Habit + Habitat: Deborah Herbertson


Ever wonder what the folks at terrain do when we're not in the nursery? In our series Habit + Habitat, we're finding out by asking one person to share a favorite habit and a beloved habitat. This month, we’re spotlighting Design by Terrain Supervisor Deborah Herbertson, who spends her days in our Westport store creating quintessentially terrain plantings for customers to enjoy at home. Recently, Deb shared how her habit of working with flowers got started (and turned into a great career!) and how she unwinds at the end of a creative day on her beloved front porch. 

terrain: What is your role at terrain? Tell us a bit about your typical day. 

Deb: I am the Design by Terrain Supervisor at our Westport, Connecticut store. I’m fortunate to work with a wonderful, talented group of women that create terrain’s custom planted pieces. The one constant is that my hands are usually in the dirt! On any given day, we create simple drop-ins, custom centerpieces, outdoor containers, and terrariums. I also have the pleasure of traveling to customers' homes for design work, and teaching many of our classes. Customers often say, “You have the best job!” My response is always, “Yes, I do!” How many people get to go to work thinking, “What shall I make today?” It’s a joyful thing.

terrain: What’s one word the best describes your habitat – your front porch, and your habit – floral arranging? 

Deb: My habitat, retreat. My habit, passion. 

terrain: Tell us a bit about your home and what you love most about it. 

Deb:  Our home was built in 1920 by an Italian stone mason, who built it for his wife. It's a simple house, constructed with thought and purpose-- a house where my grandmother’s beautiful Lalique bowl sits comfortably next to a twisted piece of driftwood. I love its many imperfections, but what I really love about it is its heart and soul.

terrain: What is your favorite way to spend time on your porch? 

Deb: My husband and I had always dreamed of having a front porch. We built it about ten years ago, and the space immediately became the center of our home. It is the communal stage, where we share stories, meals, music, and laughter. It is the place of joyful reunions and tearful goodbyes. Each season, we use the porch bit differently. Right now, during the long days of summer, it is our sacred space of retreat and relaxation, where we share dinner and a glass of wine, or where I curl up with a book and my dog Nell nestled at my feet. Life is good!

terrain: How did you get into floral arranging? 

Deb: I was raised in a home where any open vessel was always filled with something from the garden. My mother always traveled with garden clippers in her car glove box. Many times on the highways of Southern California, where I grew up, she would pull over and say “I'll be right back..." and climb up an embankment to clip the perfect piece of eucalyptus or a camellia. To my embarrassment, this was usually with a carpool full of classmates!  

When I graduated from college, I headed into the corporate world instead of the garden. Several decades and several children later, I realized that what I was passionate about was also what I should be doing for a living. My love of nature and design translated into to many exciting years working in the event industry in New York City. I loved the theater of creating large floral installations for events and product launches. I also enjoyed working as a photo stylist, specializing in floral and plant design. I still have those clippers my mom used...now they're in my glove box!

terrain: Where do you find inspiration? 

Deb: Mother Nature is the greatest designer of all time. The perfect turn of a piece of driftwood, the magical twirl inside a nautilis shell, the intricate face of an orchid. The natural world is full of inspiration. What I love about working with nature is that it forces you to slow down...to be present. A simple walk in the woods is a master class in design.

terrain: Where do you like to do your floral arranging? 

Deb: I laugh when I think of the crazy places I've put flower arrangements together, working in the city. I've arranged flowers in parking lots, in dressing rooms, and even in an elevator!  But I have to say, my favorite place to work is my own wonderful, large kitchen island. I have spent many a night there knee deep in foliage!

terrain: What is your favorite flower to work with? 

Deb: Oh wow, that's like asking me to pick a favorite child! It’s not hard to fall in love with the fantastic face of a tree peony, or the beautiful bend of a tiny chocolate cosmos, or even the crazy frill of an antique rose!  Flowers are the markers of memories.  One look at lily of the valley and I'm 10 years old at my Grandmother’s house in York, Pennsylvania. The smell of a gardenia transports me to my high school prom. I love agapanthus because it lined the driveway of the house where I grew up. Like children, all flowers have their own personality…and all are beautiful!

Images courtesy of Plum + Trinket/Lillie Fortune Photography (top, bottom right) & Deb Herbertson (bottom left).

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