Orange County’s ‘Garden Girl’ Molly Wood On How She Started and Where She’s Headed

Stepping into landscape designer Molly Wood’s Costa Mesa showroom and shop feels as though you’ve been transported to a whimsical country cottage with California sensibilities. You’ll find Wood and her team of 13 employees working on landscape projects up and down the state. This year, her business turns 20, and her eyes are still on the horizon. She opened a second store in Laguna Beach two years ago. At both stores, you can shop a carefully curated collection of home and garden decor and furnishings true to Wood’s modern organic style.

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

How did your career as a landscape designer begin?
You could say it all started when I was very young. I loved my dollhouse and making forts outside. It didn’t really become clear until after high school, when I traveled and worked in Europe. Traveling gave me an understanding that nature, and the environments it creates, can affect the way people feel and relate to each other. I came back from those travels ready to rock and roll.

What is your process when working with a new client?
I talk to the client, walk the site, and get a good feeling for both. I scribble up (my plan), my fabulous team of draftspeople plugs it into AutoCAD, and we play tennis—we go back and forth for quite a while. When we present a plan to a client, they get a book of all the plants, pottery, and fountains used so they can refer to it down the road. I love making a space personal for my clients and getting inside their brains. That’s what keeps each project exciting and inspiring for me.

Are there certain plants you use again and again?
Yes, and sometimes I do feel like a one-trick pony. I use a lot of pittosporum, salvias for their long bloom time (plus the birds and butterflies love them), and miscanthus. I always combine a mounding shrub, which makes a sphere shape, and a vertical shrub to give it height and filler. The filler is something that’s kind of sloppy.

What are your favorite projects to work on?
One with a great team. When the interior designer, homeowner, architect, builder, and I are all working together, it’s really rewarding. There aren’t as many jams, and the process becomes a beautiful little ballet.

What advice would you give to homeowners looking to improve their yards?
If anything doesn’t look good in your yard, cut it all back. I’d rather look at nothing than something that looks bad. That new empty spot is potential! After that, add mulch. Mulch is like lip gloss for a yard—it adds instant shimmer. Plus, you can buy it and spread it out yourself.

What can shoppers find at your stores?
A lot of things at my shops are found objects and one-of-a-kind pieces. In the spring, I go picking at the longest-running antique show at Roundtop in Texas. I take my bike to the fields, ride around, and buy stuff. I love the stores and am so grateful everything I do has combined all my passions. I also love helping people get ready for the holidays. From October until December, we offer several workshops. They’re all about transitioning from harvest to holidays.

What’s next?
Oh, someday in the future I’d love to have an event space somewhere. It would be a party barn of sorts where we could host weddings and showers. I told my husband, Mark, “We have to find a party barn.”

Which landscape design books are your favorites?
Anything by John Brookes. He’s a great author—very practical and diverse work. His books tell you how to get the pretty gardens, and the imagery is amazing.

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