Planting the Seed: A Career in Landscape Architecture

“No, I’m not going to college to learn how to cut grass for a living” was a conversation I had with many of my relatives for four years during every Christmas break in the mid to late 1990’s. That said, when they asked the serious question – what I was really going to do when I finished? – I had a hard time answering them. It was difficult for me to explain the essence of the profession or what I wanted to do within it: Work for a design build company and get some dirt under my fingernails? Or maybe join a global Landscape Architecture firm, designing the next new waterfront redevelopment? The profession of Landscape Architecture opened doors to do all these and then some. 

My Start 

In the end, I chose the best of both worlds: a small upstart firm with a near equal mix of Landscape Architects and Civil Engineers. The projects, collaborations, late nights, responsibilities, arguments, mistakes, staff meetings, lay-offs, office music, tutelage and mentoring all helped shape me into who I am today, as a licensed professional. 

Formal education, coupled with much of my childhood, planted the seed for the profession. My father built me a sandbox when I was about five years old, although it was mostly a box in spirit; it was simply a hole he dug and filled with sand. But I would spend countless hours there with Tonka trucks all summer long. Before organized baseball, that sandbox marked the start of the summer for me. Using both my hands and my imagination to develop a taste and appreciation for design and construction. I was already preparing for my future profession – I just didn’t know it yet. 

Creating Unique and Interesting Spaces 

Later in life, my interests grew, and the athletics, hiking, fishing, hunting, gardening, landscaping, traveling – and yes, even cutting grass – that I took an interest in were all key ingredients in the cocktail known as Landscape Architecture. Approaching nearly 25 years since first being asked by my relatives about what I planned to do in the field, looking back now I would have simply said “I’m going to create unique and interesting spaces.” Over the years I’ve learned as simple as that may sound, that’s what I do – and that’s just fine by me. 

Creating intended and unintended spaces is at the core of the profession – or at least for me it is. Strategically placing a bench and trees in an urban space that later becomes someone’s favorite lunch spot or designing a meandering pathway in a park both can often have the same impact: they can become the favorite spot for many people and for as many different reasons. It could be where a specific memory was created or it’s simply the way the sun shines on the surrounding landscape that impacts their life. Regardless, knowing you had a part in creating that space can be extremely rewarding. 

A Complementary Team  

It’s important to note that personal success is only as good as the team members one is surrounded by, and the field of Landscape Architecture is no different. Here at Larson Design Group (LDG), over the last 15 years I’ve been extremely lucky to create spaces alongside my colleague Emily Diehl, separated by only a few months in our respective start dates. Our skills and personalities are very different, but they complement each other in a way that helped us to not only build a foundation for Landscape Architecture at LDG, but more importantly, build a portfolio. Emily has great graphic skills and she’s able to create images that allow our clients to visualize the space. This allows us to break down any early barriers and get clients on board at the start. We’ve been fortunate to create unique and interesting spaces for UPMC, Geisinger, The City of Williamsport, River Valley Transit, Bloomsburg University, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and many, many more. Without her talent, neither myself nor LDG as a company would be where we are. 

Our team got even more interesting in 2011 when Steve Beattie joined the firm and our group – and things haven’t been the same since. There aren’t many Landscape Architects in central Pennsylvania, so everyone knows or has heard of one another. It’s funny that Steve knew who I was about 10 years prior to him joining LDG and later told me he always thought one day we would work together. Steve was able to bring a level of professional practice that Emily and I were missing. Along with a strong sense of construction practices and the bidding process, Steve was instrumental in rounding out our project delivery capabilities and making Landscape Architecture stronger at LDG. 

Onward and Upward 

As World Landscape Architecture Month winds down this year and I look back at the past 15 years at LDG, I am extremely proud of the portfolio our team created together and the bond we developed. As LDG continues to grow and we expand our reach I look forward to practicing the profession of Landscape Architecture in new locations and for new clients. 

Chris Keiser, RLA, is a Project Manager in LDG’s Site group.