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Designer of the Year María del Sol Galdón takes on landscape design in a tough climate—with beautiful results.
Our 2022 Landscape Designer of the Year began her professional design career in interiors, but soon found herself drawn to the wildness of the outdoors. “If you renovate your kitchen, your kitchen will look like that until you do it again—but outside, every day will be different,” says María del Sol Galdón of Planta Landcape. Her passion for plants runs in the family—Galdón grew up on a ranch in Mendoza, Argentina; her father was an agronomist and her parents owned a small landscaping company. The shift to design al fresco was a no-brainer: “I already knew a lot of the plant material, and I had a design education to back me up,” she says. “I was even more comfortable designing landscapes than I was designing interiors.”
Each and every one of Galdón’s projects is at the mercy of the elements (and in her home base of Calgary, Mother Nature isn’t messing around). She designs her landscapes with hardy, perseverant flora—but that doesn’t mean they’re any less beautiful. Her Georgette project, for example, uses lots of grasses that don’t require as much irrigation as other plants; the grass peeking through the geometric concrete also adds an element of lushness to the space. That concrete, just like the sleek steel planters, mimics the vibe of the modern home—“I always try to be respectful of the architecture,” Galdón says.
That’s true regardless of how much space she has to work with. The Hildebrand home is an inner-city infill with a tiny backyard, and Galdón created an outdoor oasis that feels both spacious and serene. Hydrangeas are planted tightly with leafy foliage for contrast, and light and bright furniture draws the eye up from the ground, which is actually covered in synthetic grass. It’s a low-maintenance material that softens the space.
READ MORE: Meet Western Living’s 2022 One to Watch in Landscape Design
Galdón’s strategies go beyond the visual, as well—her Rideau Road design is adjacent to a very busy pedestrian walkway, so she incorporated water features to combat the noise pollution. The organic granite bubblers provide movement as well as that much-needed sound barrier, and they look right at home amid the natural boulders, evergreen trees and ornamental grasses. The designer chose more contemporary water features for the Lowe-Emond home, which is made for entertaining (there’s also a large deck with a pergola, integrated hot tub and custom rusted-steel fire table).
“Every site and every project is completely different,” says Galdón, who tries to incorporate as much existing vegetation as she can into every landscape. The Ulmer residence is perhaps the greatest example of that. It’s a modern home that backs onto an environmental reserve, and the designer was tasked with creating a seamless transition from the house to the wild. She preserved the yard’s trembling aspens and spruce trees, and added raised planters in two materials: concrete and natural rock. The planters gradually transition from man-made to organic the farther one steps away from the home. “It has a progression from very modern to very natural,” Galdón explains.
The outdoors are unpredictable, but Galdón’s functional strategies combined with her eye for style create solid, stunning spaces. “With a garden you have to be patient—it’s not instant,” says the designer. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and I find that challenging and exciting.”
What do people often get wrong about design?
Scale. Particularly in outdoor and landscape spaces where areas can be so vast. In residential design, bringing the space down to human scale is important to create intimacy. It is also important to think of scale over time, as vegetation grows and matures and so on.
What are your design pet peeves?
As designers, sometimes looking at a space for a few minutes and sketching it out in 10 [minutes] is all we need to have the concept established. Often, people assume that our fees are high, when “it only took 10 minutes to design.” My reply: “It took me seven years of university, 15 years of practice, and 10 minutes.”
READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2022 Designers of the Year Awards
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