About Me

Karen Geiger:

Uniting nature, sales, business, relationships, science, creativity and art into a lifelong passion and career.

I am a 40 something year old garden designer enjoying life on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. My passion for nature began as a child preferring to spend my time outdoors climbing trees, running barefoot in the grass and picking wildflowers along the roadside. I was 14 when I got my first job working on a sod farm and although I loved being outside, the labor was a bit beyond my capabilities. I did stick with it though for 2 summers, riding my bike to work with my friend Tracy, as we endured hours of stacking sod onto pallets. As a treat, on Saturdays, we were asked to rake geese droppings from around the farms lakes. I still loved it. Of course it didn’t hurt that we were the only girls on an otherwise male crew who I believe got a kick out of our heroic attempts at keeping up with the pace. Hay baling season came and with it a whole new appreciation for outside manual labor in 95 degree heat. We would form 2 lines on each side of the flat bed and walk along as it moved through the fields, each taking turns throwing the hay bales up the consistently rising pyramid. As hard as I tried, my hay bales would rarely hit the mark. In fact, hitting the tire was more the norm. Seeing my difficulties, the crew decided to put me on the truck. The idea being, I was to actually catch the bales and then stack them. Well, you can probably imagine what happens when 8 people start throwing hay bales at you…. yes, that’s right, I fell off. After that, I went into sales, and sold jeans for the Gap.

I discovered while in sales, that I love sales. I love selling a product that I believe in, use myself, and really like. I also learned that I love people, and helping them find a product that works for them, gives me a great sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. My sales career continued as I worked my way through clothes, bags and shoes. By this time in my life, I was supporting myself and quickly discovered my next very important life lesson. I needed to make more money.

I decided to enter the restaurant business upon hearing that the cash was quite lucrative. I waited tables for a year until management approached me offering to train me as a bartender. This was by far a wise career move. I don’t think there is another job in the world that trains you as effectively in life and its many interpersonal relationships as that of being a bartender. I tended bar for 10 years ranging from fine dining to night clubs and everything in between. Watching life come and sit before me night after night, I began to realize that I needed more than just money and a job. I needed a direction, a career, a goal. I also discovered that insubordination became a common recurring problem for me. Clearly I needed to be my own boss.

I put myself through college while working nights and weekends. Not really sure what I wanted to do except be the one to run the mystery company, I ended up with a degree in business administration. I worked in an accounting firm for a year learning the ins and outs of managing one’s books, an invaluable lesson that I highly recommend. I quickly discovered that the office life was not for me. I felt stifled sitting at a desk, looking at white walls and spreadsheets. I would pack my lunch everyday and sit outside by the lake, a lake that was reminiscent of the one I used to clean.

My love for the outdoors kept haunting me as I continued my search of what I really wanted to do with my life. It was at this time a friend of mine suggested landscaping. I remember asking, “You think I should mow lawns?” His reply, “No, I think you should go back to school and get a degree in horticulture.” I remember telling my mother that I had enrolled at Temple University in their horticulture and landscape design program. She actually laughed recalling the time when she sent me into the garden to cut basil for a spaghetti sauce she was making and I returned with a fistful of snapdragons. Or the time that I planted flats of pansies, complete in their flats, containers and all. Okay, so I had a little to learn.

My first experience in my new found career choice was Botany 101. I remember the first day of class thinking to myself that perhaps I had made a slight error in formally being accepted into a program that I knew nothing about. While other students were busily taking notes and asking questions of our professor, I was trying to figure out what on earth she was even saying, let alone be able to formulate a question. Latin I quickly discovered was no longer a forgotten language.  I persevered and completed the course with a B which I was immensely proud of.  However, it was not until my Woody and Herbaceous Plant Material classes that I knew I was in love. Going for walks in the woods and learning the names of all the plants became my all time favorite activity. The passion and excitement that ignited in me during these classes was intense. It was that love at first sight feeling that has stayed with me to this day. Entomology also had a tremendous effect on me. I had thought that studying insects was going to be a challenge to my phobias yet quickly discovered that not only did the knowledge of insects pretty much eliminate my fear of them, but I was absolutely intrigued and fascinated. This was also the birth of another intense passion of mine, organic gardening. I was appalled at the use of pesticides on our food supply and the effects they have on our body. I went on to take classes in Landscape Design, Surveying, and Soils. I loved them all, each providing something new and thought provoking.  I had found my career, my passion, my destiny.

