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The Garden Whisperer: Alicia Blas’s Path to Plant Perfection

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

The Garden Whisperer: Alicia Blas’s Path to Plant Perfection

In the verdant realm of garden design, where creativity intertwines with the natural world, stands Alicia Blas, the visionary founder of Firmly Planted Designs. This interview peels back the layers of her inspiring journey, revealing the roots of her passion and the blossoming of a unique enterprise in the lush field of horticultural artistry. From the seeds of inspiration to the full bloom of a thriving business, Alicia’s story is a testament to the power of merging one’s passion with purpose.

This conversation is not just about the aesthetics of garden design; it’s a profound insight into balancing the delicate petals of creativity with the sturdy stems of profitability. With each question, Alicia guides us through the winding paths of her business model, client engagement strategies, and the unique services that set her company apart in the competitive garden of garden design.

Alicia Blas

Background and Inspiration

SBS – What inspired you to start Firmly Planted Designs, and what background did you have before entering this field?

Alicia – I am a proud graduate of Columbia College in Chicago. I graduated with a B of A and had NO idea what I wanted to be or do. I said advertising but did not even know what that entailed except something creative, and that is all I knew about myself and my future — It would have to definitely be something creative!

My first and only job after school was working for a photo stylist! I created a career for myself as a photo stylist in both Chicago and Miami. I did fashion and set design. That was throughout the late 80’ and early 90’s. I started having my children around that time, so my career took a back seat. When my son was about one, I got a fabulous opportunity to create a garden for a set. Sears was selling all kinds of home appliances and paint, so the set was a house with a big garden. I always loved flowers but never really had any experience in the garden.

Once I started that job, it was all I needed to know. The art director told me I should give up styling and pursue something that involved plants and color. Who knew?! What I did know while I was doing it is I felt alive and on my game. It was something I had never experienced, but I knew this was for me! I decided to take a class, and there someone told me about The Master Gardener program through the University of Florida (that is where we were) extension!

I did that and met all kinds of cool and crazy plant people who just spoke my language. My fashion and set design, mixed with my growing plant and flower knowledge, felt like a divine combo to start my own business! It all felt very “Firmly Planted” in my cards!

Business Model

SBS – Can you describe the business model of Firmly Planted Designs? How do you balance creativity with profitability?

Alicia – As a creative liver of life my practicality skills have never really been that sharp! I base my business on feeling because I have learned that if I am doing things that feel good to me or feel right to me — I will thrive no matter what!

I am from the Midwest and came from a family of solid work ethics (thank you, Universe). I felt like if I could learn as much as I could about plants, trees, and flowers, use my fashion and design skills, and mix them with my love of beauty and nature, it would have to work! It has!

I follow everything that my accountant tells me to. I am set up on QuickBooks, I have a few really good contractors that I work with, and I pay for advertising through a fantastic site called Houzz. They feed me the very best leads, and I keep my website and my social media as current as I possibly can. I feel like I could probably take on a few more jobs, but at this time in my life, I feel like I have other really good creative things that I want to do as well — so I am focusing on that.

Client Engagement

SBS – How do you approach client consultations, and what strategies do you use to understand and meet their needs?

Alicia – I approach all my clients as people who are like me (kind of as if they were my friends) — I listen to them and their wants and needs, and then we usually talk about the way I see it. When someone meets me, they can usually tell that I am an out-of-the-box thinker! So, if the client is looking to stay in the box — I’m not 100% sure I am their person (I have not met too many of those, thank goodness).

More about listening, less about talking. I like to keep it light and simple the first meeting. I do not charge for my initial visit. I always want to leave the meeting with them, feeling like they can’t wait to meet again!

Service Differentiation

SBS – What unique aspects or services do you think set Firmly Planted Designs apart from competitors?

Alicia – I would have to say (in the humblest way, of course) it is me! I have loads of plant knowledge and a design background. I always invite my clients to come to the nursery with me. I go to a beautiful wholesale plant nursery, and I have a whole dog pony golf cart thing that I take them on, and they can pick all the plants they love. I take note, and I design the garden using their plant picks planted in all the proper places! It is a win-win for everyone and a definite highlight of every job!


SBS – Could you walk us through your process for creating a garden design from concept to completion?

Alicia – For me, this is always different. I have a “basic” process, but it depends on the job and the details.

