Landscape Artist Melanie Mackenzie
Design GardenJanuary 2016
By Fache Desrochers
Good artists are able to work within limitations. Great artists are those who not only work within their limitations, but leverage them to innovate beauty. For different artists, this means different things. But if you are a passionate landscape designer like local foliage guru Melanie Mackenzie, you might think the success of your yard design depends on one thing: lots of available water.
But you’d be wrong.
“Oh, you absolutely can have a beautiful garden that is water-wise,” Mackenzie says emphatically. “And it’s so versatile. There’s the traditional drought-tolerant scape of agaves and cactuses, but there are other ways to work so that things look very lush, green and flowering.”
Mackenzie’s certainty here is the result of a career honed by a lifelong experience with making growing things flourish in dry climates. Her green thumb sprouted as she gardened with her parents throughout her childhood in arid San Diego. But it truly solidified during her young adulthood in Sedona, Ariz., where Mackenzie decided to transition from her then-main medium of painting to using the earth as her canvas. “I was starving as an artist in Sedona,” says Mackenzie. “So I started applying my art-eye to gardens that I thought would work in that kind of climate, and lo and behold, they turned out good.”
“Good” is something of an understatement. In a few short years, Mackenzie was the owner, head designer and builder of Sedona’s Hedge Company Landscaping. But eventually, she headed back west to be with her family and to study landscape architecture at San Diego’s Mesa College. Following her graduation, Mackenzie interned at a local landscape architecture firm whose intimate size enabled her to accelerate so much in her personal and creative growth that in one year’s time she had become both the project manager and senior designer. She joined the firm in 1986, but a period of economic strife in the early 1990s resulted in this company’s closure. “But that was fine, because sometimes adversity propels you to do what you’re meant to do,” reflects Mackenzie. “So I started my company, Biomirage, in 1992, and I haven’t looked back.”
Although she had grown up in San Diego, the city no longer suited the adult Mackenzie. “I was raised on a horse ranch just outside San Diego, and it was a wonderful place to grow up. But it’s become very different…lots of freeways and traffic,” muses Mackenzie. “And I’m a country girl at heart. So when I first visited Visalia, it reminded me of home. I found that sense of community that I had been missing.”
So Mackenzie moved north, bringing with her that water-wise core that a life in the great western deserts had so perfectly shaped. San Diego’s loss was the Central Valley’s gain, and local homeowners have been basking in Biomirage’s sensible excellence ever since.
Biomirage focuses on custom residential landscape designs. And based on her expertise with drought-tolerant landscaping, you might imagine that Mackenzie harbors a conservative-bordering-on-militant approach to things as frivolous as swimming pools and water-hungry lawns. But in reality, the opposite is true, because for this designer, when you employ the right methods, nothing is off the table. “One of my favorite things is incorporating water elements like pools into landscape design,” Mackenzie says. “It’s all about being clever with water and not being wasteful.”
As for lawns? “I’ve always loved the idea of the back lawn where you can barbecue or play on the grass,” says Mackenzie. “But you just have to assess the function of a space. If a lawn serves a purpose, then that’s justified. But if it’s a front lawn that’s just for looks, we can make it look way better than just grass and wasted water.”
The Biomirage approach is simple and effective. Most of Mackenzie’s landscape design projects start out with a two-hour client consultation. “When I go to consult with a client, I’ll literally draw out our ideas until we know how we’re going to transform their existing space into a water-wise one in an affordable, achievable way,” says Mackenzie. “I also rely on collaboration, because when you really listen to your clients and use your expertise to put the puzzle of their wishes together, that’s when real innovative magic happens.”
And with her working relationship with Visalia’s Luis’ Nursery, the process only gets easier – everyone that consults with Mackenzie gets at least 10 percent off on plants for their new yard.
From environmental to aesthetic, there are a lot of reasons to love intelligent landscaping. But for this designer, it’s the deepest virtues of this discipline that are their own reward. “It’s my magnificent obsession, as I like to call it,” Mackenzie says. “You don’t become a millionaire with landscape design; it’s a labor of love that you do because you want the world to be a beautiful place.”
Melanie Mackenzie, Biomirage • (619) 742-4860
www.biomirage.com • Find her on Instagram