Angela Sommers of Heron’s Nest Landscape shows some of her designs in her historic office.
A partial self-portrait by Susan Barker brings the viewer’s eye to details not always noticed
Passion in the outdoors: where artist meets landscape
To some, a yard is little more than a tiresome cycle of mowing and shovelling. But to the right pair of eyes, a yard is a bare canvas, or maybe a giant piece of marble.
“It’s like a humongous sculpture,” says Angela Sommers, owner of Red Deer’s Heron’s Nest Landscape.
A graduate of NAIT’s landscape architecture program, Sommers has been designing and building urban and rural landscapes for two decades. While she is an expert in decorating with plants, that’s literally the last thing she thinks about on a new job.
“I love gardening, but how I design is architecture first,” she explains.
When touring Europe, before she went to NAIT, Sommers started recognizing how foundational structures kept gardens beautiful for decades or even centuries.
“Really, what’s keeping it alive visually is the architecture part of it.”
Good architecture can include stone features, water features, aesthetic walls, functional structures, and trees. Sommers loves when a client requests aesthetic elements such as mosaics, metal sculpture, or waterfalls.
Once the structures are in place, shrubs and perennial flowers are the “throw cushions” of the project, adding a splash of colour where it’s needed, she explains.
Three significant considerations in design are the existing building architecture, traffic flow, and the comfortable feel of outdoor spaces, she explains. A yard is just eye candy if nobody wants to use it.
“I think about our climate and keeping people outside.”
Like rooms in a house, outdoor spaces can have floors, walls and ceilings. Just the illusion of a ceiling makes a space feel more secure from the elements. And properly designed walls – whether constructed or organic – can manage wind that could ruin an outdoor event.
Maintenance is another important factor. Some clients want to putter in their yard, but most want the enjoyment without the hours of work. For example, instead of an open pond that requires regular cleaning, Sommers can offer a bubbling boulder with most of the water stored underground.
Plant selection affects maintenance too. Sommers now has a fairly short list of reliable plants to give clients long-term beauty without too much work. They check boxes for climate survival, seasonal appearance, and longevity. “Over the next 50 years, what’s this thing going to turn into?”
Many of her clients arrive with a pretty clear idea of what they want. She admits with a laugh that it used to “bug” her to draw someone else’s ideas, but she’s learned to enjoy making those ideas reality.
In those cases, “my job is to pull it out of their minds and refine it.”
But her true passion is taking a project from initial design to digging in the plants. A favourite recent project was redesigning an out-of-use courtyard at Mountview School (where all her children had attended). Working with the parents council, she created an area that has a small stage, a wetlands area with a “bug village,” a miniature orchard of dwarf fruit trees, and something for every year of the elementary school science curriculum.
Some of her younger families also rely on her permaculture certificate, to help designs fit nature, and produce food in minimal space.
“That’s a huge passion of mine: urban agriculture.”
For more information about Heron’s Nest Landscape, visit heronsnestlandscape.com
A central part of this landscape design was a sculptural arbour by Red Deer metal and glass artist Trenton Leach.
About half-finished, this courtyard at Mountview Elementary is turning into a multi-purpose outdoor area, with a small stage in the background and a wetland coming into shape in the foreground.
House of Payne gallery closesAngela Sommers’ passion for art goes well beyond landscape.
This past summer, she opted to repurpose part of her historic home, known locally as the Payne House, into an art gallery, dubbed House of Payne. It featured the visual art of several locals, including painting, drawing, ceramics and sculpture.
Unfortunately, Sommers has had to repurpose the space again, for family reasons, and the House of Payne has been closed.