Santa Rosa landscape architect blends steel works into environment

“I like to incorporate plant materials native to the area, and a design that blends into the environment and feels like it belongs there,” David Fowler said.|

David Fowler has always liked working with his hands and studied landscape architecture in college. But he never set out to be a sculpture artist.

While working toward a master’s degree at Arizona State University, he wanted to take a metal sculpture class, but was advised not to since it wasn’t related to his coursework.

“But I thought it was, and convinced the faculty,” said Fowler. It was a decision that proved to be a turning point for him and his life work. “It turned out to be the most inspiring class I’ve ever taken,” he said. “I learned how to weld and turn abstract ideas into art. It felt like magic.”

While attending ASU, Fowler worked with Steve Martino, an award-winning landscape architect in Arizona who became his mentor. Originally from Mendocino County, Fowler then returned to California and started his own business in Santa Rosa. As an up-and-coming landscape architect, Fowler brings a fresh approach to his designs that are as distinctive as the steel sculptures he creates.

“I like to incorporate plant materials native to the area, and a design that blends into the environment and feels like it belongs there,” he said. “Most people don’t have sculptures or focal points in the landscapes. Landscape sculptures can create a place for our eyes to rest as we look out at the garden. A sea of green lawn, a hedge or row of trees doesn’t offer a focal point.”

Fowler works with clients to create a sculpture that’s original and meaningful to them. His goal is always to help his clients create an environment that’s inviting, sustainable and offers a memorable experience.

“I try to create spaces that are inviting and interesting to spend time in,” he said.

Fowler works primarily with steel, but also works with copper. He likes the “rawness” of rusted steel and how it blends into the environment. Whenever possible he tries to use reclaimed or salvaged materials because of their sustainability and unique characteristics.

Using a welder and plasma cutter, Fowler creates original gates, water features and wall art as well as sculptures to fit the landscape. He’s created wall art from sheets of steel, scraps and even plow discs. One of his largest projects involved creating panels for a steel trellis over an outdoor kitchen and a chandelier five feet in diameter. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, costs range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Sonoma County’s Mediterranean climate makes it easy to create an outdoor living space that’s enjoyable year-round, according to Fowler. Case in point: currently he’s working with a client to create an outdoor living area that will include a pizza oven, barbecue, island and entertainment area. When Fowler works with clients, he listens to what they hope to get out of their landscape. Every client and each project is different, said Fowler.

“Sometimes people already have specific ideas,” he said, “and other times I help them improve their landscape and show them how it can be tailored to [fit] their lifestyles.”

Not only is Fowler creative when it comes to sculpting and landscape design, but he’s also green-minded. What’s his advice on sustainable lawns?

“I suppose the most sustainable lawn is no lawn at all, or a synthetic lawn. However, I see the value in [having] a small lawn for kids and dogs,” said Fowler, who is married to Hana Clark, a family physician. They have two children, Lucas and Alena, and a new dog named Bear.

“Irrigation systems have improved tremendously over the past few years and new systems can use half the water of traditional sprinklers,” he said. “With the drought and new water restrictions, I’ve been helping people replace their front lawns with low-water landscapes.

“Most cities in Sonoma County offer some sort of rebate program that can help offset the cost of replacing your lawn and updating your irrigation,” he continued. “I warn people to be prepared for a different landscape maintenance when they remove their lawns. Instead of a ‘mow-and-blow,’ be prepared for pruning, weeding and periodically checking drip irrigation emitters.”

As more people turn their backyards into creative spaces for outdoor living, Fowler can help clients bring their dream spaces into reality. What’s more, he has an eye for combining sculpture with landscape design to add that “missing element.”

As for the magic? Fowler still feels it when he’s working with his welder. Said Fowler, “I love taking this raw material that’s cold and industrial, and making it soft and beautiful.”

Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers

Landscape Designer David Fowler offers these tips for homeowners planning their own landscaping projects.

• Collect visuals of what you like. Look for designs and styles that you’re drawn to in magazines, books, Pinterest or Houzz.

• Create a plan for the space you want to transform. Whether it’s a small or large change, a plan will help you visualize the project and save you the aggravation from making costly, time-consuming mistakes.

• Keep it simple. Trying to fit too many material choices, colors or plants into one design can make it feel busy and less appealing. Said Fowler, “Simplicity is always more powerful.”

• Know your limits. You can do a lot of landscaping without the help of a professional. However, hiring someone to help with concrete, stonework, walls and irrigation can save you time and money, if you don’t have the experience.

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