Educating others comes naturally to soon-to-be-elevated ASLA Fellow Mary Bates. With an elementary school teacher as a mother, Bates has been involved with the teaching process from an early age and has worked to educate others about the importance of the landscape industry throughout her entire career. As such, her recognition from the ASLA for service is no surprise—to everyone except her, at least. “It’s a bit surreal for me,” Bates says. “There are so many Fellows whom I look up to and whose work I follow, so it seems crazy to me that I’m included in this group of talented people.”
Bates began her involvement in the landscape industry back in college when she joined the student chapter of ASLA at Ball State University, where she ran LABash the year her school hosted the annual, student-led landscape architecture conference. From there, she became involved in the Florida Chapter of ASLA, where she coordinated the group’s Design Awards and ran the state’s annual landscape conferences for many years. While she served in just about every position on the Chapter’s executive committee, from section chair to president, she feels that one of the most rewarding jobs was working with children.
The Orlando Section of the Florida Chapter of ASLA partners with Give Kids the World, a nonprofit resort near Orlando for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. “After working with Give Kids the World, and the Boys and Girls Club through a partnership that my first landscape architecture office had, my work with children grew exponentially,” Bates says. Today, Bates works with local Cub Scout packs in her new home of Colorado. She recently ran a summer camp over three days where she educated over 100 boys on the science behind some of the aspects of landscape architecture. “My favorite part of working with kids is their passion for learning new topics,” Bates says. “It’s really cool to watch them experience something for the first time and throw themselves into the subject completely. The things they take away from what you teach them are insights you’d never expect.”
While she enjoys her work with children, Bates also takes the time to educate community leaders and nonprofits on the importance of landscape architecture. “Working with adults is more of a challenge since they come into the process with their own ideas and experiences,” Bates says. “While it can be tough to overcome those barriers, I also find groups who are passionate about the same things I am, and we can really accomplish a lot together.”
Bates’ work isn’t only in the field of public service; she’s also been involved with a wide range of landscape projects, from parks to resorts. Oftentimes, she tries to incorporate aspects of her volunteer work into her design process. “I work on a lot of public park projects, including schoolyards, so I try and get the kids involved by asking them what they want in their park, explaining that this is an intentional space,” Bates says. “The older kids take it seriously, and the younger kids say they want a castle and a bounce house. They push you to think of big, imaginative solutions.”
To help complete these projects, Bates uses Vectorworks Landmark software as a part of her design workflow. “The people who develop the Vectorworks line of software try really hard to connect with the landscape industry and understand what we do,” she says. “Vectorworks Landmark is a really effective tool during the site planning stage, and the tools in the software make it easy for landscape architects to quickly communicate their ideas. I use Landmark in combination with other tools, usually for site planning and planting plans.”
Currently, Bates works at DHM Design and is involved with two EPA brownfield projects in Montrose, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she has been tasked with revitalizing abandoned spaces. “Brownfield projects are really interesting because you have to think outside the box,” she says. “You’re not limited in scope by a client’s ideas of what they want. You get to come up with pie-in-the-sky ideas for how to turn a site that’s in disrepair into a community asset.”
For anyone who wants to follow in her footsteps, Bates advises that you get involved early and often. “I encourage all practitioners to get involved in ASLA and other landscape organizations,” she asserts. “Besides the leadership experience I’ve gained, I’ve had projects to design in the past that I know won’t win awards or become inspiring spaces, but connecting with other landscape architects at conferences and local gatherings refreshes my spirit. It reminds me that the next big project is out there, and that I shouldn’t ever give up trying to find it.”