By Susan Picquelle
Treasurer, APLDWA

Yes, this is a platitude, but it also a sincere question that we ask when we meet a new client. We are a service industry and we want to help our clients to create a beautiful, sustainable, resilient, and life-supporting environment surrounding their home or business. So too is APLDWA a service organization; we strive to help our members thrive in our profession and to support a high level of excellence.

Design a collaboration between Wood & Tucker, enhanced by Jorgensen, photo by Picquelle
Design a collaboration between Wood & Tucker; enhanced by Jorgensen; photo by Picquelle
Historically, our client universe is quite narrow. Our design clients are primarily homeowners with disposable income allowing them to invest in their gardens. APLDWA’s clients are landscape designers and affiliated professionals. With the current state of the world, perhaps now is the time to do a little soul searching and examine how we as individual professionals and APLDWA as an organization can be a positive force beyond our narrowly defined client universe. What can we, as landscape designers, do to help?

The world is always rife with crises – climate change; the impending collapse of our democracy; oppressing people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation; wars and terrorism; frequent mass shootings that we seem incapable of stopping. The list goes on and on. Oh how I long for those simpler times when that’s all we had to worry about! Now, on top of all that, we have a worldwide pandemic and a sudden awareness of an epidemic of police brutality inflicted upon one segment of our population. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of vacillating between activism and escapism, optimism and pessimism, or be stuck in the middle like a deer in the headlights. Life is hard enough just trying to manage day-to-day living, much less trying to figure out how to manage these new threats and how to be a positive force rather than a passive one or worse yet, a negative one.

How can we be a positive force in regards to the oppression of our Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) brothers and sisters?

Let’s begin by recognizing that this is not a new phenomenon. For America’s entire history we have persecuted people who look different than the White majority. Indeed, for the entire history of humans there have been oppressors and the oppressed, us vs. them. Hopefully humans are now ready to evolve beyond that barbaric world view.

There are many ideas and opinions being floated on how to remove injustices and improve opportunities for the oppressed and heal communities. I am so impressed and heartened by the bevy of folks in APLDWA who have stepped up to craft a plan for our contribution towards social justice.

Design & photo by Dickson
Design & photo by Dickson
One avenue we may explore is how gardens and nature have the ability to heal. Those of us who attended the 2013 APLDWA Symposium might remember Dr. Kathleen Wolf’s powerful presentation about the social benefits of nature. Giving people an opportunity to get their hands in the soil and connect with nature gives measurable benefits; even simply being in nature produces a positive effect, reducing stress, aggression and despair. There are many examples of this—food gardening in prisons provides rehabilitation therapy; garden plots in schools help alleviate behavioral issues; beautifying roadways reduce crime along those stretches. We can explore ways to bring the healing power of gardens to a larger population beyond just our few privileged clients. At the very least, the street-side gardens we create enhance the neighborhoods thus extending their benefits beyond our clients, and a few examples of these gardens are featured here.

Stay tuned as APLDWA explores how to further expand our sphere of influence.

How can we be a positive force in regards to the pandemic?

This one is actually much easier, because a virus is much easier to study and control than people are. We have a body of dedicated scientists and medical professionals who are guiding us through this. We need to listen to them, believe what they say, and follow their advice.

Design & photo by Jorgensen
Design & photo by Jorgensen
Unfortunately, their expert guidance is most often presented to us by politicians with no context and even less credibility among some of us. Unlike curing systemic racism, where our way forward benefits from a broad range of perspectives, opinions, and courses of action, surviving a pandemic requires us all to be on the same page. I am a big fan of questioning authority, especially in the political realm, but this crisis is in the public health realm and we need listen to our public health experts.

We need to tune out the noise and misinformation of those who want to turn this into a political battle defending personal freedom from the tyranny of wearing masks and keeping our distance imposed upon us by the feared power-grabbing Big Brother. That stance is baseless and endangers us all if it successfully stops us from following sound medical advice. Relinquishing some personal freedoms for the greater good is nothing new to us or to any civilized society.

Design by King; photo by Picquelle
Design by King; photo by Picquelle
To help wade through the onslaught of misinformation, I applaud the efforts of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, check out their recent post here. We can help stop the virus by keeping our distance from each other and wearing our masks when we can’t. And we can be thankful that most of our interactions with people occur outside where the virus, if present, quickly dissipates.

Now I’d like to circle back to the topic of the plight of Black America. On top of all the other injustices, Covid-19 disproportionately impacts them, as do most other issues like climate change (Black populations tend to live in heat islands in inner cities and thus suffer more which affects their health), environmental degradation (they often live closer to polluting industries), poor access to healthy food and adequate medical care, and on and on. Their increased vulnerability to being infected by the virus, and the increased severity when they do become infected, are a function of their living and working situations and their underlying health, which in turn are a function of their socio-economic status. Here we have even more reasons to remove barriers and to open pathways for this segment of our population to improve their lot in life.

Design by Port; photo by Picquelle
Design by Port; photo by Picquelle
How can we help? It’s not clear to me what role APLDWA can play in that endeavor, but I trust the hearts and minds of our members to figure out at least a small contribution to that cause that we can make collectively. Let’s all try to be activists in our own ways and optimists as much as we can muster. And keep questioning, how can I help? That is just the first step on this very important journey we will take together.