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Seed Champions | Issue No. 2

This article is the second in a series of interviews with esteemed figures in the native plant and seed community. In this interview, we chat with Heather Schibli, an advocate for ecological restoration and a multifaceted professional at Dougan & Associates. With roles spanning Design Manager, Landscape Architect, Ecologist, and Arborist, Heather's journey weaves together diverse disciplines. Heather's arsenal of professional training, ranging from horticulture to arboriculture, forms the bedrock of her sustainable restoration solutions. Her interdisciplinary approach recognizes the complexity of ecological processes and harnesses collective perspectives for impactful results.


Black and white portrait of Heather Schiblit

Heather Schibli is a passionate advocate for ecological restoration and holds the roles of Design Manager, Landscape Architect, Ecologist, and Arborist at Dougan & Associates, an ecological consulting and design firm. Prior to joining D&A in 2015, Heather completed a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Heather brings a decade of experience in graphic communication and design to ecological restoration and park development projects. She holds certificates in Horticulture, Ecological Land Classification, the International Society of Arboriculture, and the Green Roof Professional Training course.


Wilder Climate Solutions (WCS:) How does your unique blend of education in both landscape architecture and fine art, influence your approach to projects at D&A?

Heather Schibli (HS): When I was younger, I was under the impression that art and science were separate and distinct. Indeed, our school systems perpetuate this understanding by dividing fields of enquiry into separate schools, departments, and programs. I completed a graduate degree in landscape architecture as a way to infiltrate the discipline of ecology without a Bachelor of Science degree. Design (as in landscape architecture, fashion design, graphic design, etc.) follows a similar methodology to the scientific method: A problem is presented, then inventory, observation, and analysis ensue, followed by synthesis and results. Within D&A, which is an interdisciplinary firm, we designers and scientists can combine the design process with the scientific method, which translates into a nuanced approach to site characterization and ecological management recommendations.

Visual art is about observation, reflection, and imagination. I believe my training in art has instilled a desire to explore the ‘why’ and to imagine alternative scenarios. This is important when seeking solutions to ecological problems because myopic solutions may fail to address the underlying problem. Timothy Morton eloquently argues that all art is ecological (in his essay by the same name) since creativity (play) is what furthers life’s processes and evolution, and art enables us to deeply explore this world and our current existential extinction crises. Creativity is a means to make sense of the uncanniness of our time and to challenge claims of the ‘normal’.

WCS: Your diverse set of certificates, including horticulture, ecological land classification, the International Society of Arboriculture, and green roof professional training, showcases a wide range of expertise. How do you integrate these various disciplines to create sustainable and holistic restoration solutions?

HS: These certificates represent various aspects of plant life. Familiarity with horticulture, green infrastructure, arboriculture, and ecology expand my awareness of plant complexities, which influence my design practice.  The most effective ecological restoration projects are those that have been informed by an interdisciplinary team whereby multiple perspectives may be explored. If anything, ecological processes are too complex for humans to understand. The best we can do is to acknowledge our lack of comprehension and to restore spaces with humility. Landscape architecture is a broad discipline, and as such, landscape architects are often generalists who serve to connect specialized disciplines. I am not the expert in the fields of horticulture, arboriculture, or green infrastructure, but my familiarity with them enables me to consider these aspects within restoration design.

WCS: Throughout your career, you've been involved in numerous ecological restoration projects. Can you highlight a particularly challenging or rewarding project that pushed the boundaries of your expertise and allowed you to make a significant impact on the environment?

HS: Most of the work I do can be performed by others and it is, for the most part, contained within a larger system of extraction. In other words, if our firm did not perform the work, another firm would, and much of our ecological restoration is compensation for (proposed) destroyed habitat. Thus, I do not find this work particularly impactful. My most rewarding work comes from moments and projects where we carve out opportunity for ecological restoration. This is where the impact lies. This is where I can make a difference by creating space to tip the scale a bit more toward biodiversity and ecological health. This sort of work hasn’t been prescribed by policy, nor is it preconceived through grants. The impact occurs when our firm finds solutions that improve ecological integrity while maintaining the project goals or when we inspire a client to support better. Something I’ve come to realize over time is that it doesn’t matter what position a staff member may hold, as ecological restoration practitioners (designers, GIS analysts, ecologists, and biologists), we all have a responsibility to advocate for our fellow species who cannot advocate for themselves. This means critically reviewing our work regardless of our job position within a firm. We need to remove our blinders and speak up. We need to recognize, and furthermore embrace, our responsibility to our more-than-humankind.

WCS: As the field of landscape architecture continues to evolve, how do you see the role of ecological restoration and sustainable design changing  in response to emerging environmental challenges and societal needs?

HS: Predictive climate models do not bode well for a belief in future planetary stability. It is thus crucial that we adopt ecological and resilience driven needs within landscape design practice. To do any less is irresponsible and outdated. We are not certain what our future holds, however, we do know that we are at the precipice of climatic instability, and we know its cause: high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide leading to mass extinction and societal collapse. Therefore, as designers and ecological restoration practitioners, it is our role to design for carbon sequestration, more-than-human habitats within our own, and resilience. We need to image how our designs serve future generations. This means, within urban and peri-urban landscapes, our designs should (1) specify plants that support biodiversity (native plant species), (2) assist species migration (heat island effect as opportunity), and (3) include human resilience (e.g. food security).

