If you’ve thought about leveraging your passion for gardening into the lucrative and in-demand landscaping business, don’t be daunted by the fact that it’s still a man’s world: 83 percent of landscaping companies in the U.S. are owned by men.
At least in the Northeast, more women are entering this $93 billion sector to showcase their business chops and creativity in constructing outdoor-living sanctuaries for residential and commercial clients.
Jenn Nawada Evans, well known to viewers of “This Old House (TOH)” and “Ask This Old House” since 2010, is the landscape designer on both shows, the only woman on the all-male TV team of home construction pros.
She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Rollins College and an M.A. in Landscape Design and Land Use Planning from the Conway School of Landscape Design in Massachusetts. She also owns Nawada Landscape Design, Inc., a design and build company.
“Although there are definitely still more men [in the industry], I now see a ton of women landscape designers — maybe as high as 50 percent in our area,” she says.
“Women work in all areas of the business, but typically design a project and then subcontract with other companies to install it, because landscaping is so involved,” she says. “It’s a lot like building the inside of a house. It can include pool and kitchen design and construction, lighting and electrical and plumbing, complex site engineering and permitting, carpentry, masonry, planting and irrigation.”
Although Nawada Evans’ degrees gave her industry credentials, she was not without challenges early on. “Not a single landscaping company would hire me until I had some hands-on experience,” she says. So, she got a job in a nursery and worked some occasional landscaping job installations for a friend’s brother.
As far as what it takes to succeed? Love for the work factors prominently.
Nawada Evans expresses a passion for designing all things plant- and landscape-related, the inspiration she gets in working closely with clients’ requests for creating beautiful outdoor living and entertainment spaces, and the rewards of working with other professionals to complete an installation.
“Honestly, I’ve never thought of it as a man or woman thing, because I love plants and working with people,” says Nawada Evans. “There are endless aspects to the field, like working in a nursery, running an office, or doing design and installation. To me, it’s inspiring to be outside; I come home and still want to weed my own garden.”
Real Tips For Growing Your Career
While we talked to two locals about their suggestions for breaking into the landscape design field, their tips can be applied across any industry.
Be as informed as you can be, and back it up officially: Heather Lashbrook Jones, founding partner of A Blade of Grass, a 25-year-old landscape design and construction business based in Sudbury, seconds Nawada’ hands-on recommendations. “You truly have to have a knowledge of plants.”
Jones suggests taking classes at the MA Association of Landscape Professionals or the MA Landscape Nursery and Landscape Association to prepare for the Massachusetts Certified Landscape Professional or the Massachusetts Certified Horticulturalist exams. In Massachusetts, landscape professionals are not required to be licensed by the state, but landscape architects are licensed.
Apply your skills and think outside the box: Landscape designer Laura Kuhn took an esoteric career-entry path into landscape design. “By my mid-20s, I’d done a lot of theatrical set design and saw how similar it was to landscape design in terms of engineering a layered three-dimensional space that changes through time and use.”
Since she had zero experience with plants, “I got out the Yellow Pages, and began to call every single nursery [in an effort] to convince someone to hire me,” she says with a laugh.
She finally found a nursery willing to take a chance on her. As owner of Laura Kuhn Design Consultation, she’s now a well-established landscape designer who writes, speaks and trains others in the work she loves.