Livin’ the Dream

Ted Lare Design + Build Marks 35 Years.

It soon will be party time at Ted Lare Design + Build in Cumming. Lare and his various crews will celebrate 35 years in the landscape design business. Two guiding principles have carried the ball the whole time, he says:

“Do things right the first time.”

“Hire the best and let them do their best.”

Lare, who was born in California, moved around with his family. “On a trip from Chicago to Omaha, down Highway 30, I learned about the landscape architecture program at Iowa State University in Ames and was hooked. Now all of our design people are ISU graduates.”

For 11 years he worked for another landscape company in Des Moines. “That helped me learn what not to do in business,” he says with a chuckle. From a very small start in 1982, the business began to grow. One employee and friend, Bob Rushing, operations manager, has been on board since the beginning.

The company was based on Leland Avenue near TMC Transportation for many years and moved a decade ago to Cumming. It encompasses 91 acres for the Garden Center and Design Center operations. Nearby are 121 acres for Lare’s home and property, site of the former Cumming Orchard.

A family affair

The company is a family business, which is most important to Lare. His wife, Jean Lare, is a landscape designer; son, Keegan, is a landscape architect; and daughter, Melissa Peterson, is office/garden center manager. Keegan actually first got a chemical engineering degree and worked out of state. “Then he went back to school, earned a landscape architect degree, and joined the business,” says his proud father.

“When we built this spot, Melissa convinced me that a garden center with more than plants was the right thing to do. She handles that whole end of things beautifully. There are classes; special events like Art in the Garden, showcasing all the beautiful garden art possibilities; an Easter egg hunt; Ladies’ Night Out; and Tomato Festival with 20 varieties.” Classes include a variety—ornamental grasses, native plants, savvy succulents, garden photography, organic pest control, fairy gardens, prairies, and canning, among many others. Classes are such a great way to give back to the community, Lare points out.

Produce market

Also new has been a farmers market with 25 vendors the first Saturday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m., which has been most successful, Lare says.

The whole operation has 80-plus employees, plus seasonal workers. Would he love to have a year-round landscape business with no time out for winter? “No way,” Lare says. “We need that time. We have so much equipment that we need time to clean and maintain it and to get ready for spring. We’re really picky about our equipment.”

The company has various crews: the design team, garden center team, and construction, planting, water feature, and maintenance teams.

Success also likely has been helped by the overall passion for outdoor living. “Homeowners really want to improve their property and to use it more. They want lots of stone and fireplaces and fire pits. Even trends such as outdoor kitchens, which started in the South, can work here in the Midwest. There are infrared heaters that can stretch the season,” Lare says.

His designs are known for their boulders to establish a sturdy and natural outdoor scene. Even there, he has seen change over time as more man-made products have come onto the market and can be mixed with natural items.

Garden trends

Other trends have evolved, too. “Thank goodness there are no more railroad ties,” he says. Even plantings have changed in popularity, from Stella d’Oro daylilies to Knockout roses to today’s ornamental grasses, perennials, and myriad choices in hydrangeas. He feels there’s also a push to a more contemporary look, such as using metals in garden items such as pergolas.

A walk around the grounds will show the breadth of the business, from yard sculptures, urns, benches, groundcovers, fountains, display gardens, and veggies and herbs. Overhead, fuchsia petunias bloom in galvanized garden boxes. A greenhouse section is colorful with more offerings.

Plans for new construction typically can be designed in a relatively short time. The company focuses on a 60-mile radius. “However, we get lots of work from southern Iowa,” Lare says, “because coming from the south, we’re the closest landscape spot they hit.” Other work comes from Cedar Rapids and Kansas City.

Business advice

What would Lare tell someone starting out in the landscape business today? “Work smart. Be a man or woman of your word. Don’t run from a problem. And you are no better than your employees.”

Lare’s not ready to hang it up, but he says he is slowing down a bit. “I like to take Fridays off now, but I’ll never get sick of this business I love. When I travel, I look for new trends. I check out items online or in magazines.”

He says, “It would be hard to walk away completely, even though the next generation is in line. I’ll never get sick of it. It’s my baby.”