WCS: Apart from your professional achievements, your educational background in fine art and your interest in horticulture are intriguing. How do these personal passions complement your work in ecological restoration, and do they inspire any particular philosophy in your work?

HS: Both fine art and horticulture are fields that explore the perception of beauty. Art theory plunges deeply into beauty’s role and effects on culture, whereas horticultural practice centres normative concepts of beauty. My exposure to art theory, and cultural constructs of beauty, have equipped me with a landscape architectural practice that is perhaps more self aware. Beauty is a tool. Beauty serves a purpose and is thus by no means neutral. It is important to question concepts of beauty and where these beliefs originate. For instance, our accepted landscape treatment of expansive lawns punctuated by shade trees and flower gardens is a physical manifestation of colonial control. We accept these landscapes as ‘normal’ when they are only normal within the western capitalist narrative. Only once we become aware of these narratives are we able to imagine beyond them.

Horticulture, which was a field I studied before I became aware of landscape architecture and restoration ecology, is pragmatic and accessible. It isn’t encumbered with theory and abstractions, but rather, resides in the world of practicality and implementation. Horticulture also follows trends. Trends in colour, pattern, and materials. Here, beauty isn’t the topic of debate, bur rather its interpretation, which is taste. When I first studied horticulture, I thought cultivated varieties (cultivars) of Eurasian species bred for their overwhelming blooms or irregular leaf colours were the epitome of beauty. I thought native plants were boring and ugly. As I learned more about native plants and their interconnectedness within local ecologies, my understanding of plant beauty began to shift. My taste changed.

Heather on a wetland restoration expedition

Beauty isn’t often considered within ecology, even though many ecologists I work with will exclaim something is beautiful during fieldwork. Robin Wall Kimmerer and Carl Safina, both ecologists, have pondered the role of beauty beyond our anthropocentric milieu. Fine art practice and theory have provided me with a means to question the role of beauty in landscape architecture and restoration ecology.  I am aware of how normative colonial modes of control over the landscape inform and are perpetuated by horticulture and landscape architecture. The usual typologies we encounter in our neighbourhoods are embodiments of the human vs nature paradigm. I believe these are vestiges of an outdated, though pervasive, world view. I hope that education about, and exposure to, the beauty found in ecological richness will shift our collective taste to landscape practices that are multispecies-inclusive.

Put into practice, my philosophy embraces E.O. Wilson’s half earth proposal and the 30x30target: I urge landscape architects to design 50% of their spaces for species other than human. This can be achieved by adhering to multispecies design principles (revised from D. Metcalf’s 2015 PhD thesis):

  1. Non-human  species as clients of design

In addition to designing for humans, consider plants, fungi, and/or animals as your clients. This can be accomplished with targeted species design, whereby a species is identified and their habitat requirements to feed, breed, rest, and nest are researched and implemented. More generally speaking, adopting multispecies design elements is to introduce complexity in both form and function. For instance, include multiple food sources and irregular terrain. Incorporate many native plant species with varying shapes and sizes into your design. Complexity is key.

  1. Human/non-human interaction as a designed experience

Consider the interface between humans and non-humans, but also between wild and domesticated animals. How might this space be utilized by humans and their pets? How might their usership impact wild animals, fungi, and plants? For example, enlisting amphibians or birds as clients where cats frequent undermines the goal of multispecies design. Most species conflicts arise from routine feeding by humans to other species. Minimize species dependencies on humans within your design. Control access through programming and design elements.

  1. Human created systems are extensions of ecological systems

It is crucial to recognize that our habitats are part of larger ecological systems. Much like beavers, our actions define our habitats. We are a keystone species. The ways we define our habitats greatly impact other species. Our habitats: cities, agricultural fields, parks, city blocks, are not outside of ecological systems, but merely spaces within. How does your design impact the landscape’s ecological functionality?

  1. Respect for other species

This can best be achieved by minimizing maintenance. Know that other species possess intelligence that we may or may not perceive. Trust their capabilities and respect their autonomy. For instance, leave the leaves. Trees and their allies (insects, fungi, etc.) have evolved to capitalize on fallen leaves. Leave them! Leave dead stalks and seedheads over winter and into late spring. If you must cut them, leave them on the ground in situ. There are likely insects housed within those stalks. And the material will nourish the soil ecology.


By adopting a multi-species ethic through design, ecological health maybe interwoven within our human constructed habitats. This is an opportunity to collapse the binary of human vs. nature that is so deeply entrenched in our western psyche.

WCS: Can you tell us a little bit about the book that you are writing?

HS: Yes! I am working on two books!

The first highlights trees of northeastern North America and their ecological and cultural relationships with other species. This book is very picture-heavy highlighting co-evolutionary, mutualistic, and parasitic interactions. Instead of a guidebook that deconstructs trees into their constituent parts, such as leaves, buds, and bark, this book focusses on their relationships to other species. Relationships form us into what and who we are, and so is the case with all species. No species evolves in a vacuum, but rather, in response to the environment within which it evolves. My hope is that this book will illustrate trees and their ecologies in a more respectful manner than traditional western tree guides. Plus, the most fascinating aspects to trees are how they interact with other species.

The second book is a collaboration with Lorraine Johnson. We are interpreting botanical inventories of native habitats into native plant communities that can be introduced to urban and peri urban spaces. In other words, this book is restoration ecology for gardeners and designers. We are organizing these plant assemblages by their edaphic factors such assoils, moisture, and solar access. We hope that this will inspire holistic gardening practices whereby plants are grown within their familiar multispecies communities.