Earth Hero: Tara Vincenta

Tara Vincenta brings 30 years of experience and leadership to projects from schematic design to construction administration. As Principal and founder of Artemis Landscape Architects, Inc., she is best known for designing award-winning, diverse landscapes. Through her work, she has developed a passion for creating landscapes that allow people to connect, and re-connect, with nature. Drawing inspiration from Earth itself in her creations, Vinenta is a creative visionary with big ideas that have an even greater impact. She is one of our distinguished Earth Heroes.

Meet Tara

Q: You have over 30 years of experience and leadership in designing diverse landscapes. Can you talk about how you first got into this field?

A: From the time I was a child, I always had a deep connection with nature. I spent countless hours in the woods surrounding our family home, exploring, and gathering earthly treasures in my pockets. As I grew up, I excelled in science and the arts and when it came time to think about college and a career, it was my mom who suggested that "Landscape Architecture” might be a good fit for her creative, nature-loving child. At 17, I had no idea what landscape architecture was. As I began to learn more, I was intrigued with the range of possibilities the profession offered—it encompassed my love of both science and the arts. So off I went to SUNY, ESF in Syracuse to pursue my degree and I loved it from the get-go. I did an off-campus study in Japan that has influenced my work profoundly over the years.

Q: You started your career out west in Colorado and are now located in Connecticut. How have these varying landscapes impacted the way you see or appreciate the Earth?

A: The Western United States has a wide-open expansive feeling, compared with the more enclosed feeling of the deciduous forests of the Northeast where I was raised. My very first job out of college was for a planning firm, working on large-scale corridor studies in Northern Montana. I spent countless hours driving the vast, wide-open spaces of the northern plains. And while I enjoyed this experience, I knew my passion was designing landscapes at a smaller scale—places for people to connect with nature. So, I moved on to Denver, Colorado, and worked on a wide variety of built projects—gaining valuable knowledge about the importance of native and drought tolerant plants. This I learned was vital in a water conscious area. Earth is an astoundingly beautiful place. There are so many places, countries, and cultures I have visited that offer inspiration in all my design work. Wherever I travel, I always find the local botanical garden, as I am a plant woman at heart, and love learning about the native species of an area.

Q: What is your favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

A: For two years, I have been working as the local landscape architect for the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial, designed by SWA group in San Francisco. It was an honor to be included on the team and entrusted to design the plantings for this important community project. It is designed to be a place of healing, a clearing in a local woodland, where visitors can connect with nature on walking paths at their own pace encircling a central memorial water feature. It honors the lives of the 26 children and educators who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook School shooting tragedy on December 14, 2012.

Q: What is the best part about your job? What is the most challenging? 

A: I love seeing big creative ideas come to life! So, getting projects built, not just imagining them is the best part of my job. That, and my overarching goal, which is always to connect people with nature and the beauty of the Earth in all its extraordinary richness. Every project has its unique set of challenges, but this often leads to better designs in the end. Not surprisingly, as a creative person, the day-to-day management of the business aspects of my job are what I find most challenging!

Q: Can you talk about the award-winning, nature-based SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment that you created? 

A: This is a “Big Idea” prototype that I developed back in 2005, as part of an independent study for a health-care garden design program at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I conducted independent research to address design strategies for people on the spectrum, especially the needs of children with autism and their families. I also wrote professional guidelines for best practices in designing outdoor environments for people with autism who are often overlooked.

Many autistic children are in highly structured indoor learning environments for most of their day.  The SOL Environment builds on skills learned in the classroom and helps them to generalize their lessons to a real-world environment while having fun in an accepting, safe outdoor setting.  Since heightened sensory issues are one of the most common challenges for autistic people, being in public places and the outdoors can be very challenging. An SOL environment is designed to introduce children to the outdoors and all its richness in an approach that breaks experiences into steps, helping them to overcome common challenges.

Although designed specifically with the needs of autistic children in mind, it is designed to be equally engaging for any child. Autistic children learn from modeling typical children. This makes it an ideal place for families, where the siblings of autistic kids can also come to enjoy play and learning and provides a greater opportunity for connections with each other and the natural world. Additionally, many of the challenges they face are shared with a broader community of special needs children. Many of the activities in an SOL Environment address these needs, including motor and neuromuscular challenges, cognitive, sensory and communication issues, and visual and auditory impairment.

It would be a dream realized to bring this award-winning concept design to life—I’ve often thought it would be a great addition on a college campus, as both a teaching opportunity as well as a community resource.  

Q: You spend time volunteering on a pro-bono basis for many community-oriented projects. Can you talk a bit more about these? How do these influence the work you do?

A: I enjoy offering my talent and expertise to enrich the lives of others in need. Through the Make-a Wish Foundation, I recently created a garden space at a New York area hospital to bring to life a child’s wish for a colorful, kid-friendly place for cancer patients to enjoy. One of the most memorable volunteer projects I worked on was a “George to the Rescue'' home makeover landscape project. This was for a post-911 ironworker who was badly injured when he was hit with a steel beam. We designed a  backyard oasis, accommodating his mobility issues where he could relax and heal, including raised gardening opportunities, a therapy spa, a shade structure, an outdoor kitchen, and “no mow”, low maintenance landscape.  

Q: When you are not working, what do you do to relax and recharge?

A: That’s easy—I head for the beach-preferably a deserted one with crystal clear water and a stack of books! I find the ocean is my most restorative place.

Q: What is one small step (action) that individuals can take that can lead to Earth's journey to recovery? 

A: As an ocean lover, the issue of plastic pollution is heartbreaking. Be more aware of the choices you make in your purchases by supporting companies and products that offer biodegradable packaging. And stop using plastic straws!

Know an Earth Hero?

Look around—how many Earth Heroes are in your life? We'd love to hear from you and learn from them. 


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