Edward “Ted” Baker was obsessed with nature.
“You know leaves have feelings too, right?” he used to tell his son, Edward G. Baker, whenever he yanked them from the tree.
Baker took his love of plants and turned it into a landscape architecture career that spanned nearly five decades and continued through his final days. He died on Friday, Arbor Day. He was 76.
Since he moved to Miami in 1968, Baker ran his own Coral Gables-based firm, taught at Florida International University and served as a landscape architect for the city of Miami.
Friends and family remember the highly accomplished landscape architect as a funny, warm man with a true passion for his profession and a dedication to education.
Gene Tinnie, an artist and community leader, first worked with Baker on Overtown’s Henry Reeves Park in 1977. They met again in 2010 for Sherdavia Jenkins Peace Park, where Tinnie said Baker sought to add special touches that would make the park a memorial in more than name only. The 9-year-old Sherdavia was killed by a bullet as she and her brother and sister were playing outside their home in July 2006.
“There are too few people who get to enjoy their work and derive satisfaction from it. That becomes contagious,” Tinnie said. “He was one of the blessed ones who could do that.”
Baker was born in Staten Island and came to Miami with a degree from California State Polytechnic University and experience with a handful of landscape architecture firms.
Over the nearly 40 years he spent in South Florida, Baker went on to join or found many organizations, all while starting his own business and family.
Baker was a founding member and chair of the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board; on the Urban Development Review Board of the City of Miami for 14 years; on the Design Review Board for the City of Miami Beach for three years; an ExCom member of the Florida Urban Forestry Council; and chairman of the Florida Board of Landscape Architects.
While driving down the street, Baker said his father would point out and name every tree, bush and shrub — in Latin.
“Creating a landscape is about creating an experience,” Baker told the Herald in 2002. “The more daring and challenging those are, the more exciting and rewarding the place will be.”
Edward Baker said his father’s home, which featured a meandering, whimsical garden and no open lawn, was “like walking into a whole different world.”
Ted Baker painted his 1949 cypress house deep red with royal blue trim, lime green decking and robin’s egg blue garden chairs. The home was surrounded by a concrete wall studded with leftover bits of bathroom tile.
“We do things that make us happy. We don't worry about style — which is heretical for a landscape architect,” he told the Herald in 2001.
Baker’s daughter Kristen Baker-Hanenian, from his first marriage, remembered her father as a music-lover who always came home with stray or abandoned animals.
“He found beauty in all things,” she said.
Baker-Hanenian said her father’s dedication to public service inspired her to pursue careers in law enforcement and nursing. Her brother, Baker’s son Timothy Edward Baker-Sinclair, is a lifelong educator.
Baker met his second wife, Lisy, in 1985. He read her profile in the newspaper. He was struck by her, a single mother working as a nurse and a ballerina. He sent her a letter asking to meet, and within three months they were married. They were together 31 years.
“He was always smiling,” his son Edward remembered. “He was jolly.”
An apt choice of words for a man who spent hundreds of dollars on a custom Santa suit to match his naturally snow white and bushy beard. The costume he wore to schools and children’s events was so good, he fooled his own son, who sat on his father’s lap and believed he was Santa.
Baker got along well with children, his son said, and always preached the importance of education. Years after he started his own business, Ted Baker Landscape Architecture, Baker began teaching at Florida International University.
There, he taught and eventually mentored Vicky Trucco as she got her master’s in landscape architecture at FIU. He harshly critiqued her work when she needed it — “He told me, ‘Vicky, you did this in the bathroom.’ And I did!” — and helped her find her first job.
“He met my kids when they were little,” she said. “He gave them lectures about getting MBAs.”
The two kept in touch, even after Baker retired from teaching and went on to work at the city. Trucco said his passion for his work (and his encouragement) inspired her to pursue her goals.
Now she remembers him with a cycad he gave her that she planted in her front yard — that, and the framed quote hanging in her home that he drew and signed. Trucco said it reminds her of Baker’s determination to get everything right, a habit he passed on to her.
“Small is huge,” he wrote.
His ashes were scattered with a live oak seedling in his daughter’s backyard, just as he asked for.
Baker is survived by his wife, Lisy, his son Edward and wife Carling; son Timothy Edward Baker-Sinclair and wife Erika; daughter Kristen Baker-Hanenian and husband Keith; step-daughter Monique Lambert-Baker De Vito and husband David; and six grandchildren, Brandon, Bella, Sage, Summer, Justin and Kendall.