My first job as a gardener was for Holly, the mother in law of a fellow bartender. This is where book knowledge and actually gardening took a completely different path. In school you learn all the names of the plants, what conditions they prefer, what insects and diseases plague them and so forth. You learn everything about this plant there is to learn except how to dig a hole and plant it. They really should have a class called, Digging 101 or the Subtleties of using a Pickaxe. Another key ingredient missing in my education was how to identify plants at different times of their life cycle. It was early spring when I began this job and all the perennials were just beginning to break dormancy. I was completely baffled as to why there were 100’s of asparagus plants popping up everywhere. Thankfully, I did not inquire. Turns out they were Hosta. Mulching is another topic they don’t teach you about except for touting the 7 benefits of using the product. They failed to mention the fact that it smells and sticks to you and by the end of the day your entire body aches from lugging this stuff around. I remember laughing at the self realization that I had actually paid for a college education to be covered head to toe in rotting wood chips. Yet still, I truly loved it.

Holly was an absolute delight to work for and to this day I miss working at her home in Ambler. In addition to being her gardener, she had me arrange flowers from her gardens every week for the house, a pure joy of mine. I created the flower girl head pieces, floral arrangements, and corsages for her children’s weddings. I designed holiday decorations, wreaths, containers and anything else she asked of me.  She always pushed me to my creative heights and I am forever grateful to her.

I worked for 6 years in the Philadelphia area as a gardener and designer installing woodland, shade, cottage, and water gardens for various clients. I did most of the work myself only enlisting help when I absolutely needed a secondhand. I loved it. I took delight in being outside everyday and noticing the subtle changes Mother Nature provides if you take the time to stop and really look. I also loved developing close relationships with my clients. I enjoyed listening to their stories as much as I did designing a new garden for them or simply deadheading the flower border.

In 1993, Holly brought me to Hilton Head Island to design and install a cottage garden at her recently purchased oceanfront cottage. I shipped all 122 gallon perennials via UPS complete with packing peanuts. This was a big mistake and another important lesson. Do not use packing peanuts oceanfront. They go everywhere, trust me. I wish they were biodegradable back then.

The story that Holly and her husband John love to tell is the one where they sent their gardener down to Hilton Head Island to install a garden for them and she never came home. It’s true. I fell in love with this place, the beach, the pace, the gardenias and camellias. I moved permanently in 1995 after commuting for 2 years.

Since then I began my current business, Creative Gardening. I have thoroughly enjoyed gardening in this zone 9 coastal environment. I have been specializing in everything color, from borders to containers to commercial entrances. Color speaks to me and my love for flowers continues to blossom. I have also been fascinated by the vast array of texture in plant material and nature in general. The use of texture in the landscape truly excites me and I believe is what separates a typical planting from one that is vibrant, interesting, and full of depth. Courtyards are probably my favorite to design. These living spaces are generally focal areas, many times entryways where attention to detail is showcased. All of the senses can be catered to and appreciated in this enclosed and intimate garden. The fragrance of jasmine, the colors of  hibiscus, the texture of a maidenhair fern, the softness of lamb’s ear and the sound of a fountain all combined in one space, fills the senses with pure and intoxicating delight.

I also lecture. My first speaking engagement was in 1994 for The Greenery and I honestly thought I was going to be quite ill. I remember sitting up the night before with my friend Carol reviewing slides for the presentation and thinking, there is no way I am going to get through this. But somehow it all went well and now I lecture to various garden and church groups locally here on our island.

I began writing a monthly gardening column, How on Earth, for Pink Magazine in March 2009. I feel as though I have discovered yet another passion of mine in writing. There is something so enjoyable to me in telling a story and finding the right combination of words in which to express the ideas. Thank you Elizabeth for the opportunity to write for your inspiring publication.

And my story would not be complete if I did not share with you a few personal insights into my life. I love life and its many opportunities. I believe in embracing all that it has to offer. I am forever trying new things, meeting new people while keeping my connections to my past. I love cooking, dancing, an array of music, playing piano, exercising, reading, drawing and more. I sort of think of myself as a renaissance woman. But by far, my greatest accomplishment ever has been being a mother to the most wonderful children in the whole world. Thank you Kristopher and Julie for making my life truly the best I ever could have imagined.