Mixing buff and blue yields green, and some Colonials have the thumbs to prove it.
The College of Professional Studies recently launched a webpage highlighting businesses run by 15 alumni of GW’s graduate certificate programs in Sustainable Landscapes and in Landscape Design, and its master’s in Landscape Design program.
The page, says Tomi Landis, one of the 15, is “a terrific service to highlight the talents of graduates.” Although Ms. Landis, M.P.S. ‘10, has profiles on other sites, GW’s page “adds academic credibility” and forges “another path for potential clients to find me in their searches,” she says.
Ms. Landis wasn’t always going to be a designer. In more than 20 years working in television, she was a writer and producer for CBS News, Showtime (NY) and KABC-TV in Los Angeles and, for 14 of those years, was an executive producer at the Discovery Channel in Maryland.
Undoubtedly, Ms. Landis excelled at Discovery. She was nominated four times for Emmy awards, and in 2000, she won an Emmy for “Walking with Dinosaurs.” That three-hour program, she says, also won a Peabody award for Discovery.
Despite being on top of her field, Ms. Landis decided to pursue a “second act”: a career in sustainable landscape design. Trading in cameras and video editing equipment for spades and design blueprints is a major career change, but Ms. Landis says the two fields aren’t radically different.
“Producing television is about telling stories, and to me, designing a garden that helps the environment and reflects the personalities of the people living in the space is also telling a story, but with different media,” she says. “I often find out a lot about my clients and try to put parts of them into their landscape.”
Those personal touches might take the form of a plant native to the client’s hometown, a design style that mimics their childhood home, or the aura of a favorite vacation spot. “What I’m really trying to do is to tell their story through the landscape of their home,” she says. When they can “claim” their spaces, clients are happy and, she says, are “good stewards of the environment.”
Ms. Landis was sold on the GW program after attending an information session run by Adele Ashkar, the director of GW’s Landscape Design program, in 2006. Ms. Landis had elementary-age children, and she knew she wanted to spend more time with them and that she was enjoying the effort and energy she was putting into her garden.A Washington Post ad for the GW program set off “the proverbial light bulb” in her head. “I thought, well, maybe this can be my second act!” she says.
At the session, Ms. Landis was so impressed with Ms. Ashkar that she spoke to her after the session and told her she was enrolling in the first prerequisite course.
Cathy Carr, principal at GreenHeart, is also listed on the CPS page and shares Ms. Landis’ admiration for Ms. Ashkar. Ms. Carr, who earned professional certificates in landscape design and in woody plants in 2000, found GW’s flexible schedule a major selling point. In the program, she found that Ms. Ashkar did a “terrific job,” she says.
“I loved everything about the program,” Ms. Carr says, noting courses in botany, garden history, landscape graphics, and site engineering.
The most beneficial part of the program, she says, were the studio courses, where students pinned their projects side by side on the wall. “Students learn not just from their teachers but by seeing what other students have come up with,” she says. “I was very stimulated in school, and now, after 13 years of practice in the field, garden design is still never boring, always challenging, and usually a whole heckuva lot of fun.
Two decades ago, Ms. Carr was a business manager and a higher education administrator “who fell in love with plants.” A local restaurant owner hired her to design and construct an herb garden on a “huge” vacant lot he owned near the Brookland Metro station. Ms. Carr spent weeks in the library studying herb garden layouts, and her design featured raised beds and benches and a central bird bath.
Ms. Carr recruited the help of friends and customers of the restaurant, and the garden began to attract passersby, who would sit on the benches to chat or read the newspaper. “It was big enough that it became a bit of a destination, or at least a way-station, for some on their way home from work or school,” she says.
Ms. Carr toyed with becoming an administrator of a public garden, but she decided that she wanted to actually create the spaces that inspired beauty, serenity, and peace. “I realized that garden designers are space makers,” she says. “I was more interested in creating spaces than in caring for plants or administering garden programs.”
Being listed on the GW alumni page, Ms. Carr says, has already yielded one call. “Exposure on the web is always good,” she says. She greatly appreciates the university’s “time, effort, and energy in supporting its graduates,” she adds. “I look forward to GW as a continuing resource for ongoing professional development and support.”