By Sarah Van Sanden
Professional Member, APLD

As we speed toward the end of the year, trying to digest another host of extraordinary events, many of us plan time with family and friends. Hopefully we also manage to carve out a little time to reflect and implement lessons for the coming year. As the owner of a company only in its third year, I’m still getting my head around running a business. Aside from that, my overwhelming feeling is of gratitude—for the successful projects I’ve completed, for the wonderful clients, and for the generous support and collegiality I get from our chapter membership. Being the recipient of this gift makes me excited to take on my new role as chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee—like my business, in its infancy but excited to grow—and help to support the next generation of designers like I’ve been supported.

3 people standing on back patio, APLDWA DEI Committee
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is currently Sarah Van Sanden, Courtney Olander and Tom Lawson, but we’d love to be larger! Photo: Heidi Walther
Let me introduce the DEI Committee. This small but dedicated committee formed out of the recognition that we as a professional group need to work harder to foster a diversity of voices, increase equitable access to resources and professional advancement, and make our organization more inclusive of the diversity we seek to cultivate. From a demographic perspective, our committee makeup is currently much more representative of our history than where we hope to go, so how do we address this call? Here’s a bit about what we’ve been up to and where we want to go.

We’ve spent the last year taking stock and planning for our future. Looking inward, we are examining how we can support our Chapter’s Committees and members as a learning resource by amplifying marginalized voices and sharing DEI-related information and educational opportunities. Looking outward, we are seeking ways to raise the visibility of landscape design as a career path among more diverse youth populations and to mentor and provide support to landscape designers with marginalized identities. One of our most exciting new endeavors will be utilizing the potential of the APLDWA scholarship program toward these efforts.

I’ll admit that in years past I dropped my check in the collection jar at the holiday party and thought little more of it. I didn’t really consider the history and process of this tradition and the impact it has on individuals’ lives until I started to dig deeper to learn how our committee might adopt the administration of it. As I’ve learned recently, we typically collect around $1,000 each year and the funds go to one student, rotating between the Horticulture and Landscape Design programs at Edmonds College, South Seattle College, and Lake Washington Technical College. Since adding the option of online donation during the pandemic, our chapter’s collection reach has grown beyond just those who attend the holiday party. Last year’s scholarship funds were awarded to Christopher Konkel at Edmonds College. Here’s an excerpt from his thank you letter to the Board.

"With this $1,330 scholarship from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, I now have resources to undertake the design series in the ’22-23’ academic year. While achieving my goal of becoming one of the most sought-after design-builders on the Salish Sea will require a number of things I have yet to accomplish -a robust portfolio, a solid crew, an increasing customer base, and more- my short-term goal is to begin to provide the highest quality designs to compliment the increasing quality of my work.

With your help, I feel reassured as I enter the more difficult portion of my degree, which requires computer and illustrative skills that I completely lack, and for that I cannot thank you enough. Having this support means I can focus more fully on the work I need to do to succeed. For your individual, and organizational, support of the students at Edmonds Community college, thank you. I have to admit I feel a certain comradery for my fellow older students, looking for retraining, or like myself, trying to turn a job into a profession; at the same time, I also see my younger classmates, some simply exploring their interests, become active participants in conversations about native populations and food webs, expand (like me) their ‘favorite plants’ lists, and asking insightful questions about best practices. Without your support, however, this wouldn’t be possible for some, many, or maybe all of us. And this support is what helps integrate us, it lends us the resiliency we need. It builds our community."

I’m personally brought back to the human scale of the scholarship when I hear how individual students like Christopher are able to benefit from our help, turning their professional aspirations into realities backed by a solid education and a robust network of colleagues. In making these individual donations each year, not only are we contributing to the next generation of designers, we are also collectively raising the profile of our organization among potential future members. This probably isn’t why we give, but personal passion is what brought most of us to this work and that passion certainly informs our professional lives. The next scholarship collection drive is right around the corner and though the holiday party will still be a chance to drop off a check, we will also have a link on the website to donate electronically. Watch for more information in your inbox.

woman standing in garden, Debby Purser at Heronswood Botanical Garden
Debby Purser, Heronswood Volunteer Coordinator and S’Klallam tribal member describing the welcome pole recently installed at the new entry to the garden. Photo: Tom Lawson
Starting this year, with the DEI Committee at the helm, the scholarship program will be working actively to attract applicants who come from more diverse backgrounds. I hope you will feel as motivated as I am to welcome and support the next generation of landscape designers, sharing our wisdom and in the process gaining valuable insight from theirs. Please consider donating to the scholarship fund if you can.

In addition to the scholarship program, the DEI Committee will continue to grow in 2023 and coming years. We will still keep our members abreast of DEI-related information and educational opportunities via the Google Group and APLDWA social media, but we are also working on collaborating with the Program Committee to produce a program about honoring local indigenous knowledge with Debby Purser at Heronswood. Stay tuned for more details. We are also working to establish relationships with local schools to get the word out with young folks about the career of landscape design.

No matter what activity we are engaged in, the heart of our committee’s work is always about openness, learning and growth, and our success is critically dependent on hearing from our members. Do you have suggestions or expertise to contribute? Are there issues or topics you would like us to explore? We’d love to have more folks join our committee, particularly those from marginalized identities. We also welcome anyone to attend committee meetings (we try to meet monthly, so please holler at us for our next meeting time) or just reach out with feedback or ideas to We hope to hear from you!

metal sculpture on rock,	Raven Sculpture by Debby Purser
Traditional S’Klallam tribal stories come alive in the gardens at Heronswood as art installations each October. Art by Debby Purser. Photo: Tom Lawson