Shawn Maestretti: The sustainability alchemist

The founder of Studio Petrichor finds a sense of self in nature as he pushes the envelope of sustainability in landscape architecture and design.
Shawn Maestretti, founder of Los Angeles-based Studio Petrichor, retraces his journey in landscape architecture and sustainability.

Growing up in Reno, Nevada, Shawn Maestretti felt like an outsider. But there was one place where Maestretti was welcomed with open arms. When he was in nature, planting watermelon seeds in his mom’s garden or catching frogs in a nearby pond, Maestretti found his home.

Decades later, he would continue to rule over his green kingdom as the owner and founder of Studio Petrichor, a Los Angeles-based regenerative landscape architecture and design company.

“I suppose I’ve been challenging the green industry ever since I started to understand what green really was,” Maestretti says. “… When we can acknowledge that saving the Earth is on us, the only way through this is if we’re actively participating in understanding these natural systems and trying to work with them instead of against them.”

From a hobby to a job

Life had never been easy for Maestretti. He struggled through school, constantly fighting with his yet-to-be-diagnosed neurodiverse mind and different way of learning. Surrounded by a new ecosystem when he moved to Southern California in his 20s, he remembered his love for plants.

His life would reach a turning point when he worked at an interior/exterior design accessory shop in West Hollywood, where Maestretti oversaw the outdoor pots, plants and fountains. A woman who owned a local jewelry shop asked Maestretti to design some pots for her. Pleased with his work, she then asked if he’d be interested in doing her landscape.

“She saw something in me that I didn’t, and she nurtured it,” Maestretti says. “That tends to be a thread through the story of my adulthood.”

In his 30s, Maestretti sought to expand his professional palette as a licensed landscape professional into landscape architecture. He enrolled in UCLA’s Extension Landscape Architecture program in 2009. He started working at large landscape architecture and design firms to learn more about sustainable design.

But when Maestretti struggled to sell what he understood as sustainability to customers, he put himself on a journey.

“It started with having a better understanding of the foundation of everything — soil, water and climate,” Maestretti says. “… I believe that there’s a seed in everything. Whether it’s living or not, there could be a reuse for it.”

This led to the formal birth of Shawn Maestretti Garden Architecture, which eventually evolved into Studio Petrichor in 2012, its name meaning the scent of rain after a long dry period. Today, the company employs three designers, an administrator and a couple consultants.

“Our mission at Studio Petrichor is to inspire a global paradigm shift by influencing humanity’s reintegration with nature,” Maestretti says.

Maestretti also started educating others on ways to reimagine landscapes and lifestyle, like doing presentations — including one for Evoso Live, founding nonprofit Poly/Ana and writing a book.

Naturally reviving a Colonial Revival

One of Maestretti’s most cherished landscape projects is an outdoor revamp of a 1938 Colonial Revival style home nestled in Hollywood’s Santa Monica foothills. The owners initially envisioned a California native garden spanning the 7,000-square-foot outdoor space, but Maestretti knew this project could go beyond planting native trees in a fun design.

Maestretti’s pitch was a naturalistic, wild landscape with regenerative and life supporting abilities. He designed a garden that matched the home’s architectural style, featuring axial pathways, a walkway of trees, a kitchen garden, cruciform features and all native plants, aside from a small rose garden.

He achieved his goal of minimizing materials sent to the landfill by 98%. Maestretti transformed some of the property’s concrete pavers into a waterfall fountain, old flagstone into a patio using salvaged brick as a border and dead trees into compost.

“When we become our own water managers, we are in relationship to the land so that we don’t put as much unnecessary potable water on a landscape that can thrive on very little because it’s native,” he says.

Designed and constructed in 2018, the project was featured in the 2022 Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

“That project has become transformational for our clients as well as the local biodiversity, because it’s one of the only native gardens in that eco region that is alive with so many native bees, pollinators and wildness,” Maestretti says.

Sparking a movement

Maestretti hopes other landscape companies adopt a similar emphasis on lasting sustainability. For those up and coming in the industry, he advises them to have patience, a willingness to fail and a desire to learn from failure.

Spreading awareness through his sustainable landscape projects is a key motivator of Maestretti’s, but there’s one thing that keeps him pushing the green envelope: his 5-year-old son, Porter.

“I want him to know how wonderful this world is and feel gratitude for it, want to protect it and care for it as if our life depends on it,” Maestretti says. “I want that for all of us.”

McKenna Corson is the digital content editor for Irrigation & Lighting and can be reached here.

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