Lisa - Roadmap to Landscaping
What do you do for a living?
I’ve been a 1 woman landscaping show for 7 years. I own and run Natural Surroundings LLC.
What does a day at your job look like?
It changes a lot, depending on the needs of my clients. Monday and Thursday mornings are set: I have regularly scheduled appointments to water plants. The rest of the week my days are a mix of whatever I need to do to meet the needs of my clientele. I have people I schedule monthly, weekly, or biweekly for both interior and exterior landscaping projects. The exterior work is seasonal, I hit the ground running in April and work hard outside through November. The interior work (watering plants for businesses) is year round. My clients are a mix of 25% commercial and 75% residential (I’m their personal gardener). I have to be flexible depending on weather, client budget and what they need to keep their property looking good. Other than that, I do all the business tasks like accounting, paying bills, ordering supplies, etc. I have spent zero time or money on marketing, it’s all been word of mouth.
What path did you take to get here?
My path to this work started in high school actually – I worked at a flower shop and got horticulture credits for school. I knew I wanted to do environmental work and focus on recycling.
I moved to Texas and enrolled in Texas A&M University. While I was in school I worked at the Olive Garden and saw people coming in weekly to water the plants... I thought that was the coolest job, so I applied with the company and became a plant lady.
Then I moved to Florida because I was a military wife, and enrolled in the University of North Florida Jacksonville. I found another interior landscaping job – watering plants in buildings.
When my military responsibilities ended, I moved back to WI and was able to finish my Bachelor's in Conservation Biology with a Certificate in Environmental Studies at UW Madison.
While in college, I worked for a landscaping business where I was able to learn the outside world of plant care. I started out at the company as a laborer and worked my way up to branch manager, which I did for 10 years.
In 2013, I left that company to be the Landscape Maintenance Coordinator at the Monona Terrace. At the same time, I started my own interior plant maintenance company to make up for the pay cut I was taking.
Once I had my son I wanted to reduce my working hours, so I quit the Monona Terrace job, took a leap of faith, and went all in on my business. I started out at 2 days a week in the mornings and have built up to a 5 day a week gig.
What are the Challenges of your job?
Equality. Men in this industry think women aren’t strong enough to do this work …that we can’t run machinery or be successful. They underestimate what we can do, we’re looked at like we don’t know anything. So as a woman I have to know my stuff, speak intelligently and work harder to prove them wrong.
What are the blessings of your job?
1. The flexibility of being a business owner. I own my time. If it’s a nice day and I want to take the afternoon off to go golfing, nobody can tell me not to.
2. Being able to raise my son and be a present parent.
What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well?
1. You have to have a strong work ethic to be your own business owner. There’s no putting things off until tomorrow. You have to be able to get up, go to work and get it done.
2. You have to know a lot of things. Landscaping is all encompassing – it’s not just plant care it’s understanding drainage, water flow, what plants will grow where, and so much more.
3. Faith and confidence in yourself. So you won’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do. Especially as a female.
What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job? 1. Work in the industry as a laborer for a summer to see if it’s for you. This work is not about throwing on some cute boots and playing with plants. It’s hot, you’re sweaty, there are bugs, you get stung. It’s hard work. Make sure it’s for you before you go any further.
2. Bypass college in favor of a gardener program. They’re more hands-on and target the region you live in.
3. Go for it, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Head down, boots on and go for it.