The Placemakers Academy 2024 Garden Design Immersion Program

Picture this,

It’s Fall 2024, and it’s the perfect time of year to plant trees and shrubs. You step out into the crisp air with a warm cup of tea. In your other hand is a large rolled up paper.

You find a comfortable place to sit down and unroll the piece of paper- revealing your very own master garden design. You run your hands over the paper, breathing in the fresh spring air, imagining how it will all come together in the space.

You’ll be going to your favorite plant nursery this afternoon to pick out the new trees and shrubs for your landscape, and it’s all happening. You take a sip of your tea and savor the beginning of a new chapter for your home and garden.


“It changed the way I see the world.”

This course will change the way you see landscapes, (and maybe even the way you see the world!). You will see new potentials and possibilities emerging, where you might have been stuck and un-inspired before.

We will teach you how to analyze your site, to understand its unique thumbprint. You will have the opportunity to slow down and observe the elements that shape the land, and how to work in concert with them. You will hone your designer’s eye, learning to recognize art elements in the landscape, and how to use design principles to express your personal style and vision. 

Step by step, you will create your own master landscape plan, in a safe, inspiring and expert space

You will gain the confidence to make great choices for your home garden, to make a landscape plan that fits you like a glove, and the pro tips and advice to make your dream a reality!


*We will meet every other Tuesday from February 20th to September 17th, from 12:00 to 1:30 EST*

Many of our meetings will start with a short grounding meditation and a 50 minute lecture taught by both Mary Palmer Dargan and her apprentice, Arielle McIntyre.

You are welcome to bring your lunch, turn off your video and enjoy the lecture section before our more hands-on Q&A section. We will take a quick stretch break, and then move into a workshop/Q&A style for the remainder of the session where we apply that day’s lesson to our own projects. We also encourage you to stretch and take breaks as needed.

*All meetings are recorded, and recordings are available for life, so if you need to miss a class it’s ok!*

It is totally acceptable to miss a session (or multiple sessions) as all meetings are recorded. The important thing is to stick with it, because if you do you will come out the other side of this program activated and with a plan! (And also with a whole bunch of new garden friends to cheer you on!)

TUESDAY, 2.20 | 12:00-1:30 | OBSERVE

This week we will learn how to slow down and observe the web of life in own backyards.

So many garden designs fail because the initial analysis is incomplete. The resulting plan doesn’t take full advantage of the land’s potentials, or consider its unique constraints. This week you’ll learn how to not only set yourself up for success, but how to listen to the land in new ways that will strengthen your relationship with nature and your garden for life.



We love kicking off our design journey by having students share some before photos of the design projects they are embarking on. Whether it’s a small 10 by 10 courtyard garden, or a whole mountain estate, this is our time to get familiar with each other’s projects (and to vent about what is just not working! 😂).

It is so helpful to learn from other people’s garden trouble shooting processes, and there’s not much that Mary Palmer hasn’t seen before. Students get to leave with fresh professional and peer insight as they embark on their design journeys.

This is our time to welcome each other and to set fresh intentions. It is our moment to express our garden dreams, and tap into the power of the group to help hold our intentions for the coming weeks.

TUESDAY, 4.1 | 12:00-1:30 | GET A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

One of the secrets to highly successful garden design is mapping. How do you create a representation of your site on paper so that as you unleash your creativity, you are designing in alignment with reality?

Having a base map of your site will allow you to avoid making costly mistakes, as well as to help you think in new ways about your site to bring it to its true potential.


Building on the base maps we started in Part 1, we will learn how to complete them with a little more detail. You will learn how to draw existing features on your site to-scale on your base map.

After this week, you’ll be mapping like a pro landscape architect. Careful, if you master this week’s lessons, you might just have to start charging for professional garden design!

TUESDAY, 4.30 | 12:00-1:30 | THE ELEMENTS

Every corner of this green earth has its own personality. With this week’s session, you will understand how to tailor your design to not only your unique personality, but also to the personality of your special pocket of the world.

You will see clearly how sun, wind, slopes, water flow, and soil come together to make your site’s unique thumbprint. Then you have the full force of nature behind your design!

TUESDAY, 5.14 | 12:00-1:30 | MAKE A WISH…

This week we’re making our way to the wishing well. We’re giving ourselves permission to dream big.

With so much you would love to get done, it can be hard to know where to start. You will learn how to take your wish list and create a needs analysis that will clarify your priorities.

You will also learn the secrets to lifelong landscape design. What elements can you include in your outdoor oasis that will bring you health, wellness, and vitality? How can the land nourish you as you nourish it? The lessons from this week will bring you lifelong health benefits, and help you create a wish list for your unique needs and vision.


Join us in Cashiers/Highlands for a half-day of in-person nursery tours! We will visit some of our favorite nurseries, and show you how we choose plants for our professional design projects. You will meet some of our favorite landscape plants for mountain gardens in person, and go home with a whole new understanding of how to select plants for landscape design (and maybe with a new plant for your garden too!)


