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about our studio

design approach

Gardens are good for us. We know intuitively that natural environments affect human emotions, an intuition that is increasingly supported by science. The neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote that “nature calls to something very deep in us,” and proposed that we are evolutionarily predisposed to want to interact with and care for nature.

In our design work we seek to connect people to place, architecture to garden, and garden to the larger landscape and the characteristics that make it unique.  This comes about through a process of looking, listening, and then interpreting and transforming what is learned into a landscape that reflects the nature of a place and our client’s wishes. Our designs encompass the informal and formal, the durable and the ephemeral, the wild and the tamed.

An ethic of sustainability is integral to our vision of landscape architecture and garden design. We are inspired by wild and naturalized landscapes that emerge from juxtapositions of natural systems and forces, and ask how our designed landscapes can be as intelligent. Each of our projects aims to increase the biodiversity and habitat value of a place. We believe gardens are meant to be shared by humans and more-than-humans alike, and look for ways to bring the wild into the backyard and the city.

We like to ask how the landscape can also be food. Many edible plants are beautiful and make lovely hedges, groves, colorful accents, and mixed planting beds. And if humans won’t eat it, then maybe the local wildlife will.

Working with the availability of natural resources is critical, especially in landscapes of low rainfall like Southern California and other Mediterranean regions, where drought is a constant companion. We are profoundly interested in dry gardens and designed plant communities that work with local soil and climate. How can we help a garden in a place like this to sustain itself? How can it thrive with current and future climate, water, and soil conditions, and continue to contribute to ecological and social well-being of humans and more-than-human communities? These questions are fundamental to our design explorations.

Leslie Ryan  FAAR  PLA 6225

My career in environmental design began with a vegetable garden that grew enough zucchini to feed the neighborhood and long hours spent among the barrel cactus and trapdoor spiders that lived on the hillside behind my childhood home in San Diego. I completed studies in landscape architecture at Cal Poly SLO and established my own practice in 1990. Studio work has focused on sustainable approaches to design, including projects for adaptation strategies for sea level rise, community-based design, affordable housing, habitat gardens, and local food production at a range of scales.


As a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome (1994-95), I explored the health and healing aspects of cloisters. Research conducted for three cloisters in a 19th century Roman hospital complex that encompassed 10th century and 15th century monasteries, received a Visionary Landscapes award from Landscape Architecture magazine. A year in the Visual Arts MFA program at UCSD in La Jolla introduced me to the work of the pioneering eco-artists Helen and Newton Harrison. This has resulted in a long-lasting engagement with the Harrisons and a continuing preoccupation with the intersections and overlaps of art and ecology. I was the co-founder of hybrid, an art gallery that examined the boundaries between art and design. The Mayor of San Diego appointed me as Public Artist to the City of San Diego’s Community Forest Advisory Board from 1999-2004. I am currently on the Board of Art Produce, a non-profit organization dedicated to building community through the arts, and the Design Council of EarthLab, a climate action park in Southeast San Diego.


After completing a graduate degree from Yale University’s School of Architecture (2006), my practice expanded to include research and teaching, both in California and Oregon. I was a visiting professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon 2006-08 and 2013-17, and founding chair of a new landscape architecture program at the NewSchool of Architecture + Design in San Diego 2009-12. My writings on relationships between art and land use practices have been published in Places journal and the Journal of Environmental Philosophy.

leslie in forest_4.jpg


Oregon State University

PhD candidate (ABD) in Forest Ecosystems and Society, College of Forestry (2013-)

Research focus: Art-science engagements


Yale University

Master of Environmental Design, Yale School of Architecture (2006)

Research focus: water and post-industrial landscapes

John Addison Porter Prize. University-wide award for thesis as best work of original scholarship written for a general audience

Everett Victor Meeks Graduate Fellowship for academic excellence


California State Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo

BSc in Landscape Architecture (1986)

Architectural study in Florence, Italy, 1983-84



California Landscape Architect, PLA 6225



Board member, Art Produce, community/art-based non-profit

Design Council member, EarthLab, with Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman

QWEL (Qualified Water Efficiency Landscape) certification

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