When plant collector and propagator Everett Chu fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening a nursery in 2009, he started something that developed into more than just a retail store and landscaping center.

“His core values were in creating a sense of community and education. It was a huge current through everything he did,” Sarah Nelson, landscape designer and project manager, said. “Over time, it grew into more than a retail space. It became a part of the community.”

With Chu’s death in February 2022, his wife, Miriam, wanted to preserve his legacy by continuing the business following her retirement. After reflection from the employees, Azusa Farm and Gardens split into Azusa Garden Centre and Azusa JC Landscaping.

“It organically worked itself out,” Nelson said. “Luckily we had people in a position where they could do that and establish their own company while honoring what Everett has built.”

Although it was a transition, Nelson said that fortunately the pieces “fell where they were supposed to” and they still had the support from the family and the team.

Chu originally purchased the 15 acres of land in Mount Vernon, WA, in 1994 when he was working as an engineer. Nelson said he wanted a place that was ecologically and scientifically based, which prompted Chu to obtain a degree in horticulture as well as become a Certified Professional Horticulturist, EcoPRO-certified and a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

“He used education to set himself apart,” she said.

Nelson, who is new to the horticulture world, became involved with the company in June 2021. She had worked in commercial real estate for five and a half years before being laid off due to the pandemic. When she came across the job listing, she said it “sparked something” within her.

“It was almost like I found something I didn’t even know I was looking for yet,” she said.

Sarah Nelson is the landscape designer and project manager for Azusa JC Landscaping. She’s new to the horticulture world but when she came across the job listing she said, “It sparked something within me.” Photo courtesy of Sarah Nelson

Azusa JC Landscaping specializes in custom designs and installations in primarily residential areas, although they have done some work in the community at schools at churches and are open to commercial work as well.

Juan Carlos Herrera Miranda, who owns the landscaping business, specializes in woodworking and enjoys creating custom trellises and gates for customers.

Nelson said their design strategy is ecologically minded and they look at the space as a whole, from how the client uses the space and moves through it and how it relates to adjacent spaces. Designers also look at site conditions.

“We don’t want to start from scratch. Something Everett taught me is ‘harmonizing with nature instead of pushing it away,’” she explained. “He always said ‘Bring nature to our doorstep,’ and that’s really what I think we try to do.”

These principles speak to how Azusa JC Landscaping treats the land with preparing the ground and the kinds of plants they use. Nelson said Chu’s ecological practices attracted her to the business.

“I see the world we live in as very commodified,” she said. “Finding a medium like landscaping where the average person can make an impact on a scale that’s in their backyard is really important.”

Nelson added that it’s rewarding to see that small scale influence be compounded to positively impact the world. “Little by little we’re restoring the ecosystem in this area,” she said. “All these projects we’ve been a part of – I’m grateful to do what I do.”

Outside of their custom work, Azusa JC Landscaping offers hardscaping, patio and walkway services as well as irrigation work, clean up and maintenance.

To help prospective clients better envision their project, Nelson said the landscaping business also provides in-studio consultations, a practice that was carried over from Chu. The consultations give clients the opportunity to see samplings of plants and the groupings that the designers suggest for the project.

“So many people, myself included, are such visual people that it’s hard to discern what a plant looks like virtually or on a piece of paper,” she said. “When you can see, smell and touch things in person, it carries over so much easier.”

The practice helps clients see the overall vision the landscapers have and also keeps them from nitpicking or focusing on individual elements.

With the businesses officially separating in June, Nelson said everything still feels fresh and new, but going forward the company would like to expand its crew and continue to grow. For herself, Nelson said she would like to go back to school and get her master’s and has started to look at possible schools, including the university Everett attended.

The best part of being involved in landscaping is surprising clients with their approach, Nelson said. Some clients will come to them with a space that either has problems they can’t see past or they don’t know what to do with, but for the designers those challenges are creative opportunities.

“There’s a million and one ways you can approach any single problem,” she said. “I think that how we find solutions for the client and their reactions that are unexpected and over the moon is a really good feeling for me.”

by Aliya Hall