Working in the Green Industry

Working in the Green Industry

Playing Hard in The green Industry: The Importance of Being


Mike Rickhoff

7 September 2020

Recently I was asked by someone if I work in the Green Industry, specifically, I was asked if “you are a landscaper”.  

Innocent question to be sure.

And it does indeed seem to be a very simple ask, not so?  

Do I?  

Surely this invites a simple “yes” or “no” response?


A Green Conundrum:

If it sounds to you as though I am caught in some sort of mystical and enigmatic dilemma, well you are correct, but maybe for the wrong reasons.  You see, my hesitation – my pause for reflection in framing an immediate response – stems not from my ability or inability, if you prefer, to know what the ‘Green Industry’ means, or indeed whether or not I actually have some sort of job recognition anxiety – it’s about whether or not I see what I do as work. There is also the distinction I tend to associate with the concept of doing something as opposed to being something.

Let me explain by way of a short anecdote. Some years ago, I was at a function of corporate persuasion and I overheard one gentleman ask another if he was a ‘Captain of Industry’.

“Well,” answered the man, after a pause for thought “a Captain of Industry is not what I am, it is what I do.”

A job, then – he does a job – he is not “the job”.

Thought provoking stuff.  How clever, I thought introspectively at the time – what a great piece of insight.  It was then that I decided to live by that very credo: it is not what I am, it is what I do.

Little did I realise that these words and thoughts would come back to nudge and prod provocatively at my very own insights many years later…

All Play and All Work:

Okay, so yes, getting back to what has now become the vexed question: Do I work in the green industry? Do my colleagues work there too?

Well, when I think about it the answer has to be a resounding NO. No, we don’t. You see, we play – but we play really hard, as anyone who loves what they do is prone to do. Give it stick and love every minute.

Having said this, I must admit that the more I contemplate this poser, the more I realise that the Green Industry is in me, rather than me being in the Green industry. You see, I am proudly landscaped in my DNA.

Landscape Design and Horticulture are amazing – they are, in fact – jolly good infatuations. Passions more than pursuits, a way of life rather than a career.  I was once told by a mentor in my younger years that success follows passion.  The pursuits of growing and planting plants, of green design are those very passions then – success is the legacy we create by doing that which we love doing – by doing that which comes naturally.

Long Green Tendrils:

And this is so very not the end of the story.  You see, there is a Big Amazing Passionate Green Family out there, and they do so many Big Amazing Green Things – with passion.

From the ancient arts of horticulture, gardening and landscaping, the deeply contemplative sciences of botany, plant ecology, water and soil conservation, the vibrant and fulfilling pursuits of large scale plant growing, husbandry, and distribution to the wonderful world of green education and mentoring – the range of activities stretches very far and very wide.

I would so love to unpack each and every one of these amazing careers right here and right now, but there just isn’t the space to do it all in one go – so I will just explore, for now, the fine and noble arts of horticulture and landscape design – two crafts that are inextricably enmeshed one with the other – and for which I have a deep and indelible love.

The Horticulturist and the Landscaper:

There are traditional and conventional distinctions between a horticulturist and a landscaper that go way, way back through the mists of time. It seems reasonable that it should indeed be so.

After all, we can certainly, on the face of it, see horticulturists for what they are and what they do, and although they can have many different roles, as a general rule, they are the people that are experts in the research and growing of plants. So we see horticulturists using scientific knowledge to cultivate and propagate plants, and then pass this on to growers. They are adept at conducting pest and disease investigations, knowing how to control them and how to instil harmony and balance in the garden ecology. Many horticulturists are involved with ongoing experimentation for improved varieties of plants that have greater resistance to disease, more robust resistance to drought, growing position or enhanced aesthetics, for example.

Over and above all of this, they will often work in the field of garden and landscape design to help create beautiful gardens and parks where they play a crucial role, not only in the placement, maintenance and health of the plants, but also the aesthetic appeal, interaction with people, pets and wildlife, and the preservation of critical natural resources.

I must say, I have yet to meet a horticulturist worth their salt that does not understand form and function, colour and texture. In and of itself, planting design is not just a skill, it is a true art form that finds a comfortable space in the world of garden design – so the horticulturist is indeed well placed to find a good fit in the world of landscape design.

Now the intrepid landscaper, as you can, no doubt surmise, is a design animal who sees kaleidoscopic pattern in everything when wearing a design hat – especially in outside and open air spaces. Form and function, space and line, texture, colour, harmony and rhythm are the landscaper’s tools of the design trade.

A landscaper transforms garden and park spaces into things of functional and aesthetic beauty – artworks sculpted out of raw landscapes. These spaces are skilfully crafted into the visions of clients and communities using ingredients from the world of outdoor elements, garden features and a myriad of available materials.

Landscape designers see spaces as the sum of their parts – architecture, features and surrounds are skilfully blended into a synergistic, integrated completeness of blissful rhythmic harmony.

The world of the landscaper is characterised not only by designing, but also literally constructing, creating and transforming these amazing spaces.

And, of course, in all of this, there is the wonderful world of plants, for no landscape is a landscape without the inclusion of a plant palette from the astonishing array of available plant material. The ability to understand plants and related horticultural aspects is elementary to any design work in the landscape. Plants offer the critical edge – their presence breathes life into our surrounding spaces, be it indoor or outdoor. For the designer there is colour, form, structure, fullness, texture, nuance, movement and seasonal changeability. Plants afford us a mouth-watering anticipation of metamorphoses and transfigurations to come as the garden matures and grows into its own personality.

So in every landscape designer, there is a plant person too.

Where the Twain Do Meet:

It is often said that some people who are part of this rich, lush, verdant world are horticulturists first and designers second, or vice versa. I suppose it’s probably true to some extent, yet there can be no doubt – to me anyway – that the true horticulturist carries the design bug to a greater or lesser extent in the same way that the true landscaper has plant material infused into their DNA – to a greater or lesser extent. Either way, the more design insight a horticulturist has, or the more plant appreciation a designer has, can only be to the greater good when all is said and done.

Whichever way we see it, the result is a legacy like no other – a viridescent footprint that we leave in our wake that will flourish, transform and endure for years to come.

For my part, it is a calling I would swap for no other. You see, being part of the greater green family is not actually what I do – it is, in fact, despite my earlier epiphany in life to the contrary, not what I do, it is what I am.

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