Landscape Architect for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill

Biography: W. Gary Smith, ASLA

W. Gary Smith, landscape architect and artist

W. Gary Smith, landscape architect and artist

With more than twenty-five years experience in public garden design and master planning, W. Gary Smith has distinguished himself as a landscape architect who celebrates plants and the connection they offer between people and nature. Mr. Smith’s first book was published in 2010, From Art to Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design. Working almost exclusively in public botanic gardens and arboreta, he is sought after nationally for his unique approach combining art, horticulture, and architectural features to explore the intersection between ecological design and artistic abstraction.

Mr. Smith has a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas and the University of Delaware.


LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER, TEXAS – Gardens Master Plan, Native Texas Arboretum and the Children’s Garden
NAPLES BOTANICAL GARDEN, FLORIDA – Tropical Mosaic Garden (Gold Medal Award, Association of Prof. Landscape Designers)
BRYANT PARK, NEW YORK CITY – New children’s features
LONGWOOD GARDENS, PA – Pierce’s Woods (Design Merit Award, American Society of Landscape Architects)

BIRMINGHAM BOTANICAL GARDENS, ALABAMA – The Arrington Horticultural Therapy Garden

An interview with W. Gary Smith

Q. You have been described as an ecological designer. Can you explain how this influences your approach to the design of public gardens?

I like to look to nature as a primary source of inspiration for design, not necessarily to reproduce what you see in nature, but to seek out shapes, patterns, and forms that can be abstracted to define a visual vocabulary for garden design.

Q. New Mexico has a distinctive, natural beauty. What kinds of visual ideas will you borrow from the natural landscape when designing the botanical garden at Museum Hill?

I’m really taken with the austerity of the more desert-like places, contrasted with the lush beauty of natural springs and tended gardens. The Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve is a place I find particularly inspiring. So, I’m hoping the new botanical garden will have something from both extremes — the simplicity and drama from the desert, and the diversity and exuberance from more gardenlike places.

Q. The new garden runs along a length of the Arroyo de los Pinos and one element of the project includes its restoration to mitigate erosion damage. Do you intend to incorporate the arroyo project as an educational element in the overall garden design?

Yes, I’m looking forward to offering visitors a full range of experiences and educational opportunities, from ecological restoration to fine garden design. The arroyo restoration will be major part of the visitor experience.

Q. The collections policy for the new garden will specify the inclusion of both New Mexico native plants as well as adapted non-natives. How will this policy broaden the design possibilities artistically and also provide an educational resource for visitors interested in adapting ideas for their own gardens?

I have an undergraduate degree in “Ornamental Horticulture” — how plant-nerdy can you get? But then my graduate school training was with the great ecological designer and planner Ian McHarg, who was one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. I love bringing non-native plants into the garden in an ecologically conscious way. We can add non-natives to the mix to enhance drama. We need to stay away from non-natives that might be invasive, and use our favorite ornamentals in ways that are not only environmentally sensitive, but actually help to heal the natural environment — providing wildlife habitat, preventing soil erosion, allowing groundwater recharge, and not requiring excessive irrigation or chemicals to keep the plants healthy.

Recent press about Gary’s work

“Where the Wild Things Are Now.” The New York Times. December 18, 2013