After decades working in the restaurant business, Hankinson became a full-time landscape artist specializing in sustainable design and native plants in 2005.
Where do you live and how old are you? I live in Richmond, California and I’m 61.
How did you get into landscape design? I was teaching art at a junior college in Leeds (England), and I needed to get away. So I moved to Berkeley. But I didn’t want to do art. So I thought I’d try design. I got my Master’s in Landscape Architecture from Berkeley in 1984. I remember the first day I went out on a plant course and my professor gave me the names of about 50 trees. All of a sudden, there was a whole other world that I had never seen before and could relate to.
Do you really need a master’s degree to be a landscape artist? No you can just get a bachelor’s of art. But with a master’s you don’t just get design. You don’t just get horticulture. You get the whole picture, how people relate to their space.
How did you get your first paying client? I was the downstairs manager at a restaurant in Berkeley (Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse). A coworker bought a house, and he wanted me to landscape his garden. He had seen my garden.
Do you have employees? No, I don’t really want employees. I don’t want to tell people what to do.
Can you support yourself? Yes, definitely. Some months it is better than others. I don’t have a lot of overhead.
What’s the best part of your job? The best part is turning people on. Helping them emotionally connect to their space is my greatest pleasure. They hire you to help them and make a lovely garden, but I encourage them to get involved. If they are not involved, it is just going to die. It doesn’t happen that often, but that’s what I get off on.
What’s the worst part of your job? I don’t like to do a lot of hardscape, like driveways. I don’t want to build giant rectangular retaining walls to hold up soil. I don’t want to manipulate the land.
Would you recommend this line of work to anyone else? Yes, it’s very satisfying because you are talking about something that potentially makes people happy. It’s not like they are calling you up to fix the washing machine. I think my success has been very slow. I wasn’t ambitious that way. I think people have to find something that really makes them evolved in their life. You kind of have to find what it is that makes you happy.