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Destination DIY: Combined Creativity Brings Unique Challenges

Julie Sabatier

The heart of every conflict is a strong will. Artists have definite opinions about their work. It’s the passion they feel that fuels their creativity. But it can also lead to conflict when they combine their talents. That’s what one married couple found when they decided to work together to create a unique sculpture. Our story comes from Julie Sabatier of the public radio show, Destination DIY.

Anne Taylor loves working with plants. She has her own landscaping business in Portland. And she still does projects in her yard at home, just for fun. Her husband, Ross Montana, is also a creative person. He uses scrap materials to makes large metal sculptures. About 2 years ago, Anne had an idea for a project that would require both of their creative skills. She and Ross thought the side of their garage was really ugly. So, they decided to cover it up with a vertical, metal structure that would hold dirt and plants. It’s called a “living wall.”

Ross: The grid system and the box system is pretty simple. It’s basically a wall that’s hollow.

Anne: The frame’s wrapped in the cloth and then the soil medium’s put in and then we cut holes in the cloth and then shove the plants into it.

Anne took the lead on planting. But first she had to tell Ross exactly how she wanted the frame to be.

Ross: I was kinda lost on exactly how the medium and all the plantings were gonna go in.

Anne: Yeah, because the wall had to be a certain thickness for the roots of the plants and Ross wanted to make them thinner and I’m like, No you can’t make them thinner.

They quickly realized that combining their creativity came with a double dose of stubbornness. And this made communication difficult. Anne got frustrated trying to explain her vision to Ross.

Anne: I just had to leave him alone and let him do it and just have faith in that he knew what he was doing and whatever he came up with, I would just work with.

Once the structure was finished, the next step was to figure out the best way to get the plants inside.

Ross: I said we should do it one way so it’d keep the dirt in and Anne had this other idea and the communication wasn’t there at all. Um and I was frustrated so I think I ended up just walking away too and two days it took her to fill the wall and probably another two weeks to finish planting it. And during that whole process, there was a lot of silence in the house (laughs). A lot.

Anne: Yeah, and at one point, I just wanted to give up. It was awful. It was starting to cost a lot of money and I was like, oh is this thing gonna work? And yeah, I was for a while, I shed some tears over the thing because I was like, what are we doing?

Ross: Things weren’t getting watered and of course that just got me frustrated because during that process it was like, Anne, is it gonna work this way? I was bothering her.

They had come too far to give up. It took them about two months, but eventually, the wall went up in their back yard. And the silence in the house started to dissipate.

Ross: She’s extremely um smart. Her ideas are wonderful and once I realized that it just made my end of the deal much more, I guess, easier to deal with. I know I’m extremely stubborn, but 95% of the time, she’s right.

Anne: We’ve learned with each other how to work together. And like he said, at the beginning, when we’re arguing about something, we’re like, “I’m never gonna do this with him again,” and by the end, it’s up, it’s beautiful and it’s like, “yeah, we could do it again.”

And they have. They built two smaller living walls for their front yard. And they recently finished building one at a bar in SE Portland. But they seem to be proudest of that first wall they built.

Anne: I mean, the one in the back yard is so big and I look at that and I’m like, man, we did that! And so that’s a good feeling.

Ross: And I’m always dragging people in the back yard and more or less — see what we did, yeah, isn’t that cool?