September 15, 2008
By Allan Dennis

Connie Cadotte has some definite ideas on what makes a great garden design. Along with passion for the work, creativity and a lot of help along the way, Connie believes a good designer must be able to think in three dimensions.

The award-winning designer began her business, Garden Retreats, 11 years ago. Growing up on a farm near Chatham, Connie was always a tomboy and loved working in the fields. But that love of working with the earth didn’t lead her immediately into the landscape business. Instead, she became a successful pharmaceutical rep.

She changed fields for a career in landscape design, which quickly snowballed. After going to school at Ryerson, Connie met Ron Swentiski, who became her mentor, and convinced her to work towards the Certified Landscape Designer (CLD) designation. She also joined the LO Designers Commodity group, meeting “so many great people who helped me along the way.”

She emphasized that she learned so much about the industry by becoming involved with both the commodity group and her chapter. “I didn’t realize all the benefits of networking with people in the design industry,” says Connie. She notes that many of the people who she connected with still get together for dinners and exchange ideas, along with fellowship.
“I highly encourage people to pursue CLD designation, not just for education, but also for personal fulfillment. The confidence that one receives by achieving your CLD cannot be measured,” says Connie.

Canada Blooms garden

Connie fondly remembers her time creating and building a garden at Canada Blooms as a major confidence-builder. “It was an amazing challenge to take on, but when the garden was complete, what a great sense of accomplishment I had. At the same time, it resulted in amazing feedback for my business.”

While her memories are pleasant, building the garden was a challenge. A terrible snow storm hit just before the show. “There we were, hand-bombing 13 tons of river pebbles, that were covered in three feet of snow.”

Each job challenges creativity

After 11 years in business, Connie says she is still excited about her vocation. She notes that she is working on some great large projects this summer, in both commercial and residential situations. “Each job is different and brings about new tests for your ability,” says Connie. “It’s a challenge to stay creative. We are continually stretching the envelope.” She explains that her job on one hand is an art form, while the other side requires skills as a project manager.

Connie notes that clients now want the unusual and unique, but sometimes don’t understand the fees required to create a design. A few question paying for design work. “People don’t realize the amount of effort that is required to create a proper design,” says Connie. She says the best advice she received was from George Urvari of Oriole Landscaping, current president of LO’s Toronto Chapter, who told her never to depreciate the cost of design and never hide the cost. “I have found that the public is becoming better at understanding the value of good design,” says Connie.

Garden Retreats is a family business. Connie’s husband, Murray Fearn, is an architect, who has a great understanding of the maze that people may find dealing with city building permits. “The whole process can be very daunting,” says Connie.

Connie’s son Jules is living in London, England, where he is a graduate of the London School of Fine Arts and Design. He has created some of the statuary that Connie will include in client’s properties. She laughs, “It’s a long way from when he used to do the grunt work for me.”

This high energy woman, who once ran triathlons and marathons, says she has no trouble staying motivated. “I love the technical challenges. I don’t think that will ever go away.”
Along with her busy schedule, Connie donates two free designs each year to charitable groups. This year she has worked with a church group and the Fred Victor Centre, which is a shelter for abused women. “It’s very satisfying to help groups who don’t have a great amount of money,” says Connie.

Connie did not do much relaxing at Canada Blooms.
Connie Cadotte has strong ideas on garden design.