If Edwina von Gal had her way, we’d all take a page out of nature’s notebook and stop trying to push back against the inevitable march of time. Her naturalist philosophy makes for an excellent metaphor for our movement.
“You see this on people’s faces now. They’re not allowed to age, so they become ever more frightening with the lengths they go to freeze their face in a moment in time,” she told me. “Landscapes are never the same, and my favorite landscapes are those that are designed to allow for that. You’re never going to see the same landscape for two successive moments in time.”
One of New York’s top landscape designers, von Gal has come a long way since she started her practice way back in 1984 in the closet of a building on Park Avenue. That’s an actual fact, by the way. A real estate developer she worked for told her the importance of having a good address, “because banks don’t give commercial accounts to people who don’t have a lease at a good address. So I said, okay, and I found a supply closet that was large enough to put a desk inside. But my address was Park Avenue.”
She built an impressive client list and, a few years ago, when she turned 65 decided not to retire (“I guess people don’t really do that anymore”). Instead she built a nonprofit committed to promoting toxin-free lawns and landscapes. It’s called the Perfect Earth Project and appeals to the “secret hippie flower child in my soul,” as she puts it.
A dedicated practitioner of meditation since her 50s, von Gal has embraced technology: apps on her phone include the mindfulness app Headspace as well as a really handy list-sharing app called Wunderlist.
“I think curiosity is absolutely essential—that’s the key to aging without boredom,” she says. “Someone who is incurious is someone who is fearful, because they’re not open, they don’t want to look there—because maybe you’d be afraid of what you would see. Curiosity is a process of constantly being challenged. My daughter always says, ‘Well, Mom, you’re older than you act.’ How old do I act? That’s for others to say. All I know is that I don’t have a lot of friends my age.”