Kimberly Alexander was looking for a career change when she enrolled at MiraCosta College’s Horticulture Program in the midst of the Great Recession. Now she’s running her own landscape design company, a company that earned a record 15 awards in a garden competition at the San Diego County Fair.
“Kimberly is just amazing,” said MiraCosta College Professor Claire Ehrlinger, lead horticulture instructor and LEED Green Associate. “She knew what she wanted to do when she got here, but she was a little unsure of how it might work out, so it is wonderful to see the success she’s had.”
Alexander was a national sales manager for a company that marketed decorative art for myriad clients that included companies like Pottery Barn. But she was looking for a new challenge, and she had always had an interest in landscape design.
“I had been doing what I had been doing for years, so I thought it would be a good time for a change.” Alexander said of her 2008 decision to go back to school. “I had heard good things about the Horticulture Program at MiraCosta College, and I lived nearby in Vista, so it was a perfect fit.”
Courses Alexander completed en route to earning a certificate in the field included plant identification, soil science, landscape irrigation and landscape design. She was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and graduated with a 4.0 GPA—hardly a surprise as she had made the Dean’s List at Mills College when earning a bachelor of fine arts degree there a generation ago. Alexander also began laying the groundwork for her company, Allee Landscape Design, while at MiraCosta, taking on small projects and building a clientele.
She earned her certificate in 2011. The following year, Alexander entered the Paul Ecke, Jr. Garden Show at the fair. It was her first competition and she earned five awards, including the San Diego Horticultural Society’s Excellence in Horticulture Award, the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County’s Earth Friendly award and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Distinguished Garden Award.
At last year’s Spring Home and Garden Show, Alexander earned seven awards, including second place in Best of Show, an Award of Excellence for lighting design, and an Award of Excellence in the category of Most Dramatic.
The San Diego Horticultural Society approached her this year to ask if she would design its entry at the fair. The entry was underwritten in part by the San Diego County Water Authority. With the theme in Del Mar this year being “The Fab Fair” to honor the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first visit to the U.S., Alexander found her inspiration from the John Lennon song, “Imagine.”
“My intent in the design of this garden was to incorporate some of the philosophies that John so eloquently embraced, both in words and deeds,” Alexander said, noting the last two lines of each stanza of the song were etched on floating glass panels. “My design focus was how to clearly convey his message not only in a unified manner using the principles of good garden design, but also to show how sustainable practices can be integrated into a residential setting.”
A peaceful setting for contemplation and meditation was paramount. So, too, was creating an outdoor space where one could enjoy each day in an area with a perfect climate.
Judges were impressed. Among the 15 honors were the Paul Ecke, Sr. trophy, the 1st Place Environmental Award, the American Horticultural Society’s Environmental Award, the MiraCosta College Horticultural Department Award and the Cuyamaca College Botanical Society Award. The number of her awards was nearly double that of her closest competition, a San Diego Horticultural Society entry.
“Innovative,” “Superb variety of low water choices; like the airy plants, good use of natives and low water plants,” and “sophisticated use of color and texture” were among the judges’ comments.
Alexander said her success would not have been possible were it not for the Horticulture Program at MiraCosta College.
“It is a very comprehensive program,” Alexander said. “The education is terrific. And it’s a good jumping off point for those students who want to go on and earn their landscape architecture degree from a four-year college.”
“We give our students the tools, structure and framework to unleash their creative talents so they can succeed in their endeavors,” she said.