Photography by Jessica Turner.

When Billy Roberts was a teenager, he used to help his grandmother in her garden. He spent time with her, watching her work and learning about plants. He saw their uniqueness and how they interact with each other. 

At the same time, he was developing a growing interest in design. 

While at Louisiana State University, he decided to take an introduction to landscape architecture class. 

“Immediately I was hooked,” he says. “I found a creative outlet that combined two aspects that enthralled me at the time: plants and design.” 

Though creative activities and craftsmanship had always appealed to Roberts, landscape architecture still showed “a whole other world” when he first learned about it. By incorporating living features, he found a way to shape a given space, a new way design could affect viewers’ mood and behavior. 

After graduating from LSU with a degree in landscape architecture, he became a professional landscape architect. He started working at Mesa Design Group in Dallas in 2004, and his first project was helping with the landscape master plan for the expansion of NorthPark Center. 

Since the shopping center was established in 1965 by real estate developer Raymond Nasher, landscaping has gone hand-in-hand with fine art. In Roberts’ introduction to NorthPark, he was seeing not just a landscape design concept decades in the making, but possibilities of what could come, possibilities he had the opportunity to mold. 

As he worked alongside Judy Cunningham — who was selected by Nasher and his wife, Patsy, to head the design — Roberts realized what makes NorthPark different. 

“Everything has to be executed with excellence, intention and a level of craftsmanship that rivals most artisans,” he says. “Detail is everything.” 

Cunningham, who died in September, showed Roberts how interior planting design could be a form of art. For the past eight years, they collaborated on projects at NorthPark. And now he has stepped into her former role, happy to continue her legacy. This fall, he oversaw the unloading of two semi trailers full of pumpkins, just like Cuninngham used to spread 80,000 pounds of pumpkins and gourds throughout the mall.  

BY THE NUMBERS

Number of planters on each floor: 300

Times per year the interior landscape changes: 4

People involved with landscaping: 18-20

Plant species on display: 30-50

Plans are made a year in advance because that’s how long it takes to gather all plants needed for each season. Sometimes, the team selects individual plants from growers or nurseries that can deliver high-quality products. Designs for different seasons may call for specific plants grown for color or features. Plus, after a concept is developed, items may change throughout the design and procurement processes.

Timing sometimes poses a challenge for Roberts. At any moment, he and his team may be installing a design, creating a new design and finding plants for different seasons and years. That means focusing on the current installation can be difficult.

He won’t say what’s coming next for NorthPark’s landscaping, but to continue surprising neighbors, formulating new ideas is crucial.

“Inspiration has many layers. It can be influenced by a phrase from a book you are reading, a documentary that you are watching or a place you are visiting,” he says. “I think inspiration comes from a continuous desire to explore coupled with an insatiable curiosity.”

Seeing is believing: Don’t miss these sights on your next visit

Candy Santa & Pecan Reindeer: This installation, which has been a part of the holiday season at NorthPark since 1965, includes real pecans, almonds, red and black licorice, marshmallows, sour cherries, raisins and other candy. See it on level one in Neiman Marcus Court.

The Hanukkah Menorah: Follow along each night with Chabad of Dallas’ display, located on level one between Burberry and Louis Vuitton.

The Color Condition: See this holiday installation exploring color, pattern and movement, in the trees of CenterPark.

LEGO Santa: A six-foot Santa Claus, which took two master builders 180 hours to create, stands on level one near Zara.

Paper for Water Origami Ornaments: Dallas-based nonprofit Paper for Water handcrafted these ornaments on display on level one in Neiman Marcus Court.


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