Prairie and Native Plant Careers
Pretty City Gardens and Landscapes LLC
St. Louis, MO
Where did you study and what was your major field of study?
My college career began in music (violin) then shifted to Liberal Arts at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. After graduating with my Bachelor’s degree I moved back to St. Louis and began searching for a career. Upon finding landscaping and gardening I went back to school to study Horticulture at St. Louis Community College – Meramec.
Briefly describe your current job.
Currently, I am the owner of a landscaping and gardening business in St. Louis City, Pretty City Gardens and Landscapes. Our work is composed of garden maintenance, design, and installation of new gardens and landscapes. My personal responsibilities include a little bit of everything: working in the field with our crews, design/estimates, scheduling, managing existing clients, and all of the other “behind the scenes” office work required to keep a company going and growing. My role has constantly changed as the business has grown over the past decade.
How do you use your native plant and/or prairie knowledge in your career today?
My early experience and knowledge of landscaping/gardening is rooted in ornamental gardening without much emphasis on native plants. That knowledge of how to care for gardens and design landscapes that humans find attractive has allowed us to succeed within our community when opportunities arose to design, implement, and maintain stormwater management landscapes as well as pollinator habitat — both of which rely on native plants as a backbone to function. We’re still learning every year as we revisit projects we have completed and continue to experiment with the wide variety of native plant species available, but working with natives has been very rewarding as landscaping/gardening has shifted in meaning for me from a mostly aesthetic medium to something with much deeper meaning and function.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your current work?
When we see the gardens we create functioning (i.e., capturing stormwater or attracting pollinators), and when we get to work with clients who become advocates for that, I guess that could be boiled down to seeing the effort we put out into the world come back to us and keep that cycle going.
What native plant/prairie classes or trainings were especially important to your career?
It’s difficult to point to one class or training as having been especially important, but staying involved year over year by attending regular educational events has felt like it has made a huge difference and not only because of the content of classes or trainings. I might come away from a training or class with a few new ideas to try — and that’s important — but it feels like the relationships I have built with the other folks attending those events has led to even more opportunity in the long term. Meet people, tell them what you’re passionate about, and that will come back to you eventually.
What other subjects have you studied that have been important to your career?
The time spent in my undergraduate degree in Music and Liberal Arts may not have led me directly to a career in Horticulture, but I do feel they both helped me along the way as I have crossed paths with so many musicians, artists, etc. who have also been attracted to gardening as a profession.
Please describe volunteer or field work that was formative to your education and career.
In the same year I founded my business, 2014, I began volunteering in my neighborhood with a neighbor providing ongoing maintenance and development of several smaller native gardens. I thereby learned so much about native landscaping, in a very low-risk way, and connected with so many other people through that work. I also joined a professional organization, the Landscape Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis, and have volunteered my time on the board which has been a hugely rewarding experience professionally. We are a small business (under 10 employees), but it feels like we have a fairly big reputation within our region because of the professional connections we have made.
What materials and technology are must-haves for your field?
For garden maintenance I would feel naked without my hand tools (pruners and a soil knife), gloves, sunglasses, hat, and water bottle. We also rely very heavily on flexible gardening tubs to hold weeds/clippings as we work and some way to clean up our mess before we leave — a broom can work just fine but a small electric hand blower or larger blower if the site is quite large are very nice to have. A truck is great to have too, but I have seen other companies utilize vans or other smaller vehicles, so really the barrier to entry as far as equipment goes is quite low. My favorite tool on garden installation projects is a steel spade. For design, we rely on computer-aided design (CAD) programs, which means having a computer and learning to use a program you’re comfortable with. Hand drawing also works just fine. The most important fundamental of design is learning how to measure existing conditions of a site and getting the base map right.
What advice would you give students or others wanting to go into your field?
Dive in and get some experience! There are so many different opportunities out there and everyone seems to do things slightly differently, tailored to their own interests and strengths. As with any career decision, I think it’s important to consider the earnings potential and how that will align with what you want in your life. Beyond that I’ve found this to be a very rewarding career with a lot of opportunity to grow and learn new things.