From Landscaping to Writing: A Lifelong Career in the Outdoors

This is a sponsored post in partnership with the National Association of Landscape Professionals. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When I was 18, I spent the summer after high school working for my parent’s landscaping company. As a recent graduate, I was absolutely over my job as a cashier at Target but knew I needed to work all summer to save some money before college began in the fall. Mom and dad offered me a job as a gardener working underneath one of their very experienced horticultural supervisors. I had never previously considered working with their company or in the green industry in general, but I figured it was worth a shot. After all, I got to work outside!

I spent the summer working my butt off. I was attached to Christine, my supervisor, and in turn, she taught me everything. I started with the basics like weeding {because naturally, she didn’t trust me to do anything else!} and eventually learned more and more about the plants themselves. Our family business specializes in color theory for annual and perennial installations {annual: flowers that live one summer, perennials: flowers that return every year} for upscale residential clients, so I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of new-to-me flowers. I learned how to encourage growth and repeat blooms; I learned about proper pruning and feeding techniques; I learned names {both Latin and common since my mom is practically a walking botany dictionary}. And as the summer went on, I began to realize that maybe this would be more than “just a summer job for me.”

I went away to college in the fall but by the time the next summer rolled around, I was dying to be back outside for work. After spending a school year crammed indoors at a desk, the concept of sunshine and Vitamin D on a daily basis sounded perfect. I returned to work with my family company.

This pattern continued throughout college as I slowly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a crew supervisor. Now, in addition to the basic plant knowledge, I learned how to manage a crew of people as well as a dozen client properties. I learned a lot about interpersonal communication, both from my clients and my team members. And, as an added bonus, I was making a lot more money than my friends who picked up various summer jobs to fill in the gaps. Looking back, it was a healthy education for a 21-year-old kiddo.

After graduation, I struggled. I landed a PR job along with a part-time editing job for a local magazine, both careers tied into the journalism degree that I recently earned. But, I wasn’t ready to settle down. Instead, I quit both jobs, sold my belongings, and took off on my bike. If you don’t know that story, you can read a bit about it here. I spent four years bouncing around various parts of the world before returning to Denver in 2008 with my sights set on graduate school. Once again, I knew I needed a job while I attended class at night, so I returned to my family company.

Older and wise with a lot more experience {and great timing since their business was booming}, my parents trained me as the assistant manager to the company. I already knew and remembered most of their clients, so integrating me into the process was easy. But this time, instead of going out into the field with the crews, I spent my days working on the back end of the business. Bit by bit as my parents grew to trust me and my decision-making skills, I took on more responsibility with the business they had built. I created schedules; I handled client complaints; I spent hours upon hours designing annual installations for the busiest month of the year; I managed staff; I handled payroll; I helped my dad with taxes. While some of the menial tasks may not sound glamorous, I loved it. My parents founded their business in 1994 and I am so proud of them for identifying an industry they love, creating careers for themselves, and then supporting the livelihoods of at least a dozen other people. Almost 25 years later, and they made it work. And I really enjoyed supporting that and becoming a part of the family business.

I stayed with the company for another 10 years–a decade!–as the manager, eventually deciding  on a career change at the start of the 2018 season. With the arrival of Liliana, I wanted to be at home more and knew that buying and owning a business would be stressful with our baby girl. I made the choice that was best for our family. But, by the time it was all said and done, I spent close to 15 years with the family business so I feel confident in saying that I am well-versed in the green industry and have enough experience to be chatting with y’all today.

Because here is the thing: the outdoor industry and the landscaping industry are so very closely tied together yet I think so many people don’t realize it! If you are someone who is considering a career in the outdoors but is looking for options, I’d strongly urge you to take a look at the field of landscaping. Why? Here are a few reasons:

Pleasant Work Environment

If you are someone who really abhors the thought of a cubicle or desk or fluorescent lighting, landscaping could be a great fit. Not only do you get to work outside in all weather, but you spend your days creating beautiful outdoor spaces. Sometimes, the change is small and gradual as you maintain a small flower bed. Other times, depending on your specialty, the change can be quite dramatic when you tear up a slope, create some terraces, and install a garden. It’s so rewarding to see this change and know that you personally created such a lovely space.

Sustainability

I’m not sure many in the industry actually realize this, but careers in landscaping are vital to local sustainability. Installing and maintaining plants and creating green spaces is critical to the mental healthy of locals and communities, and you get to be a part of that.

Growth Potential

As you can see by my relatively long-winded story above, there is a lot of growth potential in this industry if you are the right person for the job. So frequently, individuals come into these careers with little to no experience, but as they learn the proper skillsets, the sky becomes the limit in terms of where they can take their livelihood. Having been in business for so long, my parents and I can list at least a dozen former staff members who came on board with zero landscaping knowledge, but now own and operate their own company. If you are interested and a hard worker, you can create a beautiful world for yourself.

Solid Income

One of the biggest misconceptions about the landscaping industry is that you will never make more than minimum wage. And while there are certain less-than-desirable companies out there that stick to that pay schedule, that certainly isn’t the norm. Depending on your career track, experience, education, and the size of the company you work for, you can easily make a good living for you and your family.

Job Stability

In 2018 alone, the landscaping industry needs to hire upwards of 300,000 positions. Y’all, that is an insane amount of work and in my personal opinion, I think the industry could use a surge of fresh blood coming from the millennial generation. My parents’ generation was heavily involved in the green careers but my generation waned a bit, so it’s time for millennials to offer a bit of their unique style to this outdoor career. Truly, with that many available careers, the potential is limitless.

For those of you that only stop by my site occasionally or haven’t been longtime readers, I imagine this entire career story comes as a bit of a surprise. But, after spending almost half of my life in the landscaping industry, it is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. If any of this interests or excites you, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to answer any questions if this is something you want to delve into a bit more! Or, if you are interested, you can check out the Landscape Industry Career site.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jennifer Shaw September 16, 2018 at 8:06 am

    I was an outdoor kid, never inside & who became an Accounts Payable Manager but LOVES working in my yard ! It is very hot here in TX to be outside in Summer but I find times to & can’t wait for Fall to get out there ! I’m experimenting with vegetables now too. I am getting very tired of meetings & sitting at a desk / cubicle for sure, it creates health issues but I fear I’m too old to start a physical career like landscaping, are there opportunities in landscaping for older people ? With your experience, what are your thoughts ?

    • Reply Heather October 18, 2018 at 10:49 am

      There definitely can be! We certainly had individuals come into our company looking for a second career path. Would you want to do the physical labor? If so, definitely prepare yourself because it is not easy, but it is possible. If you’d rather, you could always look for sales or receptionist jobs within the industry to get a feel for it?

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