DESIGNER PROFILE: Steve Harbor, APLD
Interviewed by David Clarke
Tell us a little about yourself. (i.e., town you grew up in, early experiences, education, hobbies, etc.)
I am a Southern California native, born and raised in Fullerton, CA. When I was ten, an older neighbor bequeathed me his yard maintenance business, which I begrudgingly accepted. The six yards I inherited, including my own home, became the feeble beginnings of my experience in landscaping. Later on, I moved to Sonoma County to attend Sonoma State University (B.A. English). I found a summer job at a local Sebastopol wholesale nursery, then got hired to work after school at a retail nursery in Petaluma. Right after graduation, I got married and we moved to San Diego. I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism, but finding no work above minimum wage, I discovered San Diego’s vast network of wholesale and retail nurseries, and continued on in horticulture. That was 36 years ago.
How did you find a career in landscape design?
I had a great early career working in horticulture, yet felt the need to do something more creative. I had been working alongside several landscape architects while working in wholesale, recommending and locating specimen trees and hard-to-find plants for their jobs, and found myself more and more enamored with the thought of landscape design. So I enrolled at Cuyamaca College at night to study landscape design, then got my first job as a landscape designer and consultant, with Anderson’s La Costa Nursery in 1997.
Was there a mentor figure in your early career?
No official mentor per se. My grandmother sparked my early interest in plants and gardening. She grew everything imaginable on her small plot of land in Orange, CA. I spent weekends at my grandmother’s throughout my childhood, playing in her garden, eating all the ripening fruits. I still have an epiphyllum from her, which I believe to be at least eighty years old.
How is your business set up, and how has it changed over the years?
My business is set up as an individual proprietorship for landscape consulting and design. Creatively, it is best if I design in the morning and go on appointments in the afternoon. In the past, I have worked directly for landscape companies, and was involved in project management and estimating as well. But I prefer the independence of working for myself.
What inspires you?
Well, that is a big question. Many, many things. With regard to design, I get excited in taking some forlorn, neglected property and making it beautiful and, at the same time, functional. Outside of work, I love plants and am admittedly proud that I am a plant hoarder. I once had to count my cactus and succulents for insurance purposes. I inventoried 700 plants—just cacti and succulents—at my home. And I collect all kinds of plants. I also enjoy writing, photography, and hiking.
What past projects have given you the most satisfaction?
There are dozens really. Most recently, I revisited a landscape I designed for a client who owned a mid-century modern home, originally designed by Henry Hester, an architect who planned many notable structures in the 1930’s. I am a little out of my comfort zone with full-on, modern-linear design, but I believe he would have approved.
How did you find about APLD, and what led you to join?
I joined APLD and started attending conferences around 2000, but there were no local groups, so I lost touch with the organization until a few years ago. I enjoy the camaraderie with other professionals. It doesn’t matter how long you have been working in this field, there is always something to learn. It is critical to stay current.
Tell us why you decided to obtain APLD Certification. How was the process?
As professionals, I think it is important to be recognized by your peers. Certification, awards, etc. help to define a career. The certification process took a while, so I advise patience to others, which is not one of my strengths. Begin putting together your application and portfolio early, and have a couple backup designs in case one is rejected. This happened to me (not enough hardscape) and I was fortunate that I was able to resubmit two others quickly, which were passed without me having to go through the entire process again.
Has it changed the way you design?
It has subtly, but not dramatically changed my drawings. I am a bit more detailed now.
If you were to tell other designers about APLD Certification, what would you say?
By all means, get certified!
Any final comments?
I would be happy to advise and answer questions for anyone seeking certification. Please contact or write me if you think I can help.