Proudest moment in the landscape design business: Landscape design project for a business client who trusted me to work on his new family lake home property that had to capture all of its stormwater runoff. This was not an easy site with more than 25 feet of elevation change from the back to the front. I used lannon outcropping stone for the retaining walls, installed a stormwater chamber beneath the driveway that captured stormwater runoff from roof downspouts, paved surfaces and a drainage swale from an adjoining property. I then made the captured water available as a reservoir for a pondless water feature with overflow discharged into a rain garden featuring beautiful native wildflowers.

There were also creative opportunities in designing the hardscapes, as the home was much more than a “box of boxes.” With multiple elevations and terraces with connecting walkways and steps, the hardscape was designed as a connection from the indoor spaces and the gardens to be designed. Again, natural stone was selected for both color and texture, and accent bands within the patterned stone reinforced the design intent.

The outcropping retaining walls and the severe grade changes over the site present wonderful opportunities for creating outdoor rooms and separate gardens — from bright sun wildflower plantings to secluded shade gardens, each with a different mood and function.


Biggest business challenge: We do our best to meet our customer’s scheduling needs, but no one told the weather about our schedule! And, we do our best to hire and retain the best. Building a competent and stable workforce can be a challenge in a competitive employment market, especially in the seasonal north tier of states.

Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: I always look to our natural environment to craft a design solution. Then I defer to the architecture of the residence or buildings on the site.

I like to study the form and texture in Frank Lloyd Wright architecture — organic design — the design formed to serve its particular purpose. The site and the design come together — either in the similarity of prairie architecture and a prairie landscape, or the contrast of Fallingwater and a forest glen.

I see so much inspiration in the works of notable landscape architects, from Jens Jensen and F.L. Olmsted, to Oehme van Sweden and my mentor at the UWMadison, Darrel Morrison, FASLA.

Favorite plant or plant combination: I don’t have one plant I include in every design, but I do have guiding design rules for myself — seasonal interest, colors harmonize and the design flows and doesn’t remain static season-to-season.

I like grasses for the fine textures, often using prairie dropseed, little bluestem and the sedges as a colorful border or ground cover. Wildflowers, such as purple coneflower, monarda and rudbeckia, create bold contrasts of color and texture on the ground plane. I will use the viburnums and aronias for the beautiful and fragrant flowers, followed by a heavy and colorful fruit set. Our native understory trees, such as redbud, American hornbeam, serviceberries and the hawthorns, give me not only flowers and berries, but the architecture of the branching structure becomes a design statement. In the upper Midwest, we have our native oaks and maples, along with the pines and spruces for the canopy.

Monday morning motivation: Get creative! I have never “gone to work” — I do what I am passionate about doing. I will say I don’t have “clients,” rather the people I work for become friends and call on me for years to come.

Jay Gehler looks to the natural environment and then the home or building architecture for landscape design inspiration.

Business worry that keeps me up at night: When I was the owner of a design/ build contracting company, it was cash flow. In all the years of running a business, I always made payroll. Once I got more business savvy, I learned that when I managed the projects, I had more control over when and how I got paid.

Landscape design mentor: I grew up in a small Wisconsin town that had a large retail nursery. As a teenager I did small planting jobs for them and soon learned many of the landscape plants we still use today. With the encouragement of Ken Altorfer at McKay Nursery, I enrolled in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and did an internship with their staff designers. That experience was where I was first able to apply the design concepts I learned in school to real sites.

Favorite business or landscape design/build book: I am often called upon as a public speaker, and I end most of my presentations with: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold got it right in “Sand County Almanac,” and his writings are still relevant today. We still need to remind ourselves of this today.

Landscape design project that makes me smile every time I drive past it: Early in my career I worked with a school district to transition a large tract of land from farming to an arboretum/outdoor learning area. In my coursework at UW, I was fortunate to study under Darrel Morrison, FASLA, who cultivated an appreciation for the native landscape in our design process. But for the first time I was designing not only for aesthetics and form, but also programming educational opportunities into design. Several years ago, I was contacted by a grad student at UW who was working on her thesis, and the school site that I had designed was included in her research. Over several years, my plans had been executed and the school district had for many years included the arboretum in the school’s curriculum. Wow!

Where do you see yourself in five years? I want to continue serving our profession of landscape architecture both on the chapter level and committee involvement with ASLA. I want to continue to reach out to the public, governmental policy makers and design and business partners about landscape architecture and how we can shape the natural, built and cultural environment. The more we “step up” and earn our place at the table, the more we can be better stewards of our environment.

Year company founded: 1994

Client mix: Primarily residential

Service mix: Landscape architecture, installation, maintenance, tree and shrub nutrition, arborculture, lighting, irrigation and snow removal services

Business motto: “Details matter.”

Connect with Jay Gehler and Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services Ltd.:




Twitter: @BretAchtenhagen

YouTube: BretAchtenhagen

Houzz: pro/jerome78/bret-achtenhagens-seasonal-services