I like to have a drawn design for clients (if they agree because there is a cost). I always ask them to be as flexible as they can because even as you’re building and planting a garden, things change! Pictures are always different then the real stuff.

I invite everyone to come to my home and see my garden and the plants that I love to plant — because they work here and because they’re all always different than the usual specimens. I am a very hands-on designer, not so much with my crew as I am with my clients. My crew knows the drill!


SBS – What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this business, and how have you overcome them?

Alicia – I think I would have to say specific crew, specific job. If I am working with the right people, the sky is the limit. I did just have a situation after 12 years of working with the same crew leader. He was good at ALMOST everything a crew leader needs except people skills! He always had run ins with the clients. I begged him not to talk to anyone but me (which was a ridiculous request because he is the foreman).

Really good and conscientious workers are the groundwork for a successful company, but at what cost?! I have learned from this hard and sad situation that I should not have to cover for anyone because they do not know how to communicate — especially when I believe the secret to my success is communication. I finally just said, “Enough,” and now I am pivoting in a much better direction.

Client Education

SBS – How do you educate your clients about garden maintenance and the importance of plant care?

Alicia – Usually, the contractors that I work with have a maintenance side to their business.

That always helps. But as I say to all my clients, I speak fluent “gardener,” and I can help whoever is the maintenance person to show them how it is supposed to be maintained — according to the plants we choose. I also always recommend that two to three times a year, I come in and direct a good clean-up. I also like to give them a list of what plants we used so they can educate themselves as well.

Sourcing Materials

SBS – What considerations go into sourcing planters, garden art, accessories, and outdoor furniture for your projects?

Alicia – I believe that has to do with budget restrictions as well as design. I can help someone to a two-seater balcony as well as a giant backyard.

There are so many great places all over LA and so many good websites too. I make sure to stay on all the best outdoor goodness that I can. I love accessories, and especially in a garden. I feel like garden art, planters, and furniture are what will bring a fabulous garden to life! Obviously, plants are the keys but the other accoutrements are the frosting! I am a stylist to my core, and I love bringing the indoors out as much and as often as possible!

Sustainability Practices

SBS – How do you integrate sustainability into your garden designs and business practices?

Alicia – I make sure to use as many water-wise plants as I can! Another reason that I love accessories in the garden is they don’t need water! California is no longer in a drought, but why wouldn’t we keep practicing water-wise ways?! There are so many beautiful and choice plants to pick from in our zone that you can be really water-wise and still have the most gorgeous garden. Every and anything grows in sunny California!

Growth Strategies

SBS – What strategies have you employed to grow your business, and what advice would you give to others looking to expand in this field?

Alicia – LA is such a fantastic place to be a garden designer in so many ways! The very best part of working in Cal is that this is a year-round business. I have organized myself so that I have a few different crews that can each do various things, and I work with them accordingly. I have decided that I want to start doing more “online” stuff like consulting and sharing plant knowledge as I am getting older.

I would tell anyone — no matter what state they live in — to become a master gardener. Not only do you learn so much about your zone, but you will also meet all kinds of interesting people who have all kinds of interesting connections wherever you are!

Marketing and Outreach

SBS – How do you market Firmly Planted Designs, and what role does social media or digital marketing play in your strategy?

Alicia – Social media has taken me and my company to a whole other level! It has given me the opportunity to have a few viral videos (on ground cover and trees) and brought me to a whole other audience! I am just starting to figure out how to monetize this new-fangled goodness, so it is progress, not perfection — YET!

Customer Feedback

SBS – How do you incorporate client feedback into improving your services and business?

Alicia – Those are the keys to my kingdom! I have learned to never take anything too seriously but to hear everything as a good, solid opportunity to figure out a better way or to continue doing what they are saying is good. The lesson here is: Give them what they want because they are (sort of) always right!

Future Vision

SBS – What are your future goals for Firmly Planted Designs, and how do you plan to evolve the business in the coming years?

Alicia – I am writing a book as we speak (due out Aug 8, 2024).

I am constantly doing lives and reels on Instagram, and I have started a podcast called “Life is a Garden,” in which I talk to all kinds of people from all kinds of different places. I am looking to keep my garden business and make a name for myself through social media as an inner and outer gardener! It’s all here, and I do believe I will be able to create magic through the power of the Internet!


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The Garden Whisperer: Alicia Blas’s Path to Plant Perfection