Bibi Gaston: Landscape Architect & Author

Bibi Gaston’s (NC ’81) love of nature led her down one path: After Tulane, she studied landscape architecture at the University of Virginia.

Bibi Gaston’s (NC ’81) love of nature led her down one path: After Tulane, she studied landscape architecture at the University of Virginia. But later on, she turned a fascinating family history into two books and discovered that her love of nature was a common thread with one of her ancestors, Gifford Pinchot, who with President Theodore Roosevelt co-founded the U.S. Forest Service. Gaston’s newest book, Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers Volume I, details the founding of the agency.  

Preserving the past 

As a child, Gaston spent a lot of time outdoors, planting, examining trees, and thinking about gardens and parks. Later, she went on to major in political science at Newcomb. After studying at UVA, as a new landscape architect she worked on many high-profile projects, such as Central Park in New York. 

“I’m particularly interested in historic preservation projects,” said Gaston, whose past contributions include work on design teams for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, and the Oregon Garden.

She describes her years establishing herself as a landscape architect as “very consuming,” leaving little time to think beyond her work and often necessitating that she follow landscape project opportunities around the country.

And her political science background — seemingly unrelated — actually came in handy, as many of her projects involved governmental or municipal spending and community collaboration.

“Everything dovetails with politics, particularly architecture, when it comes to zoning, planning and the fundamentals of how we organize ourselves around public space,” she said.

She later discovered that her early love of nature and desire to design and plan timeless green spaces for public use was something of a family tradition.

Bibi Gaston (NC ’81)
Bibi Gaston (NC ’81) (photo by Barry Schwartz)

Giving the Old Timers a Voice 

In 2001, when Gaston’s father passed away, a relative handed her transcripts of her grandmother’s diaries. Her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, was a celebrated actress who died tragically young in 1938. Gaston had never met Rosamond Pinchot, nor Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946).

The stories about Rosamond Pinchot were compelling and gave rise to Gaston’s first book. Reading the diaries, if only to learn more about her grandmother, inspired Gaston’s search for family and meaning. Along the way, she also uncovered documents pertaining to Gifford Pinchot, a great-grand uncle who served as America’s chief forester and twice as governor of Pennsylvania.

Her second book resulted from an exhaustive study of Pinchot’s “Old Timers” project, 5,000 pages now housed in the Library of Congress. In 1937, Pinchot requested that the Old Timers — rangers and other early Forest Service employees — write down their memories of conservation efforts between 1905–10. The Old Timers responded with original memoirs, letters, poetry, photos and other materials that document their time in the forests, deserts and grasslands of America.

In the book, Gaston wrote that reading the documents struck a chord, reminding her of a time when she herself ventured West to restore historic American sites as a landscape architect. 

Pinchot’s lifelong zeal for conservation and dedication to his mission as “chief forester,” even after retirement, still resonates today, when Americans discuss potential for a “green New Deal.” “Gifford Pinchot made a connective thread from [Theodore] Roosevelt to [Franklin D.] Roosevelt — he carried through this notion of conservation consistently,” Gaston said. “He basically trained and nurtured generations of forestry professionals, environmental conservationists,” those people who “were interested in how we maintain forests for the long term.”

In connection with the book, Gaston said she has “driven 10,000 miles, perhaps 20,000 miles, and visited scores of ranger stations from Vermont to Oregon to Arizona.

“Gifford Pinchot still has his mark on the agency, and people, I think, are very admiring of the man, because he did hold such high ideals and progressive views. He created an agency of extraordinary capacity, vision and endurance, along with Theodore Roosevelt, at a time that was very challenging for the nation.” Find her at