Out Houstonian William D. Skinner III just wanted something to do in his free time. Five years later, his gardening pastime has turned into a full-fledged landscaping business.
“I really needed something to do with my hands, so I decided to get into yard work,” he says. “I had fixed up my house, and my neighbor saw what I did and asked for my help. I ended up working on his lawn, and it kind of just snowballed from there.”
“I try to take each client’s unique perspective—how much they are going to take care of the garden, how they like to relax—and incorporate that into what their lawn is going to be.”
Fire and Flora, one of the city’s premier landscaping businesses, offers a multitude of services that include installing irrigation systems and redesigning landscapes for yards, patios, walkways, and more.
Forming his own business has been a whirlwind journey, and the list of Skinner’s clientele has steadily grown since he officially opened his doors two years ago.
“It has been going quite well,” he says. “The interesting thing about what I do is I try to take each client’s unique perspective—how much they are going to take care of the garden, how they like to relax—and incorporate that into what their lawn is going to be.”
Skinner believes his success so far is due to his interest in going beyond the city’s usual landscaping staples—boxwoods, crepe myrtles, and oaks. “I think people have seen that I have this unique perspective in regards to landscaping in Houston,” he notes. “I’ve been doing a mixture of cacti and different grasses, things of that nature. People really came to like it.”
Skinner tends to mix different types of trees and grasses to create areas in a yard that are a fun throwback to more rural desert areas such as Santa Fe or Arizona.
“For people who want unique lawns and backyards, what I do is mix cactus with ornamental trees, taking these different styles and blending them into a contemporary, modern look,” he explains.
When it comes to more unique landscaping trends in Houston, Skinner has noticed some interesting choices in many people’s yards. “I see nuttall oaks,” he says. “I see ligustrums, I see boxwoods. I see loropetalums. Those are basically the kind of plants that people have been asking for. These plants always look nice, and usually never die. They’re neat and tidy—especially good for people who don’t want to mess with anything.”
Recently, Skinner has noticed people spending more time outside due to the pandemic restrictions. “People want to find some constructive ways to use their time to either redo their homes, paint, do art, stuff like that,” he says. “Landscaping is a part of that—getting outside and just planting new plants. Even if they can’t go anywhere, they can create a space that’s comfortable and relaxing, given the year that we just had.”
Helping someone build their perfect yard or lawn gives Skinner great solace. In many ways, his job allows him to see people in a more intimate setting.
“I get to see people in a different light,” he says. “I get to find out what they need in their personal spaces. You have to think of the value [that the landscaping brings to the client], not just its curb appeal. I take all those things into consideration when I design a lawn.”
Many people value a lawn or yard as their calm space, so Skinner makes sure he creates a landscape that really fosters relaxation.
“I am a military veteran, and I know how hard it can be to be in combat and not being able to come home to a space at all,” he says. “People [have similar feelings] when they go to certain jobs, like if you’re a lawyer, a nurse, a doctor, or a surgeon. These green spaces are their solace.”
Right now, many people are trying to figure out what to do with their dead greenery after the disastrous winter freeze in February. Skinner has a simple tip for people experiencing yard turmoil: Patience.
“Because this was an extremely unusual freeze, you just have to wait it out,” he explains. “It is about patience. Decide what is important in your garden, and if you want to replace things, go ahead and replace them. However, if you cut it back and see growth, just have patience and let it grow back. It will actually grow back a lot stronger.”
For more information on Fire and Flora, go to fireandflorahtx.com.
This article appears in the April 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.