An Inheritance Worth Designing

As any of you who even casually follow me on social media are well aware, I have a cousin named Nathan. I affectionately refer to him as is “The Plant Man,” a title I know he secretly loves! What you may not realize is that more than just making me read Michael Pollan books, teaching me Latin names of green things, and trying desperately to keep me from over-watering my house plants… he does actual work in an actual industry. He is graduating shortly with a degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University – Idaho. In the course of putting together his portfolio he asked me to help with his “About” page.

Additionally, my sister Lisette Oler is writing features for the Life & Arts section of The Daily Texan. In editing her stories and discussing pitches with her, we’ve come to the same realization: people are fascinating! Feature-writing gives an opportunity to really dig into one person’s story and see what makes them tick, what gets them out of bed in the morning, what drives them to improve and progress at all costs.

Often these people are too busy changing the world to make much of a fuss about it. Thank heaven for the rest of us, who sit on the sidelines in awe of their creativity, focus, passion, and perseverance. The story-tellers of the world, whether like me who are commissioned for specific pieces or like my sister whose higher calling is journalism, have the best job in the world: to celebrate the struggles, the heart aches, the triumphs of those around us and try humbly to capture this living moment with a two-dimensional, monochromatic thing called the written word. When we finally depart this earth, often the written word is the only thing that survives us. This inheritance of ideas, this legacy of story is what ties us together as human beings across generations.

Without further adieu, here’s the text in its entirety:

Nathan Marcusen believes three things: A landscape designer acts as a steward of the Earth, good design seeks to elevate the industry, and a landscape should be inheritable.

     Stewardship over the Earth is a conscientious approach to meeting client’s needs and society’s needs at large, while preserving natural processes.

     Designs elevate the industry by not using the same 10 plants in every design, incorporating native and xeric elements of the surrounding area, and providing clients with more environmentally sound plant options.

     Inheritability is the future sustainability – allowing your children and grandchildren to enjoy the seeds you planted. These three elements work in tandem to inform each of Nathan’s designs, interactions with clients, and progression in the design industry.

During his early years, Nathan’s family moved into a new house in Eastern Washington. His mother asked each of her sons to pick out a house plant to fill the empty space by large windows. He chose an Hoya carnosa and was fascinated by its growth. 15 years later, the Hoya has completely taken over the archway into the living room. Through new purchases, cuttings, and trades with other horticulturally minded travelers the space by the windows is a full-grown greenhouse.

Nathan’s interest in plant life seemed always checked by water availability in the Columbia Basin, an irrigation project spearheaded by the US Government in the early 1940s. This water-consciousness of design proved its worth during an internship with All Seasons Landscaping. A major big-box retailer contracted All Seasons for the landscape design and construction of their first store in the region. From the start, the project faced two problems: 1) no naturally occurring water on the property 2) in order to pump significant amounts of water to the property, the city would have to dig up a road and extend the water main. Nathan pitched a xeric landscape to the project manager, who approached the client. The client loved it and as the installation was completed, the Mayor of the city congratulated All Seasons on what he felt was the future of landscape design in their drought-afflicted area.

Whether restricted by desert, economic situation, or urban living, Nathan understands not everyone has the luxury of a typically suburban back garden to prune and fuss over. Public green spaces are in serious need.  Landscapes contain the power to rejuvenate, enliven and even feed people and other vital organisms in the food chain who spend time there. They should start a conversation before any words have been exchanged.


Contracted to design for a homeowner whose property backed onto a protected wetlands area, Nathan’s firm proactively reached out to the government organizations responsible for the space. They checked and cross-checked each plant option and made necessary design edits to ensure no invasive or non-native species could be introduced from the private property into the wetlands. This is basic stewardship, to take responsibility and follow through on doing what is best for the larger ecosystem.

“The green industry should advocate for both social and environmental needs in every interaction with clients, government, and the public. Making sound choices for the land that the client lives on falls upon us. We are there to educate and have the power to create sustainable trends in society. We are sometimes the only interaction clients have with someone who knows how to conserve energy and water in meaningful ways. We can influence people to trend in the right direction. ”– Nathan Marcusen

Nathan’s designs subscribe to the “strength in numbers” philosophy and consistently show that low-maintenance design does not equal a monoculture. “The Stella D’oro Daylily is nearly bullet-proof,” Nathan exclaims often, “but it’s completely useless to pollinator species who are increasingly relying on urban landscapes to sustain themselves and the growing human population.” Even in high school, Nathan experienced first-hand the dangers of monoculture. In addition to the potager garden he designed, his family wanted to grow pumpkins. 100 feet to the east of the potager, he planted a healthy collection of pumpkin and squash. Within weeks of producing fruit, squash beetles moved in and decimated the crop. Meanwhile, the zucchinis and cucumbers planted among the diversity of the vegetable, herb, and wildflowers in the potager continued to thrive.

No matter the project, client, or personal interaction Nathan makes decisions consistent with these values and experiences. As a member of a design team, he brings a depth of knowledge and a conscientiousness unmatched by peers. He lives for cutting edge design, unique approaches to the usual problems and has found the best source of inspiration is Nature herself.


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