Landscape architect and owner of Acacia Landscape Inc, Steve McLeish has always loved nature; he grew up around gardens in Durban, South Africa and started his own small landscaping company when he was 16.
After graduating from UVIC with an Economics degree, he applied and was accepted into UBC’s Engineering program. In his third year while working for the District of North Vancouver as an Engineering Works Inspector, he discovered Landscape Architecture and realized he had found his calling. He went on to study Landscape Architecture at UBC, his love of land reaffirmed.
SPRUCE had the opportunity to talk with Steve about his career in landscape architecture and his advice for Spring gardening.
Do you feel that architects have a good understanding of what landscape architects bring to a project?
Some do but typically the architect only involves the landscape architect after the building is designed and constructed which in my opinion is an opportunity missed. Landscape Architects should ideally be involved in a project and integrated into the design team from the start as they can be invaluable in helping to site a building, deal with potential grading and drainage issues and work with the architect on the indoor – outdoor transitions, views and general site circulation. I remember a project I worked on where I convinced the architect to move the building 30 ft to accomplish the design intent, better fit the building to the site and improve the ocean views. The first impression of a building is its approach and relationship to the landscape as a whole and ultimately the success and cost of a project is directly related to the site grading.
What are your design inspirations?
I have many, but my upbringing in Durban South Africa really instilled the indoor- outdoor – relationships on a site to me. I love the outdoors and take much inspiration from nature as it is the perfect design. I also have had the great fortune to travel to many countries in the world and take inspiration from those experiences and the places I’ve visited.
What has been your favorite project thus far?
We built one of only 2 purpose built natural swimming pools in Canada on a 3 acre site 2 years ago. The client approached me to design a conventional pool but it really didn’t suit the wooded site. They were wonderful clients who were open to doing something completely different and the finished product is truly special and has resulted in numerous awards. It included a two tiered waterfall, cold pool, terraced gardens, a dock, fire pit patio, al fresco dining patio, forest trails, walking paths, a rainwater harvesting system and a large activity lawn all accessible at night via a low voltage ambient lighting system that adds a whole new dimension to the site making it accessible at all hours. There are so many great projects that I have been blessed to be a part of but this one truly stands out.
What advice do you have for clients right now in terms of garden prep and care?
Now is the time to plan your garden for the spring and summer and engage a design professional to help envision a master plan that can be implemented in phases if need be. The old adage is really true – “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”. Winter is a great time to assess the ‘bones’ of a garden as the form or lack thereof is laid bare for all to see during the winter. Most gardens look good in the spring but few inspire and engage as the summer and fall approach. Your garden should be beautiful in all seasons and now is a good time to take stock and make some changes before next year’s winter.
As far as maintenance and preparing the garden for Spring I would offer the following:
3) Apply a well rotted mulch to all the bed areas to feed the soil and eradicate 80% of the weeds that will appear when the soil warms in the spring.
Do you feel the role of landscape architect has changed during your time in the industry?
Landscape Architects and their knowledge have become better known and respected for the intellectual property and ideas they bring to any given project. I am a great proponent of the design-build model for a project as one can value-engineer a project and design decisions can be made quicker resulting in time and money savings for the owner. Design-Build contracts are becoming more common in the marketplace now compared to 20 years ago. Clients whether they be residential, commercial or institutional are demanding more creative and versatile outdoor spaces for living and entertaining in and are more aware of the environmental consequences of a given design. COVID-19 has really reignited people’s enthusiasm and engagement with their gardens and outdoor spaces and as a result Landscape Architects are being called upon to create functional, safe spaces that give one a true sense of place for enjoyment and environmental stewardship.