Friend's request leads to 'Romancing' design firm

by Samuel Frost
Posted 8/11/21

The Chestnut Hill community is known for its beautiful gardens, and for the past 24 years local landscaper Susan Galka has brought botanical dreams to life with her company Romancing the …

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Friend's request leads to 'Romancing' design firm


The Chestnut Hill community is known for its beautiful gardens, and for the past 24 years local landscaper Susan Galka has brought botanical dreams to life with her company Romancing the Garden.

Susan has been a lifelong gardener since she began with her grandmother at her childhood home in Connecticut. “The passion runs deep,” said Susan, a Wyncote resident in a 200-plus-year-old house.

“I grew up gardening through my earlier life, and then later at home with my children and in volunteer activities.”

When Susan and her family moved from Chicago to Philadelphia in 1996, she had no intention of starting her own company. “When my children were old enough, I thought to start a nursery of rare plants, and a friend of mine here held a reception where a ‘friend of a friend’ of ours came,” she said. “They asked if I could possibly landscape their property, and I said of course, and that’s how it started.”

All of these years later, that first property is still maintained by Romancing the Garden. “We have many long-time clients, properties we’ve been on for many years in development and maintenance,” she said.

The company, Galka Outdoor Design, LLC, began in 1997 as Romancing the Garden and still operates under that name. They do landscape design, installation, consultation and maintenance services. The company specializes in full-spectrum, custom design according to the lifestyle and budget of each client.

According to clients “J. and L.” in Wyndmoor, “After too many years and expense of not getting it right, we found Susan. Our place reflects us intimately and not only meets but exceeds our dreams for it.”

“Our landscapes are not cookie-cutter,” Susan insists. “We approach the process as a painter with canvas, layering texture, color, form upon the landscape and taking the eye along pleasingly with thought to each month of the year. A kinetic, evolving, living painting. We plant specimen trees, shrubs, perennials and as possible, native woodland plants that are becoming extinct in the wild. We install natural stone paths, walls and patios.

“Everything is about listening to the client about how they use the property, what provides delight to their sensibilities, and then I try to reflect that back into the landscape.”

Beyond designing garden ideas from scratch, Galka is often required to solve existing problems for properties that have a long history of cultivation. “One of our clients has a very difficult backyard in terms of drainage, it drains to the center from all other points of the yard,” she said. “So we have been working on grading and developing rain gardens to collect the water and making it into a beautiful woodland garden.”

Over the past 16 months, Romancing the Garden has had to weather uncertainties caused by the pandemic. “The past year has been difficult for people who do what we do, with the availability of plants and delays in receiving materials,” Susan said. “This year has been more relaxed, but surprisingly, the supply chain issues have remained, and demand for services is way up.”

Not only have supply chain issues caused headaches, but hiring more workers to meet the demand has been difficult for the entire landscaping industry and many other industries. Some local projects that her company has maintained for years include the Chestnut Hill Hotel and Market at the Fareway. Her eye-catching designs there won a Philadelphia Horticultural Society award for their beauty.

“We were fortunate to be able to work through the pandemic, but many were not,” Susan said. “It’s so important for people in Chestnut Hill to support their local businesses, especially after what they’ve been through this past year.”

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