Cedar Baldridge on the Merits of Swimming, Her Nightstand Must-Haves, and Creating the Perfect Landscape

Cedar Baldridge and her dog, Violet.

Cedar Baldridge began her journey to becoming a landscape architect at the age of six, when she ordered a venus fly trap off the back of an Archie comic book. Her curiosity piqued, Baldridge, who grew up on a ranch in Mexico, would go on to study landscape architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art, and then at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Today, she continues to find inspiration through her travels and by revisiting past design movements in between creating beautiful and livable outdoor spaces in the Houston area.

From inviting awnings to stunning hardscapes to eye-catching statuary, Baldridge’s portfolio is a visual feast of thoughtfully designed landscapes, and her sketchbook offers a fascinating snapshot of how they come to life. Recently, we sat down with Baldridge for a Q&A to discuss her current inspirations, how she approaches her work, and her interests—which are as varied as the spaces she designs.

A sample of projects by Baldridge Landscape.

What’s currently inspiring you?

I love design, and am inspired by so many things. The colors of lakes and rivers become pools and fountains. A painting can inform the structure of a planting bed.

I travel as often as my schedule permits; I was in India recently, and now all I can think about are Mughal gardens. My next landscape adventure travel will take me to Charlottesville, Virginia, where I will be attending a weeklong program next month at Monticello that is hosted by the University of Virginia’s Historic Landscape Institute. The program will focus on preserving historical gardens and Thomas Jefferson’s design and horticulture principles. Jefferson is one of my heroes, and I am beyond thrilled to be a part of this study group.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love working with clients and taking their wishes, applying my design aesthetic, and turning them into a beautiful and happy outdoor space. I design with the idea of creating a green space that will make people feel enveloped by nature and serve as a respite from the hustle and bustle of it all. I love that our gardens will be a place that people will enjoy and make memories in for years to come.

It thrills me to visit our jobs throughout the years and see them mature into our design intent. Designing with living things is a very special art, as you are literally designing with moving pieces. Each plant is a piece of a puzzle that makes up a large design, and the growth and conditions of each plant must be considered as a whole.

“Every garden should have a bit of fun, a happy punch that makes you smile.”

Do you have a secret formula for planning the perfect landscape?

Three things are crucial when designing a landscape. First, understand the existing land and its conditions. Second, be specific about the ultimate use of the landscape and future maintenance plan. Third, improve the natural environment.

Other things that go into a good landscape include providing axial views from every window in the house, and offering seating all around the garden—it’s always fun to have a garden bench that is tucked away for gossip and secrets during a party.

Also, every garden should have a bit of fun, a happy punch that makes you smile. A folly, if you will. In the 18th century, English and French gardens typically had a “folly” in the landscape, a structure that was made simply for decoration to provide a sense of delight and fun. Other than that, the sound of water is always nice, and landscape lighting, which is very difficult to get right. Less is more.

Describe a typical day.

At 6 a.m. I have coffee and check emails in my bed with my dog, Violet. After that, no two days are alike. Because we are a design build firm I am all over the place—site visits and client meetings, tree and plant farms, overseeing installations, doing design work in the office. But no matter what, Violet is usually with me.

My car is my mobile office. It has Hunter boots for muddy sites, shoes for office meetings, sun hats, a makeup kit. You name it, you can probably find it in my car.

Violet, Cedar Baldridge’s dog, lounges at a project.

What’s your work uniform?

I typically wear all white when I am working, as Houston summers are hot as a firecracker. For years I have worn men’s white cotton shirts from Brooks Brothers that I have monogrammed with my initials on the breast pocket, and white jeans or chino shorts from J.Crew.

I am also a huge fan of Dos Carolinas handmade guayaberas, which are designed by the very talented Caroline Matthews in San Antonio, Texas. I grew up in Mexico on my family’s cattle ranch, so I feel right at home wearing them. My custom guayaberas help keep me cool during the hot summers, and with four pockets there is room for my iPhone, sketchbook, markers, and my favorite tube of lipstick.

“My bed is my favorite place on earth. I have a pink velvet headboard, and I have hoarded the last of the three-way pink light bulbs left on earth for my bedside lamps.”

What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long day?

Two things: swimming, and my bed. I am a master swimmer, and I swim on the Rice University Masters Swim Team. On my perfect day, I get to leave work in time to make the evening swim practice. The great thing about swimming is there are no phones and no talking; there is a coach calling out the workout, so you don’t have to think. Once my head is underwater my hectic day literally washes away.

My bed is my favorite place on earth. I have a pink velvet headboard, and I have hoarded the last of the three-way pink light bulbs left on earth for my bedside lamps. I know I am supposed to be ecologically responsible, but I love a pink light bulb. My night table is loaded with all my favorite things (see below), and anybody who knows me has logged many an hour with me on that bed.

A photo Cedar Baldridge took while attending open water swim camp. Baldridge is on the Masters Swimmers team.

What’s on your nightstand?

Rose and grapefruit scented candles, mint julep cups full of Milkbones, flowers from my garden, pink and red Tootsie pops, my sketchbook, a stack of magazines (issues from Vogue from all over the world, the Spanish magazine Hola, and World of Interiors), a giant carafe of ice water—I am always parched—Advil, Dr. Hauschka lip care stick (I swear by this), Weleda wild rose oil (I’ve tried it all and this is my all-time favorite moisturizer), my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro, and a tray full of remote controls that I have no clue how to work.

What will you do on your next day off?

I just started clay shooting a couple of years ago, and I am hooked. I love being outdoors, gear, and dogs, and shooting covers all three! I will be shooting at a Garden & Gun event in Charlottesville when I am there for the Monticello landscape seminar.

What’s your ideal vacation destination?

My passion is open water racing, so I like to go to open water swim camp every summer. I am hoping to go to swim camp in Greece this year and swim the Greek Cyclades in the Mediterranean.

Cedar Baldridge’s bicycle, captured by photographer Casey Dunn.

“In my book, all gardens should have boxwood, potted citrus, and agaves.”

What’s in your garden?

I wish I could say I have time to garden, but I do not. My garden is a very happy mix of potted citrus around the pool, olive trees, espalier magnolias, gardenias, camellias, agave, and loads of boxwood in all shapes and sizes. I love boxwood and agaves, and in my book, all gardens should have boxwood, potted citrus, and agaves.

The one bit of gardening I attend to every year without fail are my sweet peas. I grow them from seeds, and they make me so happy. They are very easy to grow—take two posts, and spread a cattle panel across them. I put two lovely finials on my posts, and when the structure is not being used for sweet peas I grow sweet 100 tomatoes and Malabar spinach.

See more of Cedar Baldridge’s work here.