By Daniel Fuller
A career in landscape construction quite literally puts you smack bang in the centre of the industry. Designers and architects create the framework you’ll use, production and retail horticulturists provide the plants you’ll use, and maintenance professionals look after the landscape once you’ve long since left the site. But you’re the one who puts all the pieces together to physically create that built landscape.
I was lucky enough to interview Rob Wardlaw, a landscape construction teacher at TAFE NSW, and I asked him “who can call themselves a landscaper?”
This is actually somewhat of a controversial question, because a lot of people call themselves landscapers who may not have earned that right, and definitions matter. Rob says that landscape maintenance pros aren’t really landscapers, and as a maintenance pro of ten years, I tend to agree. Similarly, designers, production horticulturists, and arborists all fit outside the definition as well, even though they’re all involved in the built landscape.
The term “landscaper” refers to a qualified landscape construction professional who’s completed their apprenticeship or has at least obtained an AQF Level III qualification, i.e. a nationally recognised Certificate III in landscape construction from a Registered Training Organisation (RTO).
Typically, landscape works can be broken into two categories – hard landscaping and soft landscaping.
Hard landscaping includes tasks like building retaining walls, patios, pools, and other constructions. Meanwhile, soft landscaping includes the horticultural side of the works, like choosing and installing plants, spreading mulch and gravel, and so forth.
This workload requires a lot of knowledge; not only do landscapers need to have a decent plant palette and sound knowledge of horticulture, but they also need to have an understanding of construction.
Not every landscaper is an expert in both hard and soft landscaping; in fact, many specialise in one or the other. Some landscapers only focus on building retaining walls, or they specialise in pool installation. And many quality landscape companies incorporate plant people, whether their qualification is in landscape construction or horticulture.
If you’re getting into the construction side of the landscape, you need to understand that we have strict legislations in Australia that dictate what types of insurances are needed for different types of projects, and your work needs to meet established standards.
For example, putting in a pool fence is a lot more complicated than it looks on the surface; you may need to get an engineer to sign off on your works, you might need to do soil testing, and you need to understand the legislation around pool safety. It’s rarely as simple as “just chuck a fence in, and she’ll be right.”
As a maintenance gardener myself, I’ve seen what happens when the landscape crew get it wrong. Maybe the bobcat operator dumped the subsoil on top of the topsoil, leaving the plants with very low access to available nutrients and causing other issues. Another problem that I’ve seen too often is that a pedestrian gate has been installed on an acreage property that needs ride-on mower access.
These problems aren’t always the fault of the landscaper; sometimes they’re caused by the builder or by the designer. But the landscaper is in a unique position to remedy these types of problems because they should have an understanding of how their gardens perform. That’s why I always say that landscapers (and designers, of course) should work for a few months in maintenance. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about the way gardens function within that time.
Landscaping is not an easy job, but it can be incredibly rewarding to see a totally desolate outdoor space being transformed into an oasis, using nothing but your brain, your hands, and the tools that you have available. We’re still in a staff shortage crisis so there’s never been a better time to enter the industry.
If you’re interested in a career in this sector, feel free to reach out to me via my email below, and together we can come up with a strategy to get amongst it.
M: 042 6169 708
Main photo: Landscape construction requires many skills (Image: Rich Earth Landscape Gardens)