Moments that defined your career in landscape architecture

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    Everybody here has a story.

    I’m curious to hear what got you into doing what you’re doing. Where did your passion for landscape originate? 

    What were the narratives that you had growing up that defined and transformed the world into a canvas for you? 

    The folks here at Secter (we’re a Portland-based environmental design firm) are all children of the parks we played in. Or the camping trips our parents planned for us. Some of us are simply trying to figure out a “sense of place.”

    What made this career meaningful for you, and how does the practice define how you see and experience the world now?



    I’ll play..

    I think it all started for me pretty young. I used to draw pencil and straight edge drawings of imaginary houses for me and my family to live in, often surrounded by mountains, trees, and a ski run or two.

    Later in childhood I would collect ski resort trail maps from places all over and draw them. Later, I would make up my own mountains and maps with a pencil and paper. My first physical model came around age 10 when I would take a blanket and drape it across our living room sofa to form a mountain slope for my GI Joes to ski down. I fashioned skis out of cardboard and toothpicks for ski poles. Adding pillows under the blanket was the equivalent of moving dirt to form peaks and valleys.

    I was lucky to grow up in Maine where there is ample forest for kids to explore. We built forts and tried to float our snow sleds across the ephemeral pools that formed in the field behind my house. We built up brusha nd rock piles for forts and encampments.

    I began mountain biking around age 13. My friends and I would build pirate trails all over our local woods to ride. In the Summers I began taking more of an interest in gardening, helping my mother design planting beds in our small yard.

    I rediscovered landscape as a career when I was in my early 20’s on the construction side. I returned to college at 25 to pursue the design side. I feel like I’m just beginning to remember why I took interest in this field in the first place. Its easy nowadays to get caught up in all the egotism that surrounds this profession when its really all so simple.

    I thought this topic was kind of lame at first, but now I have to admit its kind of fun to think about.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    My father was a landscaper and plant guru at a nursery. I grew up working with him. His thing was rock gardens that most people would mistake for Japanese Gardens, although he never considered them Japanese. They were influenced by mountains in eastern Europe we he came from.

    I started college thinking that I wanted to do something else, but quickly changed my mind and began to study Landscape Architecture in ’82. I could not draw well and at that time drawing was 60% of everything in school and 90% of your ability to get hired – I dropped out and became a landscape contractor and worked for a concrete form company in the winters.

    I decided to go back to school after a recession in the early 90’s with the idea that I could draw with a computer (although I could not type and never touched a computer). I got my degree in ’97 and licensed in 2000. I have always worked at least part time in residential landscape design and civil site planning at the same time continuously since ’99. Currently I work about 20 hours a week in a civil office doing commercial site plans, conservation mitigation,  subdivision design, and whatever else they throw at me. I work the rest of the week doing mostly residential landscape design on vacation homes on Cape Cod. The crossover skill sets make both more fun and interesting. I do design only.

    Like Nick, I think there is too much egoism in the profession and it is as simple or complicated as you chose to make it.



    It’s stories like these that move us and affirm the vitality of the profession–but hopefully not in yet another boring and insipid self-validating way.

    Thanks for sharing. It makes me feel like landscape is the book of all our experiences, the story of which, of course, was and continues to be ours to write.


    Trace One

    Olmsteads Prospect Park in Brooklyn – moved a block away after college, and  it is awesome. Was a park ranger and environmental educator there. Combined with Ian McHarg’s passionate program for environmental design at U of Penn. Only place I applied. Have NOT been happy with the work,however – spent too long in planning, cannot make the transition to computers – I wanted the combination of environmentalism and art – and I am NOT detail oriented.

    Oh well.


    mark foster

    1st veg garden at age 5.  Lived in trees and tore apart every toy I ever owned to see how it worked 5-12.  Camping, hiking, kayaking etc 12-20.  Studied (something else) in England for a year, fell in love with the parks and estate gardens 21.  Applied to Env. reclamation program in engineering college, referred to LA.  Never looked back.


    Shavawn Coleman

    Since I was 15 I knew I wanted to be in the architecture field of some sort. When I took my first semester of architecture school, we had to attend one jury of each discipline (Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Architecture). I went to the architecture jury, and to be honest was very bored, all they talked about was the loads on the steel columns. Though I know it is very important, as an 18 yr old, it didn’t impress me. Then I went to the interior architecture jury, and the poor girl was in tears! Once again, being 18, I was not having that. Then my last jury, landscape architecture. It was the 3rd year class, they designed a new playground for a local elementary school. Not only were the college students presenting, they also brought in the 3rd grade class they worked with to design what the kids wanted. Once I saw the impact of those students, I knew that’s what I needed to do. Seeing those 8 year old’s eyes light up knowing that one day they will play on that playground.


    Jason T. Radice

    I’m hoping I haven’t had my defining moment yet.


