Seattle-based Kimberly Leeper and Aaron Armstrong were each doing their own natural-landscaping thing when they met and decided to merge their solo endeavors into a partnership. Today, about a year and a half into planting the seed of Oasis Edible Naturescapes, they are busy making gardens beautiful while learning on the go about what it takes to run and grow a company.
We spoke with Kimberly about why eating your garden is good for the environment and how seasonal work like theirs requires a special balancing act.
Kimberly, what did you and Aaron do before you were entrepreneurs?
Shortly after moving to Seattle in 1995, I became an environmental educator with Seattle Parks and other local organizations while also working as a public school teacher. I always loved native plants and wildlife habitats, and my role as a naturalist educator led me to become a Native Plant Steward through the Washington Native Plant Society in 2005. After further study at South Seattle College, I started my own business selling native plants out of my home and specializing in native plant landscapes.
My business partner Aaron is a former Japanese and Chinese tea importer and purveyor. He is known for designing English and Asian tea gardens, and he created an urban farm and community education center in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. We connected and hit it off immediately.
What’s the mission behind Oasis Edible Naturescapes?
At Oasis Edible Naturescapes (OEN) we create beautiful gardens for Seattle homeowners using ecologically-sound permaculture ethics and principles that work in harmony with nature. The result is an edible landscape that addresses the environment’s needs. We love sharing our knowledge and skills through consulting, coaching and leading classes, too.
Everything we do in our work comes back to a vision of community building, food justice, resource conservation and leadership in the community. Many of the landscapes we watch over are on the "wilder" side -- they are largely untouched by human hands and serve as a habitat for some native creatures.
A lush and fun backyard design full of perennial edible plants mixed with native and non-native pollinator plantsWhy exactly is planting edible landscapes good for the environment?
Eating more local food cuts down on using fossil fuels for shipping food from far away places. Many people want to eat food that is grown organically, and these organic practices also happen to be great for the environment. By skipping pesticides, mulching the soil and planting a diverse array of plants -- never any monocultures -- we can attract a variety of beneficial insects and birds which we want in our gardens to reduce pests naturally. Growing your own food is an excellent way for people to have time to connect with nature. As our knowledge of nature and gardening grows, often our appreciation, understanding and stewardship of it grows as well.
How did you get your business up and running?
We are still in the “up and running” process a year and nine months into launching! After we realized we shared a common passion, Aaron and I decided to join forces, co-founding Oasis Edible Naturescapes in August of 2016.
We each dissolved our former landscaping businesses, so we had some assets (office supplies, tools, a truck each) when we started OEN. We each put in a little of our own money to get the checking and savings accounts funded. We also had a client list. From the start, we’ve been working with a local, non-profit entrepreneurial incubator called Ventures where we took business development classes, and we continue to meet with business coaches there to this day!
How do you and Aaron balance your roles at work?
We both play many roles at Oasis Edible Naturescapes (OEN). I take the lead on customer communications, scheduling our projects, project management, marketing, sales and estimates/work agreements. Aaron is an expert in landscape design, soil systems, soil regeneration, and, in particular, the raised-bed growing method known as hugelkultur. I also garden two days a week with our employees to train them and to better learn about our customers and their land.
A front yard edible and pollinator garden featuring two apple trees and an olive tree
What do you love about your job?
I love that we’re always learning and growing -- both in terms of plants and as people. plants, I love meeting lots of cool sustainability-minded people in the industry. Mostly I love planting lots of plants, which is my number one favorite thing in the world! I also love meeting inspired gardeners who appreciate how we work with nature and who want to learn more and work together. I love my consultations, coaching, education and design roles. Also, I love having a strong team of fun, inspiring gardeners. Currently, our team of four is rockin' it!
What do you struggle with at your job?
Our busiest months are March through June and then September to November. The seasonality of the business means that we have to constantly be thinking about cash flow, financial stability and balancing lean months with abundant months. Figuring out the timing of bringing on more employees can be tricky. Of course, being too busy and not having time for other activities in my life besides work-related stuff can get difficult. I’m learning to let go of my perfectionism and delegate tasks, trust others to do more of the gardening work and strive for compassionate and clear communication.
Tell me what a typical work day looks like for you?
There is no exact typical day. Two days a week I'll be preparing for a project in the morning, sourcing tools, materials and plants. I’ll work in a client’s garden and then clean up from the day. The other three work days, I’m doing more of the office-type work of running a business. In spring, the busiest time of year, I’ll end up working some weekends, too. When I’m in the field, Aaron is in the office and vice versa. We also have two employees right now.
Tell us one more thing we haven’t yet asked about!
We would love to help more customers with planning and installing areas for chickens and goats in the city of Seattle!
QB Community members, if your business is seasonal, how do you balance the lean and the abundant times year-round?
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