January 1, 2016
Haig Sefarian
Haig Sefarian

A home for designers

An interview with Haig Seferian, principal of Seferian Design Group in Burlington, Ont., and a leading champion for establishing and promoting meaningful credentials for landscape designers.


It was the mid 1980s, and young Haig Seferian sat alone on a park bench in California.While studying landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, Haig found a way to complete a year of his studies at the School of Environmental Design at California Polytechnic Institute Pomona. However, he began late and fell behind quickly. He even pulled 14 all-nighters in a ten-week stretch to catch up. Haig didn’t have enough money — he worked for $3 per hour cash at a nursery — and had to sleep on a floor among cockroaches to remain in his course.

His head dropped into his hands, as he wondered how he could have made such a colossal mistake. An older man sat on the bench beside him, and began speaking. Haig politely carried on the conversation; as the gentleman got up to leave, he held out his hand and said, “If there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know.”

With that kind remark Haig looked a little harder; he was shaking hands with Francis Dean, an original principal of EDAW, one of the world’s premier landscape architecture firms.

By the end of the day Haig had a new mentor, a city host, and a reinvigorated spirit that carried him through 30 years (so far) of inspired designs, TV and speaking appearances, a book, and continual contributions to his communities in Ontario.

“Francis Dean gave me private tours of gardens, took me along the coastline to see the erosion, and introduced me to influential people in the field, such as some of the authors who had written my textbooks. And I met Takeo Uesugi, from whom I received free lessons in Japanese garden design.” Haig recalled the giving nature of these illustrious landscape architects with gratitude, “So you ask me if there’s anything about my success I can attribute to my time in California? It was that meeting on the bench. Of course I learned the business, but from there on I learned to give back. Still today, I will always give back or pay forward.”

AV: In an earlier article, the writer called Landscape Architecture “trendy.” Do you agree with that term?

With barely a pause, he said, “No, not ‘trendy’. People are getting more educated. Information is more available. Also there is a shift taking place. Thirty years ago we thought nothing of packing the car and spending four hours in traffic to get to our cottages. Now technology is allowing us to make year-round gardens: heaters, fireplaces, cabanas, outdoor rooms. The environment is on people’s minds; they are getting savvy and they want to give back. Our industry will only grow because of this.” Haig advises landscape contractors and designers to stick with classic design, not trends, but keep up with what’s new, especially with products and technology.

AV: What advice would you give our readers who cannot sell their clients on a landscape design? Many of them are still winging it with a quick sketch.

Seferian said, “Follow the design process. This is very important. You must convince clients that design is a necessity. If you are not charging for your design, it will not be treated with the same respect as a plan they’ve paid for. Think of a plumber, for example. You get one detailed quote, and then another guy comes along and says, ‘Oh we can do it tomorrow for $50.’ Who are you going to trust?

“You must have a goal: to be proud of your work. Be a class act from the moment you drive up. Designers: get savvy! Have a website, with testimonials. Learn 3D. Be confident, and provide justification for every line on your design.

“Be a member, be certified, and tell clients! Make sure your knowledge is up to date.”

AV: With all your credentials, tell us what the Certified Landscape Designer designation means to you.

“I started it. I was teaching at Humber and Sheridan, and I would see all these talented designers, and they would graduate and that would be it… they were left on their own. It wasn’t right. So I went to Tony DiGiovanni of Landscape Ontario and told him: these designers need a home. He said, ‘Great! Get them one!’

“So from the beginning I created a mandate, a base and it has grown as you know. There are members across the country and there is interest from the U.S. to purchase the CLD license.”

AV: How would you describe Haig Seferian to a friend?

“You know,” he says finally, “My father always advised me, ‘Volunteer and it will come back to you tenfold.’ That’s what I’ve done, and that’s what has happened.”     
Audriana VanderWerf is a landscape design pro and a Certified Landscape Designer.