Laurent Gras convinced the jury with his “Urban renewal can be sustainable” user-friendly garden and was elected Master Gardener in the 2019 Carré des Jardiniers landscaping contest. One year later, he looks back on this triumph which kept his whole team on its toes and the trophy which was a milestone event for his Jardins à Thèmes (“Thematic Gardens”) landscaping company.
Why did you decide to compete in the Carré des Jardiniers landscaping contest in 2019?
Laurent Gras: The contest organized by Paysalia trade show is a great challenge and my team and I are highly competitive anyway! As my company was celebrating its 20th anniversary, the contest was a marvelous opportunity to pile on some positive pressure we could all enjoy. We are used to participating in small trade shows around Nantes in Western France, but Paysalia is an XXL event!
What were the biggest challenges you faced in creating your garden?
Laurent Gras: Initially, the biggest challenge was to be worthy of the event. I had visited Paysalia once before and really enjoyed it. I wanted to work with water zones and had to find a way to ensure my garden didn’t leak all over the place and flood the trade show.
The logistics were complex too. The materials were bulky and heavy and the show was 700 km away, so we had to make tough choices to be able to truck them there. And as you cannot fix anything to the ground in these ephemeral gardens, we had to design the modules intelligently!
Thinking back now, would you have changed anything in your garden?
Laurent Gras: We are perfectionists and we know we can always do better. After the prize awards ceremony, one of the organizers told us that one member of the jury had said that our garden was almost too perfect and that made me think. Although our contemporary style seeks perfection, I think I could have reworked my range of plants and ripraps, waterfalls and pathways. You can always do better, but you have to learn to see what you have done well too! I should also have cut back on our workload before the contest to be less stressed during the show.
What did your participation in the 2019 Carré des Jardiniers landscaping contest bring you?
Laurent Gras: For my company, it marked the end of an era and propelled us into a new internal organization. The contest relaxed us and promoted our landscaping company because although we had existed for 20 years, it is a fantastic boost to become the national Master Gardner. It arrived at the right moment and I was subsequently able to delegate more tasks. A new dimension!
We also shared to our customers and prospects our Carré des Jardiniers 2019 result which confirmed our professionalism. We already had a good reputation in Nantes, so people were not really surprised and were happy for us. We even received a letter of congratulations from the Nantes Municipality!
And a year on from the landscaping trade show Paysalia 2019, where are you at?
Laurent Gras: We have doubled our manpower, up from 12 to 27 people over two years, which involved an internal reorganization. One employee on the landscaping team which participated in the contest has become sales manager and another our works manager – promotions completely endorsed by the other members of the team. The “Paysalia effect” reinforced team cohesion and facilitated our transition towards a new dimension.
Do you have any advice for the landscape designers competing in the 2021 Carré des Jardiniers contest?
Laurent Gras: They have to feel ready and enjoy it! It really is a great adventure you only do once in a lifetime and you should enjoy it to the fullest because it is truly worthwhile. Find sponsors for the materials, plants and the logistics as the costs shoot up very quickly. Time passes very quickly too. You have to put your shoulder to the wheel. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate!
Watch Laurent Gras’ presentation (French only)
If you now feel the urge to participate in the Carré des Jardiniers 2021 landscaping contest, send in your application before March 19th, 2021. Don’t delay, apply today! You may become the next Master Gardener!
© Photo credit: Alexandre Moulard