“I ended up getting a call from this woman and her husband, and they happened to be big art collectors,” he said. “She gave me a chance –– I did one little area (of her patio garden), and through her, it was all word of mouth.”
Today, patio and rooftop gardens have become fairly commonplace in larger cities, but when he was breaking onto the scene in the ‘90s, it was still a relatively novel concept. Carloftis said his work stands out in New York because his style focuses on the plants, first and foremost.
“Part of the reason that (my gardens) have been popular in New York is because I don’t have a background in architecture,” he said. “There’s already concrete and glass and steel in everything in New York –– when you come to my gardens, you’re in a garden. It’s about the plants, rather than overbuilding.”
Building off that first job, Carloftis soon developed a steady network of clients in New York City, and grew his reputation as a talented and down-to-earth gardener –– eventually leading him to jobs that have included designing and installing gardens for Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, and Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer.
A large component of Carloftis’ work has been education and outreach –– he estimates that he speaks to 10,000 people a year through home and garden shows and other lectures. He has also organized numerous garden tours of Kentucky for participants from other states. “It’s an easy sell,” he said.
Even though he has always maintained one foot in Kentucky –– and a home in Chevy Chase –– Carloftis spent most of the past two decades in the Pennsylvania office he keeps just outside New York, typically spending no more than a few days a month at his home in Lexington. But when he was commissioned to participate in a major Kentucky project in 2010 –– designing and installing the center garden at the Alltech Experience Garden and the Kentucky Experience tent during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games –– Carloftis wrote all his New York clients to tell them he would be in Kentucky for two months.
What he discovered was surprising: he relished connecting more deeply with his Lexington roots, and found he could get by pretty well maintaining contact with his New York clients from his Lexington base and traveling there as needed.