    Ernst Glaeser


    You were born in the mids of last century, a true post WW2 child, somewhere in the wild west of the British Protectorate, somewhere between your parents looking for money and a childhood hey day on you uncles farm. You struggle through schools, explore with your Kodak Box in endless walks the horizon, a walk to or from school takes you 5 hours for a maximum 3 km stretch; God, there are thousand things to see, steamrollers, cable pullers, construction in on and above the ground: forget homework, forgotten are all the chores, never mind grounded again. You develop an interest in arts, biology is your topic, flower power teaches you to grow weeds, the horticulturist how to responsibly operate a greenhouse, the brewery that hops is bitter for a good reason, and you are still at school. But you know, you have to make up your mind soon, your parents are pushing, the social environments are expecting it from you: Which profession will you choose for the rest of your life? Which apprenticeship will you take up? At school they are mocking you because you had said that you want to be a good father whilst the others wanted to be bank clerks or car mechanics. Your first choice is to be a graphic designer, your understanding of art, colour, shape, space, form, harmony, technique, all top, but as your folks say; art is a “bread less” art. Your parents insist in you choosing a real profession, what a disaster, they chose the war. OK, you give in; you are qualified to become a nursery man, you always loved plants, that’s what they argued with. Two years away from home, hallelujah, and you put into action the fine art of doing not more than absolutely necessary to the point that your vocational school teacher and your taskmaster unison decide not to let you take your final exams. Little do they know, you pass with flying flags. This brings you to and through your military service. And then? That’s it; you decide to become a famous garden architect, creating beautiful gardens for rich and even richer people. What more does it need then a medioca school record and a brilliant practical base as an arborist? Right, an university education, another wasted time, studying where you had to feed a wife meanwhile. Your parents make it clear, no support; we have already financed an education, why do you think you have to be something better. All this is food for you. You struggle through the technical and construction lectures, you are good in design, and you cover urban and rural planning with closed eyes and one arm tied to your back. But you got meanwhile three hungry mouths to feed. Where do they pay most? –Landscape Construction- Why not, you got it! You make your way, from landscape construction to landscape architecture office. Until your boss thinks that you should go and work in Riyadh as a site supervisor. You do your term; 5 years instead of 6 weeks leave replacement. Being back you try and waste your money by being self employed but you had grown. You are meanwhile confident and convinced about yourself. You realise that you are rotten spoiled; you have to go abroad again. You try Far East; you try Europe, you try the USA, you do design, construction, planning, consultant, advisor, you try all sides of the round table. And you might find, YOU ARE HAPPY. 

    I hope my daughter reads it. At least I tried. ….to be a good father

    Right now I’m not a contractor, not a consultant, not a PM/CM, not a client.



    What was your question?   


    Terry Sims

    Great Question.  I was sitting on the edge of the Yosemite River and filling out a questionnaire in the book “I Could Do Anything I Want if Only I Knew What it Was”.  I wanted to change my career path incorporating my Fine Arts Degree (of 30 years prior) in an outside environment.  The end result of the questionnaire was a recommendation that I investigate Landscape Architecture, which I did.  I have become a residential Landscape Designer and Landscape Contractor.  I wake up every morning loving what I do and with an excitement to get to my job. Because I have a passion for what I do, great income has followed.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a career change. You can buy it on


    Xpat Larki

     My story is also “moving” in some literal sense.

    I was a victim and at the same time, beneficiary of Architecture‘s arrogance, so to speak.

    The university where I wanted to get in, has a minimum allowable grade for one to enlist in their School of Architecture. And so, I didn‘t reach the mark and settled for Landscape Architecture and begun my pragmatic but passionate (if there‘s such a thing) journey into the profession.

    Fast forward late 90’s to early 2000’s: trained architects were ending up in Landscape offices due to stiff competition in their most noble profession and most of them usurping Landscape Architecture’s long-time brand: GREEN aka LEED.

    More recently as I have relocated to China: have been doing Concept Architecture myself as coincidental to masterplanning projects which my office has been involved in.

    Guess, I just came full circle.

    And so thanks to Architecture for rejecting me and China for giving me the break:)

    Landscape Architecture RULES!!! 🙂


    J. Robert Wainner

    OK……my story goes way back to the 2nd grade (7 yrs. old – 1957).  Our Art Class had a drawing contest and for whatever reason, it was important for me to win…I was 1 of 2 class members who rec’d a Blue Ribbon – first place.

    My Dad was a very gifted Graphic Designer (who spent 2 yrs. at the “Los Angeles Art Center”)….he went on to have a very successful 35 year design career….and he was a major influence on my wanting to grow up to be a “designer”.

    In the 7th Grade, I took my first Architectural Drafting Class – made an “A”…I loved it.  Had another drafting class in the 9th Grade…another “A”. Also, in Junior High, I took 2 Art Classes….did well and enjoyed them.  Senior High was the same…additional Architectural Drafting Courses & Art Classes – all A’s.  After graduating from High School, I spent 3 semesters at North Texas State University (just North of Dallas), took mostly art, architectural drawing & interior design courses.  But, I realized Interior Design was just not the design field for me.  I dropped out and enlisted in the U.S. Navy for 4 yrs.  I then spent 4 yrs. on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea…and I was able to spend a lot of free time ashore, visiting Spain, France, Italy & Greece.  Little did I know, that Europe is practically the birth place of Landscape Architecture.  I saw so many fantastic plazas, water features, varieties of plant materials, seasonal flowers, Italian Villas in Rome, streetscapes, paving materials, drainage solutions, etc. 

    After being Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1974….I came across the course catalog for Texas A&M and discovered “Landscape Architecture”… seemed like the PERFECT FIT for me.  I graduated from Texas A&M with my B.S.L.A. in 1977.  And, now….35+ years later….I can look back and know….that I made the RIGHT decision to become a Landscape Architect…absolutely no regrets.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner                                                                                                                              Plano, Texas

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