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Landscape architect Erik van Gelder comes from a family with green fingers and as a young boy he literally walked around with a wheelbarrow when he accompanied his father to garden projects. Now the landscape architect and his team create the most beautiful gardens at home and abroad. MASTERS EXPO asks: who was Erik's wheelbarrow? Text: Mical Joseph
Image: John van Helvert and Peter Baas

What was your very first job?

“My father was a gardener and this profession was taught to me at an early age. As a young boy I already went along to make gardens, I was allowed to hand over the stones, the drill and other supplies. At a certain point I was also allowed to develop the sketches that my father took with him to meetings with customers into plans and make colored drawings from them. I was about thirteen years old and that's when I started what I do now: designing gardens.”

How did you end up in your current job?

“After high school I went to horticulture training and did an internship at various landscaping companies and eventually with a landscape architect. Then I studied Garden and Landscape Architecture in Velp. After my studies, I immediately started my own business in 2004 and earned my living as a landscape architect.”

Who was your wheelbarrow in that?

“My parents gave me the opportunity to start my own business, which gave me a good start. I am very grateful to them for that. During my career I have known several wheelbarrows and inspirers.

Before I went to HBO, I did an internship with landscape architect Hans Weitjens. I have received enormous appreciation from Hans as a young architect. I needed this appreciation and security, because I sometimes wondered if I was good enough. He saw the talent in me and gave me confidence. A great source of inspiration that I always cherish.

In the winter period I flew to Australia where I met the inspiring Czech landscape architect Vladimir Sitta. I had read a lot about him and his projects and was sold. He took me along with him and I gained a lot of inspiration from his various projects.”

Which giant would you like to renovate his or her garden?

“I don't know what their gardens look like now, of course, but I would consider it a great honor if Philippe Starck or Piet Boon would ask me to renovate their gardens. Especially because they also have the design skills and have the perfect eye for it.”

What is your greatest passion?

“I do it for the customer's reaction. When I receive a phone call where the enthusiasm is still so enormous after months and years: I think that is fantastic.”

What has been the biggest learning moment in your career?

“In 2014 I was at a point where I wondered how I wanted to continue with the company. This turning point brought me into contact with an advisor who held up a mirror to me: 'where are you now, where do you want to go and how do you achieve that?'.

Answering these questions gave me much more freedom in my head and made me a lot more creative. After this moment I hired staff and stopped doing everything myself. Together with my team I started on the most beautiful projects.”

What have you learned during the corona period?

“Of course, no one knew and still doesn't know exactly how this crisis will develop, but I have learned not to be afraid of making the wrong decisions and to move forward steadily. We're getting through it just fine because so many people want to work on their gardens.

To be honest, I had some doubts about retaining my staff during the first four to five weeks in the spring, but I am happy that I made the choice to keep the entire team on board.”

What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?

“Based on your own strength, try not to be driven crazy by external factors, but do pay attention to others around you. This may sound contradictory, but I think it is very good to develop your own style and way of working and, on the other hand, to be open to possible collaborations. I used to be quite stubborn and thought I could do it all myself, but afterwards I really enjoy the collaborations.”

Have you been a wheelbarrow for someone?

“I try to be an ambassador for the field. For me it is important that the garden world has more exposure en credits to get. I notice that this is happening more and more, but the profession has been very undervalued for a long time. By publishing my book with 9 special garden projects and exhibiting at MASTERS EXPO, you introduce people to the possibilities in the garden field.”