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Daryl Toby’s idea of dressing up means grabbing a clean T-shirt from his truck and tucking it into his khaki hiking shorts. An environmentalist and landscape designer, with the soul of an adventurer, Toby, 31, is as comfortable in a Brazilian rain forest as he is in a formal Japanese garden.
It was his passion for travel that led Toby to integrate a degree in resource development/environmental management from Michigan State with his newest venture, AguaFina Fine Water Gardens in Sylvan Lake. “My life on the road began with an overseas study program in Brazil,” says Toby. He was so smitten with the culture, he kept returning, mastering the Spanish and Portuguese languages, and developing the skills needed to explore new horizons – from Belize to Guatemala, Europe, and eventually Vietnam and the Far East. In the meantime, the entrepreneurial streak in Toby led him to start his own company, AFM Landscape Inc. “I worked all spring, summer and fall, and traveled during the winter, often buying garden sculptures for private clients. I studied Asian rock styles and Balinese landscape art.”
Finally, while in Thailand and Indonesia, driving around on a motorbike, Toby saw so much “cool stuff” that he started importing containers of huge stones and sculptures for the garden. Most of the Asian gardens contained water features, thus AguaFina was born. “Eastern gardens are very sensual,” says Toby. “They combine textures, sound, scent. And they’re more natural, less forced, than European gardens. They’re structured, but look free-form.”
Toby continues to travel, gathering such artifacts as a Chinese peasant’s chair, antique rice buckets, Balinese water urns, Javanese statues and ancient stone fountains. His warehouse is filled with exotica from his adventures. And his boutique firm is turning ordinary Midwest back yards into tranquil mini-ecosystems with Asian-inspired streams, tropical water lilies and Japanese stone lanterns.
This summer he’s conducting an “East Meets West” garden tour to Bali, where he and his guests are invited to stay in one of the island’s posh hotels. It’ll be a far cry from Toby’s usual travel style. “All I need is a backpack, a hammock and a laptop, and I’m off,” he says. And an uncanny knack for remaining open to every possibility. You never know who might lead you to a hand-carved Balinese garden statue.