She has made NorthPark’s landscaping the envy of shopping malls. His death brings a hand-picked successor

One of the main reasons people shop at NorthPark Center is the environment, filled with quirky artwork, exotic cacti and blooming flowers lined up in rows or clustered in an identifiable fashion that is the signature of the mall in Dallas for decades.

NorthPark is now transforming its artful landscape architecture from summer to fall like clockwork, but without its world-renowned landscape designer, Judy Ann Cunningham.

Cunningham, 68, died earlier this month at her home in Jemez Springs, NM. She founded Dallas-based Mesa Design Group and retired from the landscaping business in 2012, but continued to work with NorthPark.

For more than four decades, she has planned a year in advance to create elaborate seasonal changes at the local mall, which sees plants as a key part of its shopping vibe. Over the years, retailers have chosen the mall in part because the landscaping has given them confidence in the way the mall is run.

Landscaper Judy Cunningham. (NAN COULTER/Contributor/Special Contributor)

“She was a brilliant and original thinker, and her beautiful and inventive landscapes were instrumental in creating NorthPark’s elevated aesthetic,” said Nancy Nasher, president and owner of NorthPark Center. “I can’t overstate how much his infectious energy, zest for life and brilliant creativity will be missed.”

In a 2015 interview with The Dallas Morning NewsCunningham said she cares about the “details” like finding trees that are identical in growth, having plants that are exclusive to Europe only for NorthPark grafted, and often shipping plants in special crates that are typically used for works of art. ‘art.

She researched collections from private producers. During the 2019 holiday season, she introduced a red felt-dipped plant grown in Israel that took her two years to obtain. NorthPark’s scenery that year included 9,346 new plants and 889 trees.

New seasonal landscaping displays at the NorthPark Center in Dallas.
New seasonal landscaping displays at the NorthPark Center in Dallas. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Cunningham, who grew up in Dallas-Fort Worth and graduated from the University of North Texas in 1975 with a degree in plant taxonomy, has designed plant displays for more than 300 shopping centers around the world, including Europe and in the Middle-East. But she was best known for her work at NorthPark, where she won dozens of landscaping awards.

Nasher’s parents, Patsy and Ray Nasher, who built the mall in 1965, discovered Cunningham’s work at a 1977 exhibition at Lord & Taylor, which at the time was an anchor of the mall commercial.

NorthPark won’t say how much it spends on landscaping, but industry estimates say it’s at least three times what a high-end mall might budget.

Red and green plants are among the Christmas decorations at NorthPark Center on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Dallas.  (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
Red and green plants are among the Christmas decorations at NorthPark Center on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Dallas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)(Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer)

Nasher and Cunningham ensured that his aesthetic continued at NorthPark.

William “Billy” Roberts, who has collaborated with Cunningham on NorthPark for the past two decades, has stepped into his role as chosen successor.

“I learned from the best,” said Roberts, who oversaw the unloading of two tractor-trailers of pumpkins delivered to the mall on Friday.

“Judy was first and foremost a good friend and mentor. His award-winning work as the creative leader of the iconic NorthPark Center landscapes has always been inspirational,” Roberts said. “It was a great experience to be surrounded by someone with their vision, their creativity and their perseverance to realize their vision.”

Fall is back at the NorthPark Center in Dallas.
Fall is back at the NorthPark Center in Dallas.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)
"20 items" (2004-05) by Joel Shapiro is pictured at the NorthPark Center in Dallas on Thursday August 13, 2015.

Twitter: @MariaHalkias

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