January 31, 2020

Closer to the Dirt

laire Schuchman, a gardener turned landscaper, always felt closer to the dirt than to the indoors. When she walks through her wild backyard, watching shadows dance on the trees’ rough bark and catching a flash of purple clematis, she finds a new space to think creatively and breathe deeply.

Claire Schuchman, a gardener turned landscaper, always felt closer to the dirt than to the indoors. When she walks through her wild backyard, watching shadows dance on the trees’ rough bark and catching a flash of purple clematis, she finds a new space to think creatively and breathe deeply. She designs and builds these spaces for others too, with her company, Exceptional Gardens.

A Mt. Lebanon home bursts with life after an Exceptional Gardens renovation. Photography by Claire Schuchman, Exceptional Gardens.

Exceptional Gardens designs, implements, and maintains natural landscapes for homeowners seeking all types of landscaping projects. From front yard refreshers to full blown backyard masterpieces, Claire and her team encourage their clients to dream big and find what makes their hearts sing.

Good design takes a person on a journey; and Exceptional Gardens carefully plans natural landscapes that invite one to pause, contemplate, and relax. To create this immersive experience for their customers, the knowledgeable team considers the biology, aesthetics, and functionality of every tree, shrub, plant, and pathway that goes into a landscaping project. By positioning plants in conditions where they’ll thrive and sketching detailed layouts before installation, their micro ecosystems function harmoniously and homeowners feel like they’ve entered a wild natural space.

Claire Schuchman designs beautiful ponds for her home garden and for her clients and uses contractors to install them.
36" x 36" bird feeder built by Sam McMillan of Sam and Mary's Woodworks
Sam McMillan of Sam and Mary’s Woodworks in Bridgeville, PA builds a 36” x 36” bird feeder for Claire Schuchman’s garden before the annual neighborhood garden tour in Mt. Lebanon.

Photography by Claire Schuchman, Exceptional Gardens.

After Exceptional Gardens installs their sustainable landscapes, they strive to maintain them with healthy practices that don’t harm Mother Nature. If issues from weeds or other invasive organisms arise, the team will first use an integrated pest management solution instead of toxic chemicals–like using a vinegar rinse instead of commercial weed killer. Only in dire situations do they resort to industrial solutions. Along with these sustainable maintenance methods, which are approved and used by Phipps Conservatory, the team uses a wealth of other knowledge about plant care from their professional gardening backgrounds.

Claire established Exceptional Gardens in 2004 and enjoyed growing her business, but after a season in 2017 that she thought would end her business, she joined her eforever group in 2018. Looking back on the start of her eforever experience, she says that she was very protective and hesitant to share that information about her business, but in time she felt comfortable enough to open up.  

For Claire, meeting with her eforever group keeps her aware of both the successful and the evolving areas in her business and empowers her to set goals for improvement. She’s come to understand that improving a business doesn’t happen overnight but happens over time with progress.

“I’ve learned that I can’t be successful in a vacuum, and that sometimes, the problem in my business is me. I tend to set unrealistic expectations because of my lack of business experience and that leads to problems down the road. But since I joined my eforever group, I’ve reorganized my business model and have better employees who are doing their jobs well and moving Exceptional Gardens forward.”

Claire Schuchman, founder of Exceptional Gardens

Outside of her business, Claire regularly writes for Mt. Lebanon Magazine, sharing best gardening practices and expert knowledge on natural habitats. Her passion for working in the outdoors, planted when she was a child helping her parents garden, bloomed into a livelihood when she advertised herself as a gardener-for-hire, and ultimately grew to become Exceptional Gardens in Mt. Lebanon, PA. To consult Exceptional Gardens for your next landscaping project, visit ExceptionalGardens.com.  


Entrepreneur: Claire Schuchman

Business:  Exceptional Gardens

Social:  Facebook, Instagram

Pittsburgh, PA

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