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Designer awarded for being yards ahead

After nearly two decades in the landscape design business, Kenneth Philp understands the value of strong working relationships. One such relationship even earned his work national recognition.

Two weeks ago, Garden Design magazine recognized Philp, a Langley resident, by naming him as a Golden Trowel Award winner. He earned the award for a Japanese-style garden he designed at a Bellevue home last year, a garden that came out of working closely with the home’s architect, Rex Hohlbein.

“It felt great,” Philp said this week of winning the award.

Earning an award in a national competition is a milestone, Philp said, because it signifies that his practice can compete at a national level.

The award capped 18 years in the landscape design business for Philp, who divides his work schedule between the Langley area home he shares with his wife Jodie and his Seattle office. Philp employs four landscape designers at the Seattle location.

The time spent in Langley allows him to stay close to several local projects. Some large projects include landscape design for Whidbey Telecom’s corporate office at Bayview, a project at a home owned by Whidbey Telecom owners George and Tonya Henny, and 20 cottages being built at Holmes Harbor.

Philp said many clients hire him for several projects at once. One such person is Useless Bay’s Des Rock.

Rock hired Philp to design the landscape around the former Living Green building in downtown Langley after experiencing his work at his Useless Bay home last August.

“We were very happy, he is very good to work with,” Rock said.

Rock plans to turn the building into a coffee and espresso shop in the next three to four months.

In addition to his South Whidbey jobs, Philp and his landscape designers work on 40 to 50 projects a year. He charges an average of $10,000 to $20,000 per project, which covers the labor and overhead costs to design for small urban backyards, restoration jobs and other projects. Large estate projects, including an ongoing Mercer Island estate design, cost between $100,000 and $150,000.

The prices reflect 10 to 15 percent of overall project costs.

Using what he describes as a “traditional style,” Philp said he approaches every project the same way.

“I think design is like a puzzle,” he said.

On some projects he designs a landscape around a few plants, trees and flowers already there. Other times he designs a completely new landscape for a patch of land.

He said many clients want plants, flowers and trees native to the area, such as sword ferns, salal, evergreen huckleberries. pine trees, perennial flowers, ornamental grass and shrub roses.

Flowers pose a problem on Whidbey Island, though, because deer enjoy eating them, he said.

Steady business did not always come easy for Philp. He said he did not build a solid business base and hire good people until five years ago. More recent changes of Web site and brochures also helped. Additionally, Philp began using the computer design and drafting program AutoCAD in the last couple years, although he still utilizes hand sketches and design models.

The changes seem to make him happier than ever in his career.

“I really enjoy being a business manager,” Philp said.

Having more time away from landscape design makes him appreciate it more.

“It takes so long to establish a practice,” he said, reflecting on his career.

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