Walking through Daniel Meunier’s backyard “laboratory,” it’s clear the 29-year-old Edmond man is enthusiastic about his livelihood. The longtime landscaper has a newfound burning passion for verticalscapes, otherwise known as living walls or living art.
“I’m just ate up with it,” he says. The “black sheep” in a family full of lawyers, doctors and accountants, Meunier definitely exudes a tree-hugging air.
“I was always looked at as the free-spirit hippie guy out there messing in the dirt,” Meunier says. His green thumbs are accentuated by soiled fingernails.
After working in landscape design and horticulture for nearly the past decade, Meunier opened his own company, Laurel Leaf Landscape LLC, last year. But he found that during the slow winter months, he need a way to generate income. That’s when he discovered vertical living art.
He builds frames for his pieces using materials ranging from driftwood found at Lake Arcadia, to carved-out tree stumps and hypertufa pots (Portland cement mixed with peat and vermiculite so when it dries, it’s very light).
Meunier’s backyard lab contains a greenhouse where baby plants are housed, a reserve of dozens of maturing plants nestled in a flowerbed to grow, a giant aloe vera plant given to him by a customer, and several commissioned works in progress.
He loves to use succulents in his arrangements. They are one of the easiest plants to maintain, requiring very little water. They come in so many exquisite colors and shapes, all with perfect symmetry; they’re perfect for Meunier’s art.
“I call them nature’s jewels,” he said.
Meunier flicks at a passion fruit flower climbing the backside of the home, urging it to open up and show its brilliance as he talks enthusiastically about hens and chicks. The succulents are called sempervivum, or “live forever,” because they grow and propagate so readily.
He names flora and fauna like they’re his first language — ajuga, heuchera, helleborous, Chinese ginger, Persian shield. He unpacks a delivered box full of succulents he’s ordered from California and gingerly unwraps each of his new treasures.
Meunier’s love affair with the earthly organic can only be attributed to the summers he spent as a boy, helping his grandmother, Shirlie Franzen, work her gardens in southern Nebraska. Grandson identified with his grandmother’s heart for the earth.
“She gave me that passion and spirituality about gardening,” he says. “She said that was where she went and talked with God at, and where she got all her thinking done.”
His grandparents were farmers and ranchers with 28,000 head of cattle on their land. She probably had a lot to think about.
A growing passion
When Franzen passed away in 2003, Meunier had an awakening of sorts.
“It’s kind of weird, kind of a spiritual thing. When she passed away, that’s when I started noticing that I had a green thumb. I just started developing that ever since.”
Meunier attended OSU-Oklahoma City, where he studied horticulture and landscape design.
After college, he was hired as one of the youngest horticulture technicians at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden. There, he was responsible for Cat Forest and the Lion Overlook, a three-acre botanical garden space.
Meunier implemented a vermiculture program at the zoo for which he composted scraps of the zoo animals’ foods, feeding them to a worm community which recycles the food into “black gold,” a black, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich humus. This humus is used as an organic fertilizer as it is fed back to the earth.
An evolving culture
Living walls are a concept catching on quickly on the east and west coasts and in Europe. The Madrid Green Wall in Spain, created by Patrick Blanc, a well-known vertical gardener in Europe, is a mammoth example of the potential of living walls, looming 78-feet on the side of a nondescript building. The Madrid wall fluctuates patterns and colors seasonally.
“You can have a painting and it just stays like that. This is always changing,” Meunier said. “The art itself will be totally different next year. It will be all compounded on itself, trailing down. It’s really cool.”
Indoor living walls are also being used in structures such as homes, malls and office buildings to naturally clean the air.
For his vertical pieces, Meunier uses very little soil, and has developed an alternative planting method using felt to absorb water. He uses drip line irrigation with the felt method, where water drips from the top, down through the foliage, into a reservoir that turns and circulates it back to the top.
Nature’s air purifiers can be beautiful, modern artworks, Meunier believes. The horticultural community seems to agree. He was invited to be a vendor at this year’s Oklahoma Outdoor Living show where he sold out of his living art designs the first day, he said. There, he was exposed to nearly 37,000 attendees and met HGTV’s Justin Case who is a real enthusiast for Meunier’s art.
Since the Outdoor Living Show, Meunier has spent most of his time fulfilling orders.
“It’s just been all fun work since. Last year I was picking weeds and stuff,” he says, referring to his days getting Laurel Leaf started. “Now people want me to design living walls. I love it.”
For more information about Meunier, his landscaping company and his living art, call 503-3125.