By Jamie Shoaf, ‘11

While commuting from Richmond to Williamsburg for work as a landscape-designer-in-training, Cara Smith found a perfect fit for her life with Richmond’s School of Continuing Studies Landscape Design Professional Certificate program.

As an undergraduate student at The College of William and Mary with degree concentrations in studio art, Hispanic Studies, and dance, most would think landscape design would be the last logical step for Smith upon graduation.

“It’s a curious combination of interests, but I think they all lead to landscape design and ultimately landscape architecture,” she defends. Smith relates her art and dance experiences to the creativity found in landscape design, while adding cultural aspects to landscape design from Hispanic Studies coursework.

Although there has always been a demand for landscape designers in the Richmond area because of its historic character, homeowners have recently sparked a growing interest in landscape design services with rising trends in “green” sustainability.

After launching her career in the landscape industry at Cooke’s Gardens in Williamsburg, Smith’s landscape career really began to flourish once in Richmond.

Smith started her SCS career in the summer of 2005 with a course in Landscape Graphics at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, one of the School’s partners in education. She reveals she “was quite eager to expand my pallet with horticultural knowledge.”

Students in the Landscape Design Professional Certificate program learn from industry experts from highly reputable landscape architecture firms in the Richmond area. They combine classroom learning with hands-on experience that allows students to apply what they are learning.

Courses in this program range from Site Analysis to Constructive Methods and Materials for a total of 17 courses in the program’s curriculum. Smith relates her most memorable experience in the Site Design II course.

“In this course, our class had the unique opportunity to design wander gardens, and five designs were selected to be installed at an Alzheimer’s treatment center,” recalls Smith. “As a finalist in the selection of designs, I had the opportunity to be involved with the project from drafting the design to approving the planting layout on site.”

Smith now works as a landscape designer at Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects in Alexandria, Va. She focuses most of her work on corridor management planning for scenic byways across the tri-state area and into Maryland.

Smith has found her Richmond experience invaluable to her current position. “UR’s program fortified me with practical knowledge of landscape design that was necessary to take on design challenges that arise at my current job.”

After completing her landscape design courses at Richmond, Smith has continued to strengthen her already impressive landscape design background. She recently completed her Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) at Virginia Tech’s Washington Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC). She took advantage of a partnership between SCS and Virginia Tech that allows graduates of the Landscape Design program to enter Virginia Tech’s MLA program with one year’s advanced standing.

Smith’s experiences have provided her a variety of different perspectives on landscape design. “At UR, it was critical to start out at a smaller scale, usually residential; but through the lens of landscape architecture, one can see the landscape from the ecological, to the city, to the human scale.”

Smith recommends the Landscape Design Professional program to students of all backgrounds. “There is nothing to lose, no matter what one’s intentions or goals might be... he or she will begin to see things around them in a different way.”