Alex Bonner is a 2022 graduate from the MLA program and currently works for Mergoat Land Design and Restoration
1. Tell us a bit about your current firm and projects or type of work you are doing.
I currently work at Mergoat Land Design and Restoration. We are a small business of three people; our business owner, designer (myself), and an ecologist. Given our small size we all do a bit of everything and the primary roles of one person bleed into the roles of others. A single week for me may look like working on designs, organizing and sourcing plants, meeting clients for site consultations, chainsawing invasive species in the woods, and being on site to install a project. I enjoy the variation as everything is working together to achieve a cohesive goal but the paths toward that goal are engaging day to day. If I had to boil down what we do I’d say, “we remove and manage invasive species so we can reintroduce native species to improve ecological health.”
2. Why did you join your present firm?
Mergoat is one of only a handful of landscape design businesses in the area that takes ecological design and native species into consideration. Traditional landscape work isn’t appealing to me and generally causes more harm than good. Being able to work with a wide diversity of species that are contributing to the overall health of the places we live is a more satisfying way to spend my working hours. Additionally the Southeast of the US is one of the biggest hotspots for biological diversity in the world, even compared to tropical climates, and I wasn’t about to give that up either.
3. Are there designers or firms that you follow consistently? What is it about their work that you are attracted to?
I consistently follow the work of Benjamin Vogt, business name Monarch Gardens LLC. I enjoy keeping track of what he’s doing since he works at a similar scale to us, that being largely residential with some various commercial or public clients. Seeing that engaging gardens can be achieved on relatively small scales is encouraging to me. As I (and others in the field) have come to understand plant communities better, we recognize that density and complexity are assets to these spaces. A half acre lot can potentially contain dozens of plant species, each supporting various insects who in turn support birds, reptiles, amphibians, etc. Some other incredible designers who work with native plants are Larry Weiner and Doug Tallamy if anyone needs more projects to follow.
4. Do you have any advice for future landscape architecture students?
Speaking for our practice, there are far more people than I would have guessed that want our skills. Ecological practices are something that is growing in the public consciousness and people are interested in how they can be a part of that. You as a student will spend years learning and gaining skills that are important to you and I guarantee that there are more people than you think who will value your knowledge. Develop an ethic, guiding ideas that you value, and work with that. It’s okay to respectfully turn down projects that don’t mix with your ethics. By letting strong ideas guide your work you will sustain the ability to continue that work much longer and likely attract people who are more aligned to what you do.