A sure sign of late spring in Lakewood are crops of azalea flowers blooming fiery crimsons and pinks around neighborhood parks and homes.
There was a time, however — azalea lovers might call it the dark ages — when the breathtaking blossoms did not exist in our city at all.
Lambert Landscape Company, celebrating 90 years in business this year, made it possible for the flowering shrubs to take root in Dallas.
In 1934 Dallas oilman Walter W. Lechner and his wife, Ruth, settled into their new home on Lakewood Boulevard. Ruth had big plans for her front yard — a garden chock full of the colorful flowers she had seen on a trip to Tyler, Texas.
To her disappointment, area landscapers informed Ruth Lechner that Dallas’ gummy soil could not sustain the coveted shrubs.
She didn’t let go of the idea easily, though. On a subsequent trip to Oregon, she sought out A.B. Lambert, whose luscious Lambert Gardens were advertised on bright billboards across Portland.
Lambert listened intently to Lechner’s tale of uncooperative Dallas soil. “The soil is different, but you can make soil,” he told her, according to “An Oilman’s Oilman: A Biographical Treatment of Walter W. Lechner” by James Anthony Clark and Judith King (Gulf Publishing Co., 1979).
Lambert put his Shreveport-based brother, Joe Lambert Sr., on the job. Joe figured he could dig 2-feet-deep beds into the Lechners’ esplanade, in which he would formulate the soil to grow the azaleas.
Once the Lechners’ garden bloomed, the stunning sight attracted spectators from far and wide, says Paul Fields, one of Lambert’s owners and the director of design and landscape development.
“Before the 1930s, many people in Dallas had never seen anything like this,” he says. “Thousands of people would drive along Lakewood just to see them.”
The project, according to Clark and King’s book, “was the catalyst for the beautification program that reached across all of Dallas, forever changing it from a city of cedars and junipers and drab colorless northern growth.”
The project boosted Lambert’s reputation and earned the company a spot in many hearts. “The flowers, so natural and uncomplicated, really had touched many hearts. The azalea became a kind of good omen, benefiting all who were involved in the project.”
Joe Lambert eventually got over his disdain for Dallas’ yucky soil, fell in love with the White Rock Lake area, and opened up a Lambert’s office in Dallas. Beginning with the Lechner project, the company revolutionized the city’s landscape architecture while sticking to classic designs. That’s the way it’s still done today, Fields says. “We base all our projects on timeless garden design.”
Fields, like the Lamberts of last century, is zealous about his work. “It is very rewarding to help clients realize their dreams for their gardens. That is my passion — designing, building and maintaining. That’s the thing about gardens — you don’t just build them and move on. It requires a maintenance program, and you stick with them for years.”
Lambert’s isn’t all about flora — about 60 percent of its business these days is from hard construction, such as swimming pools and structures built outside the home, Fields says. He emphasizes that despite the growth of the company during its 90 years, Lambert’s is fully organic. “Some people will tell you it’s impossible to stay completely organic with a large scale operation. We’ve proved that isn’t true.”
During 2009, in recognition of the milestone, Lambert’s is taking special pains to support organizations and events that benefit the environment. For example, the company sponsored a Storybook Playhouse exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum, and donated trees to the Gateway Forest Park in downtown Dallas. It is also sending monthly brochures to clients telling the “story of Lambert’s,” says Lara Moffat, Lambert’s marketing and recruiting manager. “This month we are focused on Lambert’s Green,” a color introduced by and exclusive to the company.