Spreading Beauty and Sustainability by the Yard
Todd Harris '98 is an artist with a green thumb, a trowel and an overarching concern for the environment.
by Carolyn Shea
Educated as a plant ecologist and trained as a stonemason, he uses soil as his canvas, plants and water as his medium and rock as his frame. By skillfully melding these different elements, Harris produces horticultural masterpieces that are as pleasing to the senses as they are propitious to nature.
His company, Stone People, LLC, started in 2003, is in the business of enhancing landscapes all over the South Puget Sound area—for both humans and wild creatures. Employing the most up-to-date techniques—as well as traditional skills—Harris and his crew offer a range of eco-friendly landscaping services, from design to installation, that don’t force customers to make a choice between beauty and sustainability.
Stone People brings together science, art, engineering and the desires of commercial and residential clients into holistic, aesthetically pleasing solutions. A member of Olympia Master Builders’ “Built Green” program and the Northwest Eco-Building Guild, Stone People also fosters the planting of native trees, shrubs, and perennials, which are typically disease- and insectresistant, not invasive and easier to maintain. Many of these plants also suit the needs of native fauna like songbirds, butterflies and bees.
Harris uses his botanical know-how to help clients effectively become refuge managers on their own properties. He practices this approach in his own life at home: The five acres in Tenino where he and his wife Kari live and base their business is certified as a backyard wildlife sanctuary by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Harris has been working hand in hand with Mother Nature since he was an undergraduate. He took landscaping jobs during his summers off, and in his senior year, he did an internship involving the sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants. “It was good experience for learning about identifying plants in the wild,” says Harris.
He learned masonry and finished carpentry after graduation, when he moved up to Seattle for a year. “I realized I enjoyed the stonework aspect and the water features, so when I started my company, I wanted to focus on that more.”
His passion for using stone led him to name his company after the concept of “stone people,” which exists among some Native American tribes who consider rocks as beings imbued with the history of the world. “The name seemed appropriate for someone who works so much with the material,” says Harris.
Three years ago, Stone People had nine employees. Now it has four. This was done by design. “I scaled back because it was more manageable and for quality control,” says Harris. “There’s an artistic element to our work that can easily get lost. We do a lot of specialized landscaping that requires engineering knowledge and an artistic sense. I wanted to be more artistic and didn’t feel like sacrificing quality for money.”
Cutting back also compelled him to run his operation more leanly and efficiently, which turned out to be a good thing when the economy slowed down.
Since he’s been in business, Harris has donated his labor and services to several cash-strapped organizations in the area. He built a pond and a waterfall for the Tenino-based nonprofit sanctuary, Wolf Haven International, and he and his wife helped the Hawks Prairie Sound to Harbor Head Start Program with plantings to give its children a safe place to play. “We believe giving back to the community is important,” he says, “and we’re grateful for the opportunities we have to improve habitat, whether it’s for humans or animals.” Spoken like a true environmental artist.