There are many careers that will provide that outdoor access, but one with a lot of creative potential is landscape architecture.
You can get involved on many levels, earning anything from a certificate in landscape design to a Master of Landscape Architecture.
The university path basically takes you through a four-year course to get a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture followed by an additional three-year course of study to get you a Masters degree.
You study everything from plant materials, plant identification, horticulture, ecology, and history to construction methods, math and the fundamentals of good design.
Some graduates will focus on urban landscapes, some on commercial applications and still others on digital contexts: it all depends on where your heart and aptitudes lead you.
Another path is through apprenticeship to a firm, but you are still advised to take a college certificate to develop the theoretical knowledge that will help you with your applied experience.
Keith Lemkey, of Lemkey Landscape Design in Winnipeg, says that his training at the University of Guelph, is what made it possible to fully express his creativity.
“You need that technical background,” he says.
For Keith, going back to school to take landscape design was a natural fit. He had spent10 years in the tax department, where he ruefully admits that he “was like a square peg in a round hole”.
“I found it so easy. It all just seemed to make sense,” he said of his courses.
That was a bit funny since, as a kid, he hated cutting the grass or doing anything outside on his family’s two-acre lot. And even after being to England a couple of times and seeing the beautiful landscaped gardens there, he still had no inkling of where his future lay.
It was a trip to Hawaii that inspired him. He was so struck with the beauty and serenity of the place that suddenly, he wanted a yard with a water feature to recapture that feeling. When he learned what he could charge to do this kind of work, his interest shot up and the rest is history. Today, many of his designs include water.
Keith also has an innate creative gift that sets him apart from other designers. His mentor, David Wagner, from the University of Winnipeg, remarked on his ability by saying that it’s like studying music; some people will always sound as if they are taking lessons, but others will have a mind’s eye for creation. Keith, he said, has that eye.
Keith himself says that after just 20 to 30 minutes of talking to a client, he has a vision of what their yard will look like. His second gift for relating to people, is just as important.
Keith’s one-time apprentice, Jason Janoske of Natural Impressions specializes in natural landscapes. He agrees that liking people and being able to interpret their dreams is a critical quality.
“I like to go through a family inventory list with my clients,” Jason says. “Do they have kids, what age; do they have pets; do they like to entertain?” And he adds, what they don’t like is just as important.
Keith says that understanding the big picture and the people behind it is definitely part of the art.
It isn’t all about being creative, though. You also have to have an aptitude for math to be able to calculate mass and volume and area. You should have a good mechanical ability and spatial sense is also required.
“I don’t like to say that landscape design is more complicated than interior design,” Keith says, “but you do have to take into account many aspects of outdoor design that don’t exist inside.”
This would include the ability to project the size of the plants as they grow, their seasonality and what they will look like when they mature. How much maintenance is required to maintain the landscape and how that work suits the lifestyle of his clients. In many ways, the plants are just the icing on the cake – functionality of the space is the first component. Knowing about construction materials and methods is important. You have to understand lardscaping materials and how to use them.
You need to have the ability to draw or sketch to scale or the aptitude to run a CAD program, but ultimately it comes down to being able to envision what the finished project will rook like.
Keith’s day starts when his eyes open in the morning and ends when they close at night. He will often awaken in the middle of the night with an idea for a design element which he will get up and sketch while it is still fresh in his mind.
“It’s hard work,” says Keith. “The guys that do well are the ones with a strong work ethic.”
It’s also very gratifying. “This is one of the few careers where you are there from concept to completion,” he says, “and that is very satisfying.”