This week we’re talking plants! Our favorite. We are sharing the best landscaping plants for around the country, and we are teaching you a tried and true method for picking the perfect plant for the perfect place.

No more money wasted on unsuccessful plantings! No more confusion over how to craft a planting design that works from season to season! Learn how to create year round interest, and how to pick the plants that you and your land will love.


Can you imagine having fresh flowers, fruits, veggies, and herbs right out your door? How would your life change if you were able to enjoy the freshest and healthiest of produce, medicine, and beauty as soon as you roll out of bed in the morning? Mary Palmer Dargan published her masters thesis on the English Kitchen Garden, and well, her passion and love for beautiful and edible gardens has never stopped! She has designed, planted, and enjoyed so many kitchen gardens.

Arielle McIntyre is especially passionate about edible garden and food forest design, and has some juicy info to share with you on creating your own perennial food systems built right into your landscape plan! So we couldn’t help but give you a special spring treat and show you how to create your own Garden of Eaten’ just in time for Spring.



What makes the great gardens of the world unforgettable? What makes them tic? The Dargan’s have been uncovering and employing these very design secrets for 40 plus years! Let us share them with you.

Within you is the ability to co-create incredible and unforgettable places with nature, we are just here to show you some classical art and design principles to hone your innate designer’s eye. These principles will form a foundation for your own personal design style. Like mastering any art form, you have to learn the rules to break them with style! 


Now that you are seeing like a designer, you can start to apply the art and design principles to plants. Learn the tips and tricks of the pros to create great planting designs for every space.

Enjoy a gallery of incredible Dargan designed gardens, as we break down the planting designs involved, and how to recreate them in your own garden.


How do you bring all of these wonderful elements together into a design that flows? Learn the Mary Palmer Dargan’s timeless Four-Part Master Plan method to bring flow and cohesion to your landscape design.

This method inspired the Dargan’s award winning book, Timeless Landscape Design, and will help you bring you organize and clarify your landscape concept.


Now it’s time to have some fun! We’re throwing caution to the wind and dreaming big, we can edit and hone later. We’re painting in broad strokes to see what wonderful things our imagination can conjure.

We will share some incredible exercises designed to free your creativity. We have used these tricks in private and group design sessions, and they have sparked and inspired many garden designs around the country. You will not leave this class without at least one concept map!


Students are invited to share one of their three concept maps for their garden. Sharing is totally optional, but encouraged- it is just so much fun! This is a wonderful opportunity to share the ideas that you’ve explored throughout our time together, and get valuable feedback from the group.

This is one of our favorite sessions, you will learn so much and get so much great feedback and inspiration to guide your master plan and implementation process.


From broad strokes to details, we’re bringing your wish list to life with the tips and tricks of the pros. Let us offer you years of professional landscape design experience, so that you can get it right the first time. 

From driveways and parking to fencing and pathways, we are getting into the design details to set you up for implementation success and design excellence. We will do a live design details workshop with a wish list element of your choice.


We aren’t just here to help you dream big, we are here to help you bring that dream to life! Now that you have this wonderful and informed vision, how do you bring it to life? This week we are talking Master Plans and the practical nuts and bolts of implementing a design. After overseeing forty years of design installations, Mary Palmer has a few secrets to share. How do you find great talent? How do you source your plants and materials?

You will learn how to find the best resources to help bring your design home. You will create a timeline and a budget to guide your project. You will learn the art of accepting feedback and allowing a design to evolve over time. We will give you the tips and tricks you need to bring your vision to life!


We will cap off this experience with an optional, in-person graduation party and live garden study – champagne may be provided at the graduation ceremony – you will have to come to find out, but plan on toasting all your fellow Placemakers and new, lifelong friends!

The afternoon will include a garden study of some of Mary Palmer’s favorite Dargan designs in Cashiers, and a visit to one of our alumni’s incredible gardens for a graduation party. We will toast to our garden success and celebrate how far we have come. *A materials fee of $125 (includes tour, lunch, cocktails, canapés, and more) for those who confirm graduation attendance

Fresh elderflower punch from the garden served at our 2023 Placemakers Graduation Party

What is the immersion and how does it work?

2024 Enrollment Open

*25 Student Cap*

“This course transformed the way I think about garden design.” – Gretchen James | 2022 Immersion Program Graduate

2023 Immersion Student, Nancy Anderson’s Garden Design & Beginning Implementation Process

Photos Courtesy of Nancy Anderson

2021 Immersion Student, Katharine Flowers’ Dream Garden Come to Life

Photos Courtesy of Katharine Flowers

How it works:

Every Immersion student receives immediate and lifetime access to our incredible student portal,

As soon as you enroll you can login as a student on this same Placemakers website. You will have immediate access to a treasure trove of award winning video lectures, a printable pdf textbook, as well as our favorite ‘Placemakers Garden Design Journal’ that walks you, step by step, to your finished design. 

