Plant Based, In Every Way

Hamptons landscaping guru Michael Derrig, founder of Landscape Details, is renowned throughout the East End for making plants thrive. Now that he’s gone vegan, the plants are returning the favor.
Photo: Dani Rendina

By Julia Szabo

Michael Derrig’s company, Landscape Details, is a plant powerhouse responsible for designing some of the most breathtaking scenery on the East End. His clients naturally appreciate the attention to detail that makes properties blossom like verdant temples. But Derrig’s own temple—his body—was languishing due to poor nutrition and unhealthy eating habits. “I used to start the morning with coffee and an egg sandwich on a bagel, usually eaten on the run, in my truck,” recalls Derrig, 54. “I did that for 17 years.” Despite diligent workouts with a trainer, “I was 5-foot-8 and well over 220 pounds,” Derrig admits. “I tried so many different diets—Weight Watchers, Nutragenix, Herbalife—always to find that I would go back to my same weight. I felt sluggish. Then my cholesterol started to climb, and so did my blood pressure.”

Determined to break an unhealthy cycle, Derrig immediately adopted a plant-based diet in March of last year. “Overnight, I went vegan, organic, and non-GMO,” Derrig says. He also, definitively, cut out sugar. The payoff was substantial. “Within three months, I lost 38 pounds; my blood pressure and cholesterol returned to normal; and my energy increased.”

But eating kale and other raw greens took some getting used to: “They can taste like the bottom of a lawn mower,” Derrig allows, “but if they’re prepared well, they taste great.” To ensure that plants always satisfy his palate, Derrig has meals delivered by Sue Larsen’s East End catering service, Vegan Monkey. Now, instead of an egg sandwich, a typical breakfast is green juice with celery and ginger, or coconut yogurt and granola with berries on top, plus unsweetened, organic coffee with oat milk from Jack’s in Amagansett. “I have many small meals during the day. My favorite is avocado toast made with degraded gluten bread from Night Owl in Montauk. I add mushrooms to just about everything. Portabella burgers are killer! When I feel the urge to snack, I’ll have a bowl of fruit, or celery and carrots, and I hydrate with coconut water.”

He’s looking forward to harvesting zucchini, beets and radishes from the kitchen garden he recently planted—his first. “I’ve designed and maintained literally dozens of vegetable gardens for other people, but never thought to have one of my own. Now here I am starting one, and loving it!”

Anything sustainable requires balance, Derrig says, whether it’s a diet or a landscape: “You need the right amount of greens, grains and protein. You have to know what time of year the squash, beets and rhubarb are in season—just  like you do with the flowers and shrubs. There’s definitely a correlation between creative design and creative, plant-based food. What I do in my business—creating custom designs for clients—I now do in my diet. Knowing all the plants, what grows where and when, and what looks good and feels good to a certain area: That’s what makes a successful project.” And, as Derrig discovered, a vibrant life in full bloom.