Horticulture instructor draws on design, plant knowledge and business sense

James Drzewiecki, MATC instructor

James Drzewiecki

Milwaukee Area Technical College

Horticulture Instructor

As a teenager, James Drzewiecki re-landscaped his family’s yard. “I grew up gardening,” explains the founder and principal of Ginkgo Leaf Studio, an award-winning landscape design firm based in Cedarburg. 

After earning a degree in architecture at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Drzewiecki worked at one of Wisconsin’s largest design/build firms. Eventually, he realized the company was more about building than designing and that didn’t suit his sensibilities. “I wanted a profession where my degree would apply,” he said. 

Drzweiecki opened Ginkgo Leaf Studio in 2007. The company survived the economic downturn and business is “roaring” now. According to Drzewiecki that success is due in part to the green movement. “People care more about their environment,” he explained. 

Ginkgo Leaf Studio creates designs for residential and commercial clients blending an understanding of design principles, construction practices, hardscape materials, and plant knowledge. Many of their designs are featured in local, national and international publications. 

“I’m a hybrid,” he states. “I know plants and I have an understanding of architecture and construction including patios, retaining walls, lighting, irrigation, and water management systems.” 

About 17 years ago, Drzewiecki contacted Milwaukee Area Technical College to see if they had any classes for the design software he used at his former employer. The college didn’t have the class he wanted. However, they asked him to develop and teach such a class. 

“They found out I was one of the only people in the Midwest using that software,” Drzewiecki said. After teaching the Computer Aided Design for Landscape class, Drzewiecki discovered he liked teaching and soon added Landscape Design, Horticulture Soils, Horticulture Business Principles and Landscape Construction to his course repertoire. 

Students appreciate Drzewiecki’s real-world approach and the fact that he knows the industry. “I use all my experience and examples from my own business,” he said. “And my classes are very hands-on.” 

As an instructor, Drzewiecki can be “brutally honest” because he wants students to learn from their mistakes. 

“The harsh reality of the profession is that your clients won’t like every idea you present,” he explained. “I want to help the students understand why some ideas fail.” 

Drzewiecki’s teaching style is very conversational. He enjoys mentoring students. 

“Knowing I could be improving someone’s design practice or business is very rewarding,” he concludes.