This was originally posted in February 2011. It’s just as true today.
by Susan Cohan, APLD
Every year I have the opportunity to attend several conferences with groups on a variety of topics that I’m involved in professionally. The APLD International Landscape Design Conference is one I never miss…even if I can’t attend others because of it.
I’ve heard many moan about the cost, but as a way to sharpen my design skills and open my eyes to what’s new in our profession, I can’t afford NOT to go. Some years I’m only able to swing the main conference—even that’s tough some years. Some years I give up precious vacation time to go—it is a professional event and not relaxing.
Then why do I make this effort of both precious time and money? Because, as I’ve said, I can’t afford not to go…here is why.
- It is a conference whose sole message is design and geared specifically to the needs of landscape designer—not gardeners, writers or native plant evangelists—although they are sometimes in the mix of the over arching design message. Afterall, I’m first and foremost a landscape designer…even though I may also be some of those other things too.
- I need the comraderie of my peers. I am a sole practioner and I learn from each and every one I meet and talk to and they in turn help to make me a better designer. It’s a weeklong sip at the design professional’s water cooler.
- As part of a highly respected design association, we get access to people and places that would normally be well outside of my direct sphere of influence. This was as true of my first conference as it was of my last. The conferences that are outside of my region are the best for me. I can let go of my habit of rabid ad hoc plant identification and just focus on the design.
- I get incredible ideas from the world class gardens we visit, from the symposium speakers and from others on the bus and in the bar after hours. Often the landscapes I design immediately after my return are what I consider my best of the season.
- I feel sometimes that I work in a vaccuum of my own studio and clients. I found out at a conference that many of us feel like this from time to time—and the conference is a place to be as big a design nerd as you want to be and still be understood and even celebrated.
- Attending a conference has allowed me to, as Dr. Phil says, ‘Get Real’ with my place in the design universe. I see the work of other members as well as the gardens and I can figure out where I fit in that heirarchy. It can be good and bad for the design ego—in any event it’s a reality check. In fact, by the end of my stay at any conference I’m over sitmulated and brimming with ideas.
There’s another thing about APLD conferences that is probably the single most important reason to go and a source of most of the excuses not to go…the timing. Conferences are planned when the gardens we will visit are at peak season. We get access to private and public spaces that are seldom open to the public. The focus is on outdoor designed environments…not pretty gardens. Hundreds of landscapes are scouted and rejected. Only those offering the best of the conference region’s landscape design and underlying theme are included. The conference is scheduled for when a region’s gardens are at their best and there’s the excuse part—“I can’t go in JUNE…I’m too busy then.” “I can’t go in Septermber…I’m too busy then.” et cetera et cetera et cetera. Anything can be planned for—even during busy times.
If you are serious about your profession and want to experience the best of what your professional association has to offer, then go to a conference…if you’re too busy then you’re not working smart as you could be because you’re not taking advantage of one of your best professional development opportunities.