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10 year logoBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘In my capacity as landscape consultant to a town near where I live,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky to open his On the Level column for September 2009,  ‘I was approached . . . by a landscape architect who was just starting her career after graduating from a prestigious, five-year landscape architecture program.

‘She was designing a butterfly garden, she said, and wanted to know what plants to use.   As I ran down the list, she asked me to stop at one name in particular and spell it.  The plant in question was Clethra alnifolia, commonly known as “Summersweet” – a New York native widely known for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.  I bring this up because, frankly, I was flabbergasted that after five years of education, this newly minted landscape architect seemed to have no knowledge of local fauna.’  He continued:


‘This wasn’t the first time I’d had such an experience.  In fact, I’ve been taken aback by the lack of practical knowledge landscape architects bring to the process more times than I care to consider – and can’t say I’m surprised that it’s especially a problem among those just coming out of school.’


‘The episode with the butterfly garden brought back to mind a dialogue [in] Landscape Architecture (the official publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects):  In his column, [the editor] asked if students of landscape architecture should be trained in the field as well as in the classroom.’  


‘I felt compelled to respond with a long letter in which I asserted that, absolutely, all students of landscape architecture should be required to spend time in the field learning about the implementation (and the ramifications) of their design work.  They should know, I wrote, exactly what it’s like to dig holes, set bricks, carry large stones, prepare soils for planting, shoot grades, install drainage systems and witness the effects of their hydraulic designs – among myriad other experiences. ‘


‘I fully expected some blowback from landscape architects – but was delighted instead when every other letter the magazine published fell in with my line of thinking.’


‘I’m not knocking classroom education; rather, I’m saying that landscape architects need a roughly equal amount of field experience to go along with all that classroom education.’


‘As I see it, there’s a two-way street here:  University-trained landscape architecture students should be required to work in the field – dig holes, carry bricks, roll wheelbarrows and do what they’ll soon be asking others to do in implementing their designs.  They should gain firsthand knowledge of the ramifications of their designs and see things not only as polished presentations but as products that appear in the real world where people have to build and move through them.’  


‘Conversely, landscape designers who learn their craft in the field should be required to seek out classrooms where they can learn top-flight graphic skills and amass knowledge on engineering, hydraulics and the environment as well as information on plants and their specific needs.’  


‘I’ve spent all the years of my lengthening career seeking to strike a balance between the classroom and the field,’ Bruce concluded.  ‘It doesn’t matter to me that none of this is required of me by any agency or licensing authority:  I believe we should all be continually and continuously educating ourselves in order that we may achieve our ultimate goal of providing our clients with dramatic, fulfilling, safe and usable exterior environments.’

Bruce raises issues here that seem to bubble up periodically in the landscape community.  Have you witnessed any progress toward inclining young landscape architects to know the tools and materials of their trade in more than an abstract sense?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below!


Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky and Associates, a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  Nationally recognized for creative and inspiring residential landscapes, he also works with healthcare facilities, nursing homes and local municipalities in conceiving and installing healing and meditation gardens.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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