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One Professional Relates His Experiences in a Landscape Design Program

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Interview with professional landscape designer, Paul Corsetti, continued from Page 1. On this page, I ask Paul for further information on landscape design schools.

Q. Are there any particular landscape design schools you would recommend for someone wishing to become a landscape designer?

A. I can tell you about the landscape design school I myself attended (Ryerson University, Toronto), although I can't offer many recommendations beyond that, because I have not kept up with any of the programs since being in school. Ryerson University offered a diploma program of 3 years and then eliminated it to turn the landscape design program into a degree (4 year study). I took the 3 year program and then did an additional 2 years in the Landscape Architecture degree program.

Technically, in Ontario, I cannot advertise myself as a landscape architect unless I am a member of the O.A.L.A. (Ontario Association of Landscape Architects). At this point in my career I don’t have a Landscape Architect's stamp or membership with them, so I have to refer to myself as a “landscape designer.” When looking at my work experience, one would say I have not gone the traditional route in becoming a landscape designer.

What is left in Ontario that still has a good reputation is the University of Guelph. What will make a good landscape design school is basically the details of the program that a student learns and how well the professors involved can teach.

Q. Tell us about your own experiences in landscape design school. How did the landscape design program most help you on your way to becoming a landscape designer?

A. Basically, in landscape design school, we went through a lot of practical work. We would have actual towns or cities contact the school and offer up projects to be taken on by the students. I can think of a few projects where we actually sat in on official meetings and presentations of landscape plan concepts, meeting with urban planners and such. It was a great experience to teach us what things were like under fire.

In landscape design school we sometimes had competitions for design projects and were given a certain time limit to complete them, like say a set number of hours. Some projects were strict in that sense: complete it on time or don’t bother. They did that to display real world deadlines and teach you that no matter how much work you did, if you did not complete it on time, you would waste your time, money and effort in the real world.

As a thought about the online programs to become a landscape designer versus in-school, full-time learning, it was working with your peers in landscape design school and working closely with your professors that taught me the most. You learned to work as a team and accept input on your designs. Criticism is a hard thing to swallow, but when you put your project up on a display board in front of all the other students and 3 professors -- and they sit there shooting holes in your design that you may have spent 20 hours piecing together and falling in love with -- you learn quickly that you do not know all there is to know. Recognizing the value of criticism towards your work will make you a stronger landscape designer. Criticism challenges you to do better with your work and makes you sit there and look at what you draw and ask the hard questions to yourself:

  • Would this pass in that panel of review?
  • How many holes could they shoot into this project?

I don’t have that pressure with my professors anymore; instead, it is with my clients now. If they don’t like it, will they refuse to pay me? Will I have to start over or be fired for not getting the idea of what they want to see?

One of the things I enjoyed most in landscape design school was learning the graphics and rendering of drawings. It was a pleasure to learn how professionals did landscape drawings and then take that experience and make it into something that was my own and unique to my hands. I started my university program right out of high school with a great understanding of art and colour use. I was able to apply that knowledge to the work I was being taught to do. When I was shown how to use markers to render my drawings, the fun began!

Q. Tell us about any related jobs you may have had after landscape design school working for someone else, before striking out on your own career as a landscape designer.

A. While I was in landscape design school (5 years) and a little bit after I was done with the program, I made the attempt at doing my own contracting in landscaping. I discovered that it took a lot of resources and skilled workers to keep this job up. I had done some contracting work on occasion, but the hardest thing was finding the skilled labor to complete the jobs. I ended up having to get rid of people and finish the work all by myself. Long, long hours and massive headaches prompted me to stop getting myself into these situations. At one point I decided to stick to being mainly a landscape designer and doing consulting work and let a contractor deal with the construction of my designs.

I worked for the City of Toronto as a gardener in a large urban park called "High Park." I called it paid learning for Horticulture. In landscape design school I was taught to identify trees and shrubs, and the names and colours of a lot of them, as well. But how to work with them, prune them, plant them and tend them was not something you could learn from books. In that job I taught myself how to prune large overgrown shrubs and tend to delicate perennials. I was also taught about watering them and keeping things alive during harsh and hot summer droughts. The diversity of the hills and flat areas in the park taught me a lot about microclimates in a landscape and how different conditions could support or kill different plants.

Professional landscape designer, Paul Corsetti relates more of his experiences after graduating from landscape design school as the interview continues, on Page 3....

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