The Italian poet Antonio Porchia once wrote, “Following straight lines shortens distances, and also life.” Geoffrey Nimmer and Jack deLashmet are no strangers to circuitous routes, in fact their journey to becoming master gardeners is one wrought with the sharp contours of change. The two men, who began as colleagues and have been romantic partners for the past eight years, not only share an affinity for the careful crafting of landscapes and gardens, but a wending life path that finally brought them together.
The men first met at a dinner party about nine years ago. Mr. deLashmet says their first encounter was marked by “an immediate spark,” and he “knew instinctively that [they] were going to see one another again.” Mr. Nimmer laughed, explaining that their meeting pretty much eclipsed the rest of the evening. “There was an instant attraction. I don’t remember anything else that happened at the party.”
Their initial conversation centered around a discussion of indigenous plants and gardens, particularly in regard to new project on Mr. deLashmet’s radar — a property on North Haven.
Mr. deLashmet was dividing his time between East Hampton and Alabama, where his ailing mother was struggling with cancer. He had already defined the spaces of the soon-to-be garden, but gave Mr. Nimmer the plans, asking his thoughts on exactly which plants to use, explaining that “nothing should compete with the horizon.”
The men worked together for months, first conceptualizing and finally creating a series of spaces crafted from “native-esque” plants, a term they coined to describe their focus on flora that actively channeled the look of the indigenous plants of the area. “There was a romantic tension in addition to a creative tension, and it just kept building,” recalled Mr. deLashmet.
Hailing from Clinton, Miss., Mr. deLashmet was first introduced to gardening through his grandparents, who were both Garden Club of America members and had a large landscaped estate. He studied both English and urban planning at the University of Mississippi but held a slew of decidedly un-gardening-focused jobs including a long stint at Merrill Lynch and heading an AIDS/H.I.V. nonprofit.
Following additional studies in landscape architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as the Inchbald School of Design in London, Mr. deLashmet said he realized the timing was “just right” to devote himself to his longtime interest in landscaping, focusing especially on indigenous plantings and the historic restoration of gardens. “My family expected me to go into politics, and while I certainly do have an interest in being the governor of Mississippi,” he said with a laugh, “I think in the back of my mind [garden design] was always where I would end up.”
Mr. Nimmer grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and first discovered a love of gardening just as Mr. deLashmet did, as a small child beside his grandmother.
“I would go and dig plants up from my her garden and bring them to my house and nurture them along.”
He went on to study psychology at George Washington University, and while delving into the nature of the human mind, he discovered a passion for the body as well, and began to dance. Mortarboard in hand, Mr. Nimmer moved to New York City directly after graduation, launching a career as a dancer that would last more than 15 years.
He said that somewhere along the way he “completely lost touch with gardening” and only rediscovered it during the tail end of his time in New York, trying to toggle between the spotlights of the stage and a burgeoning landscaping career.
“I really have closed the door on dance and I’ll never forget when it happened,” he said. “I was in New York and had started working for a landscaper but was also speaking with a choreographer I had worked with before, trying to reconstitute a piece I had been in previously.” Mr. Nimmer said he was slowly confronted with a series of scheduling conflicts between landscaping and dance rehearsals.
“It was just a natural break,” he said. “I felt so lucky that I had something else I was passionate about. So many people have said, ‘Dancing to gardening?’ They think they’re very different but really they’re both creative, physical, and really center on time and space.”
The two men were drawn to East Hampton by career opportunity and the natural beauty of the area. Mr. deLashmet first fell in love with Southampton through a few seasons of summering with colleagues from Merrill Lynch in the 1980s; he moved here full time about 11 years ago and launched his company deLashmet and Associates.
“It’s a beautiful place, but all of my reasons for being here were career-driven,” Mr. deLashmet explained. “As they say, for gardening you need money, manpower, and manure. [The South Fork] has people who have the resources for gardens and is full of an increasingly environmentally conscious group of people with whom you are designing.”
Mr. deLashmet was particulary drawn to what he calls “American country houses,” agrarian, turn-of-the-century houses that are typical of the East End. “The Hamptons are part and parcel of that whole movement,” he said.
Mr. Nimmer is perhaps most fond of East Hampton’s proximity to the ocean — he says he plunges into the surf every day. In addition to his penchant for swimming, Mr. Nimmer also came to the Hamptons to pursue work, although his journey was marked by a sense of serendipity.
While he was in Los Angeles finishing horticulture school, he came across Robert Wilson, with whom he had worked before in New York. He told him about a performance arts space he had founded, the Watermill Center. Mr. Nimmer worked there for two summers as an intern before becoming the estate gardener for three years. He then launched his own company, East End Garden Design, which has now been in full swing for eight years.
The couple, who now make their home in Springs, both insist their relationship is devoid of competition; they collaborate fairly consistently and draw on their differing strengths, both professionally and personally, to meet the challenges at hand.
“Even when we’re not officially working together we quite often cross-pollinate,” said Mr. deLashmet. “I’m not the person to hire for an instant landscape — I’m interested in mass and scale and lines. I’m doing the underpainting in an oil. Geoffrey’s innate nature is understanding how plants interact and move, which goes back to his dancing.”
Winter is a time of rejuvenation, both for the gardens and the men’s relationship. Mr. Nimmer is still busy cutting back plants and placing “copious amounts of bulbs,” but once the frigid months creep in, he will practice and teach yoga with more intensity, as well as take a trip with Mr. deLashmet to Costa Rica come February.
“It’s the time of the year when we re-energize our personal relationship too,” Mr. deLashmet said. “I am not any more outgoing than Geoffrey really, but people tend to think so. I guess because I’m more out and about. Geoffrey is much more the person who keeps the home fire burning. I do think we were both introspective and quiet kids, but I’ve developed a gregariousness. I guess I’ve developed a new true self, and Geoffrey has kept his old true self.”
Mr. deLashmet is out and about indeed. Since the launch of his book, “Hamptons Gardens,” this past May, he is already on his second book tour. He says his newfound notoriety is a double-edged sword, some people merely want his work because his designs have been published. “You really have to wean out the crazies,” he said, laughing.
In Mr. deLashmet’s recent absence — the latest book tour that which took him from Louisiana to California — Mr. Nimmer visited a sculpture exhibit by Richard Serra in New York and discovered a quote that he loved, not only because it speaks to the essence of garden design but to Mr. deLashmet’s work in particular: “Space is a medium.”