Growing Up Green
When you contact The Plant Professionals for exterior landscaping services, you will almost certainly meet with Alexa LeBaron. Alexa brings great depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for plants, and yet she is always willing to hear the ideas of others, and will patiently explain the “why” of what she recommends.
Clients tell me they enjoy Alexa because she doesn’t judge, she understands the need for a budget, and is willing to design major changes in stages when needed, to make the budget work. Alexa has a reputation for being positive and encouraging.
The joke in her family is that chlorophyll runs in their veins. Great grandfather Joseph Castiglione, born in Sicily, Italy, had dreams of becoming a farmer. While in his 20s Joseph immigrated to Detroit, Michigan where he worked for Ford Motor Company, while making his dream a reality. Alexa’s dad grew up next door working on the farm and passed on his love for playing in the dirt.
From a very young age, she joined her dad in the garden. She was still a small fry when mom worked up a small garden to call her own. She got to pick the flowering plants, and then plant, water, and weed that little bed on her own.
In her junior and senior year of high school, half of the school day happened at Oakland Technical Center, earning a two-year certificate in landscape and greenhouse management. There was only one other female in the class. Alexa loved the program and decided she wanted a career in Horticulture.
Upon graduating from high school, she worked at Bogie Lake Greenhouse for the summer, watering stock, transplanting seedlings, and helping customers.
When school was out for the summer the next year, she found a job watering nursery stock at Milford Gardens. Alexa continued to work there while attending community college and, on the weekends, and summers while attending MSU. Over the years of working there, Alexa became their landscape designer and the manager of the nursery.
After taking basics at Oakland Community College, she started in the Landscape Architecture program at MSU, but came to realize that what she loved most was designing with plants, not designing parking lots, sidewalks and rows of trees. She didn’t really care about paving patterns, or what the building looked like. She wanted to know how and where the landscape plants grew well. So, after one year studying Landscape Architecture, she changed her major to Horticulture with a focus on design/build.
Alexa graduated from MSU in 2000 and married. After the wedding, they settled in Lansing. It was now May, and all the landscape or nursery companies had hired their designers for the season. When she spoke to her Mother-in-law about the difficulty finding a job, she told her about The Plant Professionals. She had enjoyed working here and thought it might be a fit. Alexa was soon hired and trained to be an interior plantscape technician, quickly being elevated to department supervisor
After two years working here, Alexa and Andrew welcomed a daughter. Years later, we can still see the marks left on the walls in the group office where baby gates kept her contained away from the stairs. Two years later, another daughter brought the decision to stay home with the growing babies for awhile.
The LeBarons’ third child arrived during that time, and once he was old enough to attend pre-school, it was time to get back out into the world of horticulture again. During those years away, Al Marrero had joined the company. He and Kathy were developing an exterior division! Alexa was able to return to her horticultural roots as a landscape designer here at The Plant Professionals.
This October will be Alexa’s 13th year working with this team. She loves meeting with clients, building relationships with our clients and crew, and watching the landscapes grow and progress. When meeting with clients, she listens to what they are looking for and paints a picture of what that looks like in her mind. Only then does she sit down at the desk and translate that picture to graph paper or computer-generated design program.
Alexa designs gardens in several styles, including cottage, traditional, modern, mid-century modern, Japanese, formal, dry or rock garden, and prairie. Alexa incorporates pollinator friendly plants almost reflexively (as she is a bee-keeper) and will also focus on native and near-native plants as part of that process. Alexa enjoys researching and trying new approaches while staying mindful of her clients goals.
Outside of work, Alexa loves to paint on canvas, tile coasters and trivets, and now furniture. Painting is a way to relax and unwind at the end of the day.
Alexa helps with her kids’ church youth group, and the theater department at the schools. It is very rewarding to teach a young teen how to use power tools. She says she will never forget helping a young lady use an impact driver for the first time. She thanked her afterwards and shared how she felt so empowered. Volunteering on the theatre set building and painting crews have been such a great way to bond with the kids and other parents.
Alexa might confess that after spending the days working on other landscapes, and running three kids to all their activities, there is little time for her own gardens. Her motto is: “If I have to do anything beyond watering the first year, it doesn’t belong in my garden.” As a result, she has great knowledge about low-maintenance landscaping that has lively design elements and a flair for fun. Plants that require little maintenance are often the first request when meeting with a new client.
Growing Up Green