Touching hearts and souls through nature

A profile in giving: Design Advisor Vernon Hustead 

A sense of belonging—a connection—in nature occurs uniquely for each of us. Yours might be a camping adventure or standing in the shadow of a giant redwood. Or perhaps, your connection is rooted in childhood like Vernon Hustead.  

From the ages of six to sixteen, Vernon and his father would drive four hours every weekend from their Maryland home to an old tobacco farm outside of Richmond, Virginia. Along the way, they’d often stop at his uncle’s and pick up the cousins.  

“My father wasn’t a farmer, but I think he just wanted a place where he could bring his West Virginia upbringing back into his life. A place to repair things on the farm, make nature paths, spend time with family and just get away from all the hustle and bustle of work.”  

With 100 acres of forest and a creek around the parameter, the farm served as the perfect nature background for Vernon and his cousins to play. After breakfast, they’d head out into the woods—building forts and generally running free—and only return when the dinner bell rang.  

“I would sit there along the creek—the calmness and no one being there was surreal. In the fields, the grass grew four feet tall and would blow in the wind, a really calming and sustaining feeling. I was never a boy scout, but I feel that I had a boy scout like experience there. I got to see how calming and nurturing nature can be at an early age.” 

Though nature played a central role in his childhood, making a career in landscape architecture wasn’t Vernon’s first instinct. 

When Vernon was a teenager, his aunt, a full-time educator, bought a piece of property in Ocean Pines. During the summer breaks, Vernon’s aunt took as many architecture classes as she could at Anne Arundel Community College with the result that she designed and served as the general contractor for her custom-built home. During the build, Vernon observed his aunt who often would take the time to explain choices she made. Inspired, Vernon enrolled into the architecture program at the University of Maryland. When the program just wasn’t clicking for him, his advisor suggested taking an introductory course for landscape architecture.  

“When he suggested landscape architecture, my first thought was that they just cut grass. I walked into that introductory class, and within the first five minutes, I knew I wanted to be a landscape architect.”

After establishing his career, Vernon discovered another path to reconnect to his childhood and belief in nature. And it all stemmed from the regular get-togethers of Annapolis landscape architects.  

Nature Sacred Design Advisor and fellow landscape architect Jay Graham introduced Vernon to the TKF Foundation, now Nature Sacred. It wasn’t long after that Nature Sacred asked Vernon to be the Design Advisor for a new project with the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup. 

Reflecting on his first Sacred Place design, Vernon shared the importance of the energy and inspiration of the Firesoul and the community throughout the design and construction phases.  

“The inmates wanted to be part of every aspect of the design and construction, even more so the construction as they wanted to learn and develop work skills. We spent about 6 months together on the design. The Garden of Reflection was a very enjoyable project and experience especially as my first partnership with Nature Sacred.” 

2011 ribbon cutting for the opening of a Sacred Place at Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup, MD

Today, Vernon serves as a leader on Nature Sacred’s Design Advisor Committee and has added many Sacred Place designs to his portfolio, including BLISS Meadows. While all Design Advisors are compensated for their design work, Vernon often elects to provide design hours at no cost.  

“I’m a sucker for a good cause—especially for something that is really going to make a difference in someone’s life. Most of my daily work is on commercial developments (shopping center, a commercial building or a subdivision), which are all really driven by the bottom line. When I work on a Sacred Place design, I’m working for a community, for the person who will use this space on a daily basis to improve their state of mind and being. Nature Sacred brings a very important necessity—nature—to a community that can really benefit from it. I take pride knowing that we have touched someone’s heart and soul through the healing powers of nature.”


Vernon and Alex Smith, founder of Division Street Landscaping, during construction of the Sacred Place at BLISS Meadows in Baltimore, MD