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Landscape Architecture ticks all the boxes

Posted by Stephanie Rogers on November 20, 2023 in Alumni & Friends, News
Taya Kehler, Class of '19
Taya Kehler, Class of '19

When Taya Kehler (Class of ‘19) was making plans for her future, she knew she wanted to work with plants, but she wasn’t ready to abandon her penchant for art and design. Equally passionate about the outdoors and visual arts, Taya sought something that would tick all her boxes. She found it in the field of landscape architecture.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors, and knew I wanted to work with plants, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like as a career,” says Taya. “At the same time, I’m a creative person, with many artistic hobbies. Landscape architecture is a field that blurs the lines between science and art, community development and environmental studies. All of my interests in one degree made it an easy decision for me.”

Born in Carman, Manitoba, it might come as a surprise that Taya would travel all the way to Nova Scotia to pursue her degree. For her, it was an obvious choice.

“I chose Dalhousie because I wanted to be on the east coast and explore a new place,” she says. “The small class sizes appealed to me, and I got the impression that the beautiful gardens and greenhouses on the campus supported the landscape architecture program well.”

Her impression was correct. According to Taya, the hands-on learning in the landscape architecture program allowed her and her classmates to design and create actual new spaces on campus together – including a new pond near the Collins Horticulture Building, which she and members of her team built in their project management course.

“We learned so much by doing, and ventured outside of the classroom in many of our courses,” she recalls. “And we didn’t only use the landscape spaces on campus for our studies, but traveled to other sites around Nova Scotia for our studio courses in our final year.”

She credits the small class sizes and the creativity of instructors including Ed Versteeg and Tracey MacKenzie for making this possible. One of her favourite classes was Arboriculture, in which she learned to climb trees safely.

Taya has put her studies to good use. These days, she is the gardens coordinator at The Riverwood Conservancy, a charity in Mississauga, Ontario. The Riverwood Conservancy is a 150-acre nature preserve and public park in the middle of the city, offering nature and garden-based programs and stewarding the land. As gardens coordinator, she is responsible for managing many diverse public gardens, leading garden programs, and supporting conservation work.

“My goal when I graduated was to design gardens in public parks, and that’s exactly what I get to do and more,” says Taya. “I design and maintain gardens, educate the public, and build community through my work, and it feels great to be making a difference.”

Her job is certainly never boring. On any given day, she could be designing a garden, pulling weeds, leading a birding tour or doing restoration work in the forest. With the help of about 40 dedicated volunteers, Taya has designed and implemented a large native pollinator garden and a climate-resilience garden, as well as expanded the vegetable garden and rhododendron beds. All the gardens are used for teaching about climate change, pollinators, food security and more in many of the educational programs and serve as a peaceful space for the public to enjoy.

One aspect of her job that she finds particularly rewarding is the opportunity to support conservation work.

“I love knowing that we are making real impact in the park’s ecology,” she says. We remove invasive species and plant native species, protect sensitive areas, and maintain trail systems to allow the public to experience nature in the city. I’ve really enjoyed being able to apply my education in landscape architecture to this area – creating trail strategies and mapping use of the site to ensure the natural spaces are preserved for the future.”

Taya is clearly busy with her day job, but staying connected to her artistic side is equally important to her. A talented paper cutting artist, she has exhibited her art in the past, including during her time as a student at the Agricultural Campus. Although she is currently taking a break from creating, she keeps in touch with the art world by serving as secretary on the board of directors for Visual Arts Mississauga, another charity housed within Riverwood Park.

And of course, she gets to channel her inner artist often while working in the Riverwood gardens.

“I feel lucky to have found a job so well-suited for me,” she says. “That’s the beauty of Landscape Architecture! It can lead in many directions and support a variety of careers.”

“Who knew I’d be protecting turtle eggs in a wetland and growing vegetables for my local food bank as a career? It doesn’t get much better than that!”