Photography by Mei-Chun Jau.

Since she started working for the Nashers and NorthPark Center in the 1970s, Judy Cunningham, 65, has traveled to 300 malls internationally to design landscapes. Her last project was in Abu Dhabi. Nothing could stop her — not even two semis of pumpkins delivered at NorthPark each fall.  But everything came screeching to a halt when she was hit by a car. 

Eight years ago, she was walking from the Fairmont to downtown corporate offices when the car hit her. “I couldn’t be stopped by a two-by-four. I was on the plane to the Middle East or Spain or London every week. It was time for me to stop. I just wasn’t going to. The car accident was probably a life-saving incident for me.” 

Cunningham was hired by Raymond Nasher 40 years ago. “I worked with Patsy long enough to know her vision,” she says. “And now Nancy’s got that vision.”

“Instead of ‘planting,’ I like to call it ‘performance art.’ We use the plants as paint. We draw all the sketches. We do all the design. We consider the plant materials as brushes of paint. We go far and wide to find what kind of brushstrokes we want.”

Cunningham and team Alice Goss and William Roberts work up to a year and a half in advance on the plans. The arrangements are often three-dimensional. “My second love are textiles,” she says. “I weave, crochet, knit and all that. In landscape there are a lot of parallels because it’s all geometric and simple.”

Plants are grown in California, Florida and Texas. “I was going around the world, and NorthPark had the most cutting edge stuff that we know.” She won’t disclose the cost except to say “just put a one at the top of the page and start adding zeroes.”

Her favorite season is fall.  She and her team hand-place every pumpkin and gourd that goes in the shopping center beginning at 4 a.m.

“I can’t tell you how many people tell me, ‘When I have a bad day, I go to NorthPark and look at the landscaping.’ It brings tears to my eyes. I love hearing, ‘You guys beat yourselves again.’ ”

Photography by Mei-Chun Jau.



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