Posts by Amanda Camille

My first surprise during the morning hike: a flowering desert plant (possibly Zion Milkvetch, aka Astragalus zionis)  – the only thing with a pop of cool color amongst the dark, gnarled old trees and the reddish orange mountains in the distance. All photos taken by Amanda Camille.

Someone once shared during a workshop the observation, “Nature is the best mentor for landscape architects”. It is a simple, broad, and perhaps an even ambiguous statement. But even so, I think about its meaning regularly whenever hiking.

I remember one particular hike – one of the toughest ever – up Mt. Zion in Utah. In between pauses for water and while catching my breath during the hike, I noticed numerous details of beauty across the landscape: how perfectly the trees would frame the view of distant mountains, or how seemingly out of nowhere, a small plant in the middle of nothing but rocks and sand was blooming pretty purple flowers.

Small pools like these offered moments of welcome respite. I found myself stopping at these pools periodically to cool my head and stave off exhaustion (but never to drink, of course!).

It was while framing and capturing these special moments discovered across the arid landscape, I realized how landscape architects employ similar strategies while designing: highlighting a focal point, integrating an element of surprise, providing moments of rest, alongside a multitude of other techniques utilized in the creation of “moments” for people to experience. Every time I hike I now recognize how nature is truly an excellent mentor – always ready to offer insightful examples of color, arrangement, processes for all working within the profession of landscape architecture.

The orthogonal layout of plants showcases their individual beauty accompanied by adjoining reflecting basins designed to show the water as a still reflecting pool. The resulting soft waterfall sound is a soothing, meditative accompaniment to the view. All photos: Amanda Flores

As the weather begins to warm up (somewhat) across SoCal, I’ve begun taking note of the numerous outdoor destinations on my “to visit” list. While winter’s on and off rainy, foggy, icy weather is welcome, it’s California’s warmer and sunnier summer days I most long for – weather ideal for appreciating the beauty of our state’s landscape, best enjoyed with a hat on and an ice-cold pink lemonade in hand.

One particular place to appreciate the many varieties of resilient Californian plants native to the desert landscape resides nearby in Riverside County’s Rancho Mirage. I visited Sunnylands Center and Gardens for the first time two years ago and I still remember being awestruck by the artful arrangements of drought-tolerant landscape across the 9 acres of desert gardens. With over 53,000 drought tolerant specimens and over 50 plant species on display as living sculptures, Sunnylands is an unforgettable experience for anyone working within the landscape architecture profession.

Some examples of plants with different forms and textures, displaying the variety of plants preadapted to thrive in arid desert climates with ease across Southern California.

Walking through Sunnylands is like walking through a museum of sorts, or like meandering through a live 3D painting populated with fauna preadapted to thrive amongst arid plants of the desert.

While Sunnylands also features a lawn, its size is dwarfed in comparison to the rest of the grounds, serving as a functional platform for viewing the sculptural, artfully designed arid landscape in all directions.

Amongst Sunnyland’s layout of desert plants I find great inspiration in observing the variety of forms, textures, and colors on display. Plants appropriate for arid climates are often described as dry, dull, boring, or even ugly by a public used to equating stretches of lawns as the garden standard of beauty (thankfully this viewpoint is rapidly changing). The Sunnylands Center and Gardens stands as an inspiring counterpoint to the misinformed and outdated preference for lawn, showcasing the inherent beauty of a resilient landscape artfully arranged.

Which summer destinations are you looking forward to visiting this year?

Photos: Gregory Han

I came across Nature all Around Us: A Guide to Urban Ecology the other day, remembering briefly flipping through its pages as a student. I decided to read it during my commute last week, remembering how the book’s subtitle first caught my eye. “A Guide to Urban Ecology”– the book’s subtitle made me ponder the meaning of the word ‘ecology’, formulating a picture in my mind about what systems come into play out in nature versus urban ecology.

Nature all Around Us sheds some light on the subject, utilizing explanations spanning across micro to macro scales of basic ecological concepts and processes.  Of the numerous takeaways and inspirations discovered within the pages of this book, I’m motivated to focus on a single topic of interest: lichens.

Ecology is first and foremost a science, an interdisciplinary field related to the landscape, and in turn indirectly to our profession. With this foundation recognized, the authors go into detail to define landscape ecology as, “A branch of ecology that emphasizes the relation between patterns, processes, and scales, focusing on broad-scale ecological and environmental issues.  Studies often consider large spatial scales and examine the relation between human or natural development and ecological processes.”

Simply put, urban ecology is the science of those processes and relationships between living organisms (plants, animals, insects, us, etc.) occurring within the urban environment that we commonly live and interact with.  And one of the many, many things these ever-changing relationships impact is the appearance of lichens, a symbiosis of algae and fungi, and also are an important bioindicator of a healthy urban environment.

Before reading Nature all Around Us, I mistakenly believed lichen a parasite. Nor did I know about the distinct difference between lichen and moss. When I researched more about lichens found growing on rocks and the trunks of older trees (which remain unharmed by the lichen), I discovered a stunning variety of forms, textures, and colors, including a spectacular seafoam blue-green.

Photo: Gregory Han

Lichen discovered along the Morro Bay coast growing on cypress trees. Photo: Gregory Han

Tree lichen are uncommon in Southern California. Why don’t we see more of them growing on our trees?  In short: air quality. Pollutants in our air are absorbed by lichens, a slow grower to begin with; lichen lack a filtering mechanism for these chemicals, thus rendering them unable to survive around our urban environments. Additionally, populations of older trees with lichen growth have been cut down in favor of urban sprawl.

Lichen go above and beyond mere bioindicators. They are capable of filtering light radiation, inhibit algae growth, provide protection from herbivores, and protect both parties in their mutualistic relationship (lichen and trees) with antibiotic properties.

Furthermore, lichen are beneficial to humans too. Lichens can be used to produce antibiotics for medicine,  and ingredients for cosmetics, perfumes, and paints! As is often the case, I’m amazed how nature is able to accomplish so much with so little – small organisms operating silently behind the scenes, easily unnoticed, yet too important to our ecosystems at large. The unique beauty of tree lichen, the benefits they offer, and their integral relationship to our environment is all the more reason to work toward improving air quality.  Next time I gaze up at our trees to observe a perched bird, springtime blooms, or the falling leaves in autumn, I now know to keep an eye out for another of nature’s beauties.


As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

Looking back at 2017, the AHBE Lab post I found most inspiring was authored by my colleague, Wendy Chan. Titled, Finding Peace and Serenity in Ittekikaitei – A Drop of Ocean Garden, the post is a thoughtful reminiscing about a visit to one of Japan’s dry landscape gardens resting just outside the Komyozenji Temple.

As an artist and someone who loves to explore new places, Japan has long been at the top of my list of places to visit. Reading about Wendy’s experience and photos, I felt momentarily felt immersed into another world – one filled with the peace, serenity, and calm thoughtfulness Japanese gardens are renowned for. Granted, looking at a photograph is nothing compared to a firsthand experience, but a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture below particularly caught my attention:

I am continually inspired and fascinated by the way Japanese designers accomplish their intended design using a limited palette of materials, a minimum amount of space, all carefully composed  to artfully frame the view. They demonstrate a clear artistry and mastery of their craft of placemaking. I’d like to continue learning how to skillfully compose designed landscapes in such a way to appropriately immerse people into the experience of the place, and transcend what is right in front of us.

The original post here: Finding Peace and Serenity in Ittekikaitei – A Drop of Ocean Garden