June 7, 2024
Tullia Marcolongo
Tullia Marcolongo
By Julia Harmsworth

Tullia Marcolongo is using lessons learned in the public health sector to make tangible change in landscape design.

Prior to turning to the green trades, Marcolongo studied environmental policy and worked in public health. The climate change emergency — which she says affects the health of humans, animals and plants alike — caused her to switch to a hands-on career that lets her make a bigger impact.

“It’s coming full circle for me. I’m able to integrate health concerns, environmental concerns and climate change into landscape design,” she said.

Marcolongo currently works as a landscape designer for Ecoman in Toronto where she focuses on ecological design, increasing biodiversity by carefully considering the plants she incorporates and how they work together in communities.

“It’s looking at the bigger picture. It’s not just saying, ‘What plant can I put in there to satisfy the customer?’ It’s looking at, ‘Okay, I’m going to choose this plant over this plant because of pollinators’, and all of that.”

She takes this full circle approach because, as her health background taught her, our physical and mental health is directly connected to the health of our ecosystems. In other words, healthy plants mean healthy humans.

“If we have healthy plants that work together in communities, we know that they won’t die. And they provide very good health benefits such as shade and healthy air,” she said. She added healthy plant communities can mitigate climate change impacts like floods and fires.

An understanding of epidemiology is another key piece from her public health background that Marcolongo brings into landscape design. She pointed to pests like ticks and mosquitoes, which are appearing in our environment in increasing quantities thanks to climate change — and with them, the diseases they carry. Understanding how diseases travel and affect human health informs her designs, further prompting her to rebalance ecosystems.

“Climate change, for me, is what brings it all together,” she said. She is a part of Design for Climate Action, a group of landscape designers and architects advocating for climate-conscious landscaping. Jonas Spring, Toronto Chapter representative to the Landscape Ontario board of directors, told her about the group.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s an exciting field, and I think it’s really important to try and get my fellow designers to really look at climate change when they design,” she said. “If you design with ecology in mind, you are looking at the full picture.”

Marcolongo became a student member of Landscape Ontario in 2021, as she completed her Certificate in Landscape Design for Climate Resilience at Toronto Metropolitan University. Since then, she has attended the Landscape Designers Conference, Congress and dipped her toe into the Toronto Chapter community — through which she heard about the Chapter’s Bursary Program. She had already started designing a pollinator garden at Joyce Public School in Toronto pro bono, and recommended they apply for the 2023 grant.

After receiving the funding, Marcolongo went all out on the project. In addition to designing the garden, she led the education component, teaching staff when to water the plants, how to compost and how to maintain the garden system. She said this educational piece is essential to cultivating good land stewardship.

“If the students and the staff and the parents see a thriving, successful garden, they see the benefits of it. They also take ownership of it. They want to see it grow and they want it to be successful.”

Marcolongo strives to inspire the students, staff and teachers at the school — and her clients — to take ownership of the land in this way, so they are more likely to maintain a stable, sustainable and biodiverse garden system.

She is excited about several pollinator garden projects she is working on, as well as green roofs, which she said provide more opportunities for biodiversity. Lots of her clients are aware of climate change impacts and ecological concerns, which makes her job easier.

When asked about her biggest goals or dreams for the profession looking forward, Marcolongo said, “I think a lot about this.” She would like to see a more ecological approach to dealing with waste in the sector. She also advocates for carbon accounting in order to consider how the sector can reduce its carbon footprint.

“We can no longer design like we’ve done traditionally. We need to be aware that there’s so much change we can’t even predict. So how as designers do we think ahead?”

Questions like these are inspiring Marcolongo’s work going forward, as she continues to be a facilitator between landscape professionals and ecological, healthy, climate-focused design.