Don’t worry! You don’t have to do all of that when you sign up. We will walk you through the curriculum step by step, but for those curious among us, you’re welcome to explore all the goodies in your student portal ASAP!

Then starting in February, we will gather and dream up our garden revivals,

As the excitement of the holidays settles, and we’ve all done our part as the Placemakers we are, we’ll take some time for ourselves. We’ll settle in for the start of cozy creative journey, while we dream up the wonders our new garden will hold.

There you will find a series of incredible video lectures of Mary Palmer on every topic you need to make your garden dreams come true. These award winning lectures, acclaimed by Garden Communicators International, will allow you to continue your garden design education, even after our immersion is complete.

We will meet every other Tuesday from 12:00-1:30 on zoom from February to September, finishing at the perfect time to hardscape and plant trees and shrubs- Fall! Each session we will cover a stop on the journey to the garden of your dreams. These 90 minute sessions will start with a lecture and move into a more open forum for questions and discussion.

Many of these lectures will be workshop style, where we will be walking you through getting your design on paper in real time. It can be intimidating to attempt mapping and designing for the first time, don’t worry! We will break it down and walk you through it step by step.

We can’t help but throw a garden party too,

Then to celebrate our journeys, we will gather in Cashiers, NC for a live garden study where we will explore some of Mary Palmer’s most incredible mountain gardens in person, and then we will celebrate with a garden party!

*This gathering is totally optional, and is priced separately from the course itself, so no worries if you can’t attend!* We will always have other opportunities for you to come study and explore here in Cashiers and Highlands, NC.


Principal instructor Mary Palmer Dargan is a force of nature.

She has been bringing incredible gardens to life for the past 50 years. (Dargan Landscape Architects is officially celebrating our 50th Anniversary this year!)

At this point, there’s nothing you’re struggling with in your space that she hasn’t seen many times before!

She has designed gardens all over the world, but now focuses her landscape architecture practice (Dargan Landscape Architects) in Cashiers & Highlands, NC- where her, her husband and fellow landscape architect- Hugh Dargan, and their two pups- Henry & Mead, call home. One of her most recent accolades is 2022 recipient of the Association of Professional Landscape Designer’s International Design Award Gold Medal for her design of Ushuata here in Cashiers, NC.


Mary Palmer taught landscape design as a professor of landscape architecture at Clemson University (One of her former Clemson students is on our design team in Cashiers!).

She has given lectures and lead workshops across the the globe on everything from traditional cast iron cooking, making your own elderberry syrups and wines, to the history of the English Kitchen Garden!

She loves sharing her seasoned knowledge and garden wisdom with excited garden lovers, helping them realize their garden dreams, big or small.


She is joined by fellow designer and apprentice, Arielle McIntyre.

Arielle has a love for Appalachian history and culture, food, plants, and loves getting to bring mountain gardens to life. She loves kitchen garden design, edible gardens, and loves helping people learn how to enrich their lives through fresh medicine, food, and magic from the garden.

When she is not teaching the academy, she works full time as a designer for Dargan Landscape Architects with the rest of the team- drafting, designing, and bringing dream gardens to life every day!

This is their fourth year teaching this immersion together.

They are so excited to take a new class on this ever improving design journey this year. They can’t wait to see what wonderful group of garden lovers joins for this adventure!


Can you imagine what the support of a group of curious and encouraging peers, as wells the guidance of an internationally acclaimed designer would feel like? 

It can be intimidating to attempt mapping and designing for the first time, don’t worry! We will break it down and walk through it step by step together.

Are you tired of being a lone wolf gardener?
You don’t have to do it alone! 

Come enjoy a community of garden lovers to nerd out with and collaborate with along your garden design journey and beyond. We have had fast friendships form in this immersion.

The community that grows out of this course is one of our favorite parts of teaching this course- our students are just such wonderful people, and we love getting to host this new affinity group for them!

We’ve had students organize their own gatherings for each other even after the course has finished. Once you’re a Placemaker, you’re always a Placemaker! 


Who this course is for:

Garden design rookies who are looking for a step by step roadmap and expert guidance, so they don’t have to make rookie mistakes!

– Master gardeners who already have a foundation in garden design,
but want some fresh inspiration and guidance from a seasoned professional landscape architect.

– Gardeners who are attempting to re-design, and bring fresh life to an already existing garden with its own unique potentials and challenges.

Lone-wolf gardeners and garden designers, who want a community to enjoy their plant-nerdom and garden design journeys with!

People who are willing to try some new skills, and engage with some challenging concepts. People who aren’t afraid to just give it a go, even if we mess up. (And we will, it’s part of this incredible creative journey!)

