Burns attended college and grad school in the Southeast but moved to Oregon shortly after her graduation. “I moved out here primarily for the values,” she remembers. “I had never really lived out West but I cared a lot about what’s now called sustainability—the word didn’t even exist back then—and Oregon was really known for land-use planning and recycling. I wanted to live where people walked their talk.” Burns began working for Walker Macy, a Portland-based landscape architecture and urban design firm, taking part in a range of projects over the years including the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Tillamook Forest Center, Clean Water Services Headquarters, and Catlin Gabel School.
“I found that I loved projects like interpretive centers and learning centers,” Burns says. “They were great because they were very collaborative. We’d have an architect, an engineer, sometimes a historian and a writer, a biologist, and interpretive exhibit designers. It was that kind of collaborative process, where you’re not working in a black box but you’re feeding on each other and you’re learning from each other, that I really enjoyed.”
But after several years at Walker Macy and a few at MIG, a planning and design firm also located in Port- land, Burns knew that she needed a break. “I had just worked really hard all my life. I needed to restore my soul and regroup my party, so I quit my job,” she says. That was in 2007. Burns used her time off to spend time with her family and to pursue interests that were given the backseat when her career was in full swing, like learning Spanish and taking a class on medicinal herbs.
Then, in 2009, she and her husband bought a house in Mosier. “I’ve always loved the Gorge. I’ve been going out there ever since I moved to Oregon,” Burns says. “It was a good way to escape the clouds and be in the sunshine. When I met my husband and took him out there, he fell in love with it as well.” The house the couple purchased stood on ten acres of meadow that had not yet been landscaped. It was a virtual blank slate for Burns’ creativity.
“I spent at least a year and a half on the landscape design,” she remembers. “I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun. When you’ve been with a firm so long, working with so many people, you’re not quite sure where your own confidence lies. You think, yes, I designed that but there were all these other people involved too. So this was an opportunity to say this is me, my husband is my client, and we can do this however we want. And if it turned out badly, I had only myself to blame.” In 2011, the Oregon chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded Burns a merit award for residential design for her work on the property. “It was a really good confidence booster,” Burns says with a smile.
Since then, Burns has been slowly reacquainting herself with landscape design, but this time with a residential focus and an eye for the importance of balancing her work and her home life. “I’ve worked with a couple of other clients in the Gorge and I’ve found I really love the environment there—it’s a different climate, it’s really dry,” she says. “And I’ve really realized that I do love what I do. It’s just a matter of doing it in a balanced way.”