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A Valuable Conversation . . .

By George Schmok

I was e-conversing with the executive director of a major national landscape-based association the other day . . . He implied that to recommend a national water policy (as I did last month) was as dumb as thinking actual Americans would be willing to work in the landscape trade. (I thought that a bit odd, since I can name many, very successful people who started their own landscape careers and businesses with a lot of back-breaking hard work.) However, he went on to imply that the true way to influence the public so they allow landscapes in drought-restricted areas was to teach the politicians the true value of plant material. That way they wouldn't be so quick to put ordinances in place that cut back or eliminate living materials from the landscape.

Interestingly enough, LC/DBM was speaking with an owner of a major nursery the other day . . . While he told us that every one of his hundreds of employees are documented, he would not be surprised if a large percentage of those workers had supplied phony documentation. It appears that nurseries across the country need to sell their plant materials at the lowest possible cost to the buyer. So while the associations talk value, the nursery industry as a whole is afraid that domestic labor will price them out of the landscape.

Then again, I was talking to a member of the Landscape Architectural Foundation (LAF) the other day . . . She was in my office to talk about their ''Landscape Performance Series,'' which is a collection of case studies regarding the value of specific landscape developments around the world. An element of that series is a National Tree Benefit Calculator ( that can help you determine the annual value/benefit of specific plant material related to its caliper and location in the project. She showed me the ''Series'' and the calculator, and it was truly impressive. It is growing day by day and should end up as a valuable tool for Landscape Contractors when selling usable landscapes to your clients.

So, what is the value of a well designed and well built landscape? Is it a quantitative number derived by adding up the cost of the parts? At what point does the maintenance of the project take away from the value, and at what point does it add to the value?

You see, this is where it becomes even more important to establish a strong national presence as an industry and get some teeth into the enforcement of whatever licensure laws exist out there. On page 56 you'll find a news item about licensure enforcement. As a business owner competing against unscrupulous contractors, who could argue that this kind of enforcement is bad for the industry?

Landscape has value. That is a fact, not a theory. In fact, as more and more ordinances are put into place (see page 48), landscape is not just a beautiful luxury; it is becoming a requirement for any development, from non-regulated single-family track homes to full-blown community developments.

Now, I don't want to stop the kid next door from making a few bucks mowing the neighbor's lawn. But when legitimate contractors and nurseries are losing business to undocumented labor, the industry is losing prestige, influence and the opportunity to establish itself as a primary, legitimate part of every development.

If landscape installation, maintenance and materials cost an additional 15%, would developers stop putting landscape into their project? With all the ordinances . . . could they stop?
Landscape and nursery work isn't so hard nobody will do it. Instead it is addicted to using undocumented labor and fostering a subculture of inherently illegal activity.

The associations need to promote the industry as a primary player and insist that its members operate at the highest levels of ethics. The associations should be recruiting from the masses of unemployed workers to correct its image and set a firm foundation for legitimate growth. Especially as the economy and building industry begins its long climb out of the gutter . . .

So, whether your value is perceived, real, cost effective, appreciating, long-lived or in demand, I am sure there is value in having these conversations . . . What do you think?

God Bless . .

George Schmok, Publisher

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December 8, 2019, 8:55 am PDT

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