For those who are trying to expand their idea of what’s possible in their home gardens. We will share a cornucopia of design inspiration, and show you how to translate your garden needs and desires into a working wish list.

Those seeking to understand holistic and regenerative design, we will be teaching ecological principles throughout, and showing you how to work with your local ecosystem.

Who it isn’t for:

Homeowners who just want a cookie cutter garden. This course is for people who want a one-of-a-kind and highly personalized home garden to enrich their lives.

Those who don’t want to be involved in imagining and designing their dream garden– this course is for people willing to try some new and challenging skills. We will be mapping, sketching, analyzing, breaking down and applying classical art elements and design principles, and taking time to center our designs in history and in place. There will be challenging concepts and we will all be setting aside perfectionism together to just give it a shot!

Gardeners who don’t care about eco-friendly solutions, and want to work against Mother Nature. We will be focusing on regenerative garden techniques in this course, learning to hold hands with Mother Nature as we find balance in our place in nature. We will talk soil, compost, the value of native plants, supporting your native ecosystem, designing for resilience, and so much more.

Student Testimonials

"I feel lucky to have found y'all!"
This was maybe the shining highlight in my isolation during Covid. I learned so much and was able to get a great amount of work done on a project I needed to get going despite isolation! I think y’all are the perfect team and brought unique viewpoints and information - I feel lucky to have found y’all! 

- Jeanette Whitson 
"This course transformed the way I think about garden design."
The Placemakers Academy was inspirational! Mary Palmer and Arielle transformed the way I think about garden design. They covered all the practical details of landscape design in a holistic framework that encourages you to probe what you want from your garden and what your garden wants from you. Bravo! 

- Gretchen James
"Amazing. Outstanding. They should charge more!"
Mary Palmer and Arielle were amazing. The amount of information and access to resources was outstanding. I have several friends to which I will recommend this class for the next session. I will say that I think you should charge more for the class. This was incredible.

 - Melinda Ethier

Have questions about the immersion program?

We have answers!

When you enroll for the 2024 Immersion you can expect:

Immediate and full access to the Placemakers Academy Online Garden Design Course including videos lectures and design workbooks

Lifetime membership in the Placemakers Academy 

A signed copy of “Lifelong Landscape Design” by Mary Palmer Dargan mailed to your doorstep

Access to the 7 month live design series on Zoom with instructors Mary Palmer Dargan and Arielle McIntyre 

A small group of passionate peers (25 students) for concierge level support

Invitation to the September Garden Tour, Live Study and Graduation Party in Cashiers, North Carolina

The ability to purchase and digitally schedule one-on-one Zoom consultations with instructor Mary Palmer Dargan

"The class was spot on."

Once I heard about this class I knew it would be extremely helpful in not only that project but other projects that I was working on. The class was on spot for what I needed and if I was about 20 years younger I'd probably consider going into full time landscape design. 

- Scott Vuncannon


"I had no idea that I would learn so much."

GREAT COURSE! I had no idea that I would learn so much during this course...history, elements of design, how to measure and plot our whole property, new plants to consider, etc. Thank you Mary Palmer and Arielle. 

- Suzanne Duggan

Imagine a blissful gardening immersion leading up to you and your perfect landscape plan and a garden party to celebrate!

We will cap off this experience with a celebratory Graduation Ceremony, live garden tour and life-affirming hands-on study – champagne may be provided at the graduation party – you will have to come to find out, but plan on toasting all your fellow gardeners and new, lifelong friends.

(September 2024 Cashiers, NC – more details to come for registrants, it’s a Garden Party, y’all!)

*Travel and accommodation not included, a materials fee of $125 (includes tour, cocktails, canapés, and more) for those who confirm attendance

The confidence to make great design choices

The ability to observe, analyze, and map your site like a pro designer

A foundation in botany, horticulture, and soil science

The expertise to choose the right plant for the right place

A context of Western garden design history 

A working understanding of classical art elements and design principles in landscape design 

The skills to create a dynamic and beautiful planting design

The ability to create flow in a design

The knowledge and tools to implement your design successfully

The stress relieving benefits of your own outdoor oasis

More connection with nature in your every day life

The ability to create beautiful habitat for native birds and butterflies

Easy ways to clap back at climate change from your own backyard

The ability to increase your home value by 10-25% with landscaping and outdoor rooms

A philosophy for creating health and wellness gardens 

Fresh ideas for creating your own kitchen garden 

A community of Placemakers Alumni to share your journey and cheer you on into the future

Invitations to exclusive live workshops, alumni Zoom Q&A’s , and garden tours in Cashiers, North Carolina

If not 100% satisfied, please provide attempted course work for Module 1, "Observe", within 10 days for a full refund.

Have questions? Email us,

*Click here to start a message:*

We hope you’ll join us and make the earth a little greener, one garden at a time,

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