that means. Bright sun. A cloudy day in Florida is much, much brighter than a cloudy day in Michigan. So, when a Florida grower says that a tree loves low light, Jody knows the tree will be challenged in Michigan. But that is not to say it won’t thrive. It just grows, well, slower.
The DeVechts are also careful to keep plants with the same susceptibilities away from each other. If you’re too young to remember what Dutch elm disease did to the North American elm tree population in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s worth researching
, if only for your own edification. No one wants a repeat performance, not even on a small scale.
So, plantscapes involve more than just pretty design and pretty plants. The entire design must work for the space and the client. The DeVechts work closely with architects and engineers on these and other issues, such as drainage.
The rewards are immense, especially in stressful environments, such as hospitals and high-powered corporations. Hospital décor is typically sterile, and the environment can feel less than humane.
“If you’re working in a very intense environment, it’s nice to have greenery that connects us back to nature,” says Jody. “If we can create a place where people can go, a place of respite and beauty, somehow when we are in nature we feel more complete.
“There’s something about living, growing greenery that makes us feel grounded in a time and place where we’re not in control.”
Scott and Jody met at Western Michigan University, where Scott studied biology and chemistry, and Jody studied interior design. She graduated in 1981, he in 1983.
Now 56 and 53, respectively, Scott and Jody have two children, Ashley, 24, director of communications for a nonprofit in Chicago, and Shawney, 22, an interior designer in Toledo, Ohio.
Jody credits her own mother for nurturing her innate creativity.
“As a kid, I was very creative, loved the arts, was involved with theatre, anything creative,” she says. “My mother took me to Circle in the Park and dragged me to Chicago when the King Tut exhibit was there.”
Jody says that being exposed to all different forms of art as a young person opened the doors to endless possibilities.
As for Scott, the inner biologist was evident even as a small boy.
“I was always playing in the creeks, exploring,” he says. “My parents did a lot of camping, especially at Hoffmaster State Park. We found nature anywhere we looked.”
During high school, Scott worked as a veterinarian’s assistant, handling dogs, helping with surgeries, and “anything that needed to be done,” he says.
“I thought being a veterinarian was my direction after high school, but at the time it was super saturated with vets. So I went on to explore biology.” His back-up plan was veterinary pharmaceutical sales, but that didn’t pan out, either. His only career outside of college has been Integrated Plantscapes.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he says.
The down-to-earth DeVechts find time for projects that benefit humanity in other ways, too. In 2003 and 2004, the family trained a couple of dogs for Paws with a Cause
, which provides assistance dogs for people with disabilities.
And for the past 25 years, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the family has been actively involved in feeding homeless and needy families.
The girls may not be following in their parents’ footsteps, but Jody takes it in stride, saying, “You’ve got to love what you do, and do what gets you up in the morning. Our business does that for us.”
And Scott and Jody still get along famously, even after all these years.
“Working together is seamless for us,” says Jody. “It helped us transition to empty nesters. It wasn’t the kids that glued us together. We were already glued together with work.”
Victoria Mullen writes, acts, paints, does lawyerly stuff, and is the Vice President of Marketing and Advertising for MP Talent Management Group.
Jody and Scott DeVecht, owners of Integrated Landscapes, showcase the beauty of indoor plant-scapes.
Photography by ADAM BIRD