Allison, tell us about yourself.
I'm on a mission to help people live better lives outside. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Yardzen which is the leading design and build platform that pairs homeowners with talented designers to create fully custom landscape designs online. To create designs, we factor all of the complex characteristics of any yard, like local climate and soil, horticultural zones, sun and shade patterns, budget, and architectural style, all without ever stepping foot on the property — then we match clients with a vetted local contractor who can bring their dream outdoor space to life! Being a mom of two young kids, I'm passionate about living life outside and the intersection of design and technology.
What inspired you to start Yardzen?
Yardzen was born out of a personal experience and need for my family. When the Tubbs Fire raced through Northern California’s Napa Valley in 2017, it wreaked havoc on the local community, destroying many homes and businesses in its path. Our hundred-year-old farmhouse in Calistoga was miraculously spared, but the outbuildings and surrounding landscape were left completely scorched. As a family that spends so much time outside, we knew that restoring our outdoor spaces would be our top priority in rebuilding.
New to the landscaping process, my husband and I started to explore design bids for the space. We were shocked to learn the designs alone would cost over $10,000. The steep design costs, combined with the complicated, time-consuming process of vetting and hiring a local contractor to take on the work, left us feeling like there must be a better way. My husband and I are both tech entrepreneurs, so our wheels started turning. We were confident we could improve the entire landscape design and build process for homeowners, landscape designers and contractors, alike.
We started with design. We threw up an experimental post on Nextdoor sharing that we were offering landscape design, online, in our neighborhood and within 24 hours, we were already fulfilling orders with a new team of remote designers. Fast forward to today and we now have over 250 designers on the Yardzen platform and we’ve designed and helped build beautiful, functional yards in all 50 states.
How did you get into plants?
I was born in Alaska and grew up in California – two states with ample accessible outdoor space – so I’ve always had a strong connection to nature. Being outdoors grounds me and puts me at ease – it’s the number one way that I destress and how I clear my head. As a first-time CEO at a young startup, I often find myself needing to work out a challenge or scope an idea, and my go-to way of doing so is to get out on the trails near my house for a run. On these runs, I’ve always enjoyed taking in all the natural botanical wonders of California (they’re truly endless).
And while there’s this grandeur of the natural world in community open spaces and in state/national parks, there’s also something incredibly grounding and fulfilling about being in the green space of your own backyard or filling up your home with plants that bring nature inside. Our homes are our sanctuaries and there’s endless potential when it comes to using plants in interiors and landscaping.
I started Yardzen during the pandemic with my husband (not to mention, fundraising at home on Zoom, while also trying to manage our kids' “school-from-home" situation), so I’m no stranger to the idea that sometimes it’s hard to get away from our desks. For me, bringing plants into our homes and yards creates that same sense of calm and rejuvenation that you get in nature. Not only are they good for your mental and physical health (hello, better air), but you also develop a sense of accomplishment when caring for and growing plants in your own home.
Why are personal outdoor spaces so important? (eg. to overall physical, mental health, etc)
Study upon study links exposure to nature to wellness – better mental health and even productivity. But we all know that getting outside on a trail, going to the beach, or even a walk around your neighborhood is not always possible, especially during the busy work week. If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space at home, even a small balcony or rooftop, it can be the easiest, most accessible way to get that exposure to nature.
Like the indoor plant craze that only got bigger and bigger during the pandemic, the past few years have made many people rethink their outdoor spaces – our yards have become extensions of our homes in wholly new ways. There’s now a lot more focus on creating outdoor space that’s both beautiful and functional. And, a space is only functional if it meets your lifestyle, comfort and aesthetic needs. If your needs are met, your outdoor space will get frequent use and encourage more time spent outside – allowing for much needed sunshine, exercise and relaxation, spending time with family and friends, etc.
What's your best advice for inside plant people to transition their indoor green thumb outside?
There’s a lot to remember about each indoor plant and their specific needs, so anyone with an indoor green thumb should be proud of that status! But then, you go outside, and all of the sudden, you’re contending with a whole new set of natural circumstances, often out of your control. On the flip side, there’s also a lot of forgiveness from outdoor plants – as long as you’re choosing the right plants and putting them in the right place, you may actually find that outdoor gardening can be low maintenance and low-stress too.
My best advice:
- With many indoor plants, you’re dealing with tropical varieties that only grow in a select few places in the natural world. I think the exciting part about getting into outdoor gardening is that you can learn about so many different plants, especially those that are native or climate-adapted to your own region. We often hear from Yardzen clients that they want full, lush gardens, but they also prefer plants that are low maintenance. The great thing about natives and climate-adapted plants is that they’ve evolved to thrive in the local climate and won’t require a ton of extra water or maintenance to look great. These plants are a good place for beginner gardeners because once they are established, they require very little in the way of upkeep.
- Start at a manageable scale based on your available outdoor space and your time. You don’t want to plant a giant garden bed only to have it overrun by weeds or wilting a few weeks later. Go slow and learn as you go. I also know our horticulture team at Yardzen would recommend starting with container plants for those who want to dip their toes into outdoor gardening – a fairly easy transition from indoor plant care.
- Two other ideas that I love for beginner gardeners are edible gardens (in containers or raised garden beds) and cut-flower gardens in a dedicated space like a raised bed. Growing full-scale, lush garden beds can take a few years’ time. With growing your own veggies or flowers like lavender, yarrow, and zinnias, which can be turned into beautiful bouquets, you’re met with a more immediate reward, which is such a confidence boost when you’re first starting.
Any indoor plants that you love to use/transition to outdoors for containers, patio styling, etc?
Our indoor plants can definitely get used to the specific conditions they’ve adapted to inside, so I will caveat that not all plants will thrive outdoors. You definitely want to consider factors like sunlight exposure, temperature fluctuations (especially from day to night), watering requirements, and even wind conditions when deciding whether to transition indoor plants outside. As much as you may want to green up your outdoor space with your indoor collection as soon as patio season hits, gradual acclimation to outdoor conditions is crucial to prevent shock and allow the plants to adjust successfully. That outdoor sun (even in the shade) is much brighter than even the brightest light you will get indoors. (I love The Sill’s extra tips here to make sure you do it the right way!)