1978 marked the first time Dave DeJohn visited Concord, NH. More interesting than that was how he got here – he was on the first of many, many trips hitchhiking across America. Dave knew a person in Concord, and after being on the road several months, his destination became a visit to that man, (and the longer I spoke to Dave, I wondered if that was the trip when he met his future wife, too?!)
While here at that time, Dave explained that he felt “at home” and liked the vibe in New Hampshire. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave was used to the pace there, although he had grown tired of it. Thought he connected at that time, the vibe wasn’t quite enough to keep him here, however. He set off again, on another hitchhiking trip across the US, headed for Arizona and New Mexico where he had enjoyed picking up some random landscape work.
Throughout his trips across the US, Dave found work when he needed it. He explains with a sense of nostalgia and a strong sense of sharing his work ethic, that he would often ask in a restaurant or diner if the proprietor would trade meals for pruning or other seasonal clean up work that could “spruce the place up.” While this might at first sound outlandish, in speaking with Dave, you get the sense that it’s his quiet confidence and strength of conviction that netted him those jobs as well as the jobs now, this many years in to DeJohn Landscaping!
Travel, trips, more miscellaneous jobs in landscape work in different parts of America led to Dave being back here, at a party, where he met Rick Rideout.
Many of the NHLA readership will have known Rick, as the founder of Three Seasons Landscaping and others may even know his work restoring the historic Henniker Train Station. It was Rick Rideout who made a job offer to Dave, though it wasn’t the permanent tether to NH that followed years later. Rideout and DeJohn had agreed that Dave could work seasonally, and while he loved the work, he also loved the adventure and lure of the open road. Taking months off, and before the spring and planting and maintenance contracts resumed, Dave frugally crisscrossed the states again. DeJohn confesses that at one point, Montana had the lore and lure he thought he was looking for. He thought for a brief time that he may settle there – but it was Rideout, Three Seasons Landscape and the way NH beckoned that won him over for six consecutive years.
While working with Three Seasons, Dave took every chance he could to “learn more.” From the things he picked up along the way and his own reading and research, he had amassed a lot of information and practical knowledge about plants, growth habits, and what plants seemed to work together better than others. Those who knew Rick Rideout knew Rick was an avid traveller also, so that may have linked Dave and Rick with that common understanding of what it meant to travel to new and unfamiliar places or to return to the places you’ve loved and want to go back to over the years.
A chance meeting one spring with employees of John Miller Landscaping showed Dave that there was another angle to the landscape business in which he felt he could really fit in. Through John Miller Landscaping, Dave was introduced to more specific work with hardscaping. Interviewing Dave, it was fascinating to hear his strength of conviction about “really loving to work.” While that might seem like a common phrase on landscapers’ minds, it’s really deeper with Dave. He said he has always loved hard, manual, physical labor AND one of his favorite things is the way he feels when he’s doing stone work. The lifting, moving, shaping, and using the stone creatively coupled with the hard work are his vitamins and energy all in one.
With this job, he was a bit more settled than he’d been in the past, and the trips across the states were not with the regularity or predictability as they had been in previous years. NH has been good to Dave; it was here he met his wife in 1986, and they bought a house on ten acres in Canterbury in 1996. Dave cites his wife’s patience and enthusiasm about his passion for travel and hard work as the spine of the success of his own company. His entrepreneurship is years in the making, from deciding to set up his own landscape company to establishing a repeat clientele and a way of supporting other landscapers when he can’t take on a client who responds to an ad or hears word-of-mouth about Dave, his plant designs or walls and patio work.
It’s almost relaxing to hear Dave talk about his travels, the early landscape jobs, and the genesis of his education coming from many Thompson School Courses and taking every professional development opportunity NHLA has offered since he joined in 1986. While he doesn’t have a formal degree in horticulture or another aspect of the Green Industry as you may expect seeing his portfolio, he has an old world approach to learning by doing and learning by watching and meeting experts.
“Relaxing” may not seem like the first adjective you’d think of during a conversation about his trips across the states, the extensive seasonal work he did, and the ways he accumulated knowledge to augment his firsthand experiences, but it’s the best word to use because of how engaging and enthusiastic he is while explaining that phase of his life.
Listening to Dave brought up several questions, such as when you were in a diner and proposed exchanging work for meals, how did you do that while on the road? What tools did you have with you to do that work? Dave says that he had his favorite pruners with him (sort of makes you think about the hitchhikers we would have seen in those years, traveling with a backpack and guitar case.
When asked what DeJohn Landscaping is doing these days, Dave replies that he has done years and years of landscape designs including plant and maintenance schedules as a part of client contracts. He went on to say that he has phased out some aspects of the maintenance (“No more mowing since about ten years ago,” he said with a sort of smile you could hear over the phone.)
Dave said the time he used to spend on landscape plant designs has now been nearly replaced with hardscape work, which is probably what many NHLA members will strongly associate with Dave. This winter, for instance, he was working on three stone walls – and in discussing those, he reiterates that he thrives on physical work and moreover, finds that winter work on walls makes an easy transition to the spring work on the clean ups and maintenance work for his clients. He said, “There’s less of a shock to my system when I have been busy all winter outdoors with the rocks and walls when it’s time to be involved with the traditional spring work.”
Now as president (again!) of the NHLA Dave is instrumental in the work for the Field Day, being planned for August this year, outdoors, at the McIntyre Ski Area. Dave tells of the ways he has learned best with hands on, real world experiences and hopes to capture those types of experiences and exposure during the various workshops and sessions by vendors where attendees can see, touch, and work with the materials on exhibit. Also, there are workshop sessions planned, including demonstrations and experiences offered on site, with pruning, building raised beds, learning more about correctly planting young plants and installation tricks and tips from experts who can readily tell attendees what works and what sure doesn’t!
Dave DeJohn’s flair and conviction about his own learning style comes through his appreciation of what NHLA has done for him and for what he thinks is his responsibility to “give back” to the organization. It was fascinating to hear how Dave got to NH, and how he settled, started his own company. Now he is beginning another run as the leader of NHLA, to which he can bring his flair for professional development and his passion for helping new hires in all companies as well as helping seasoned veterans feel some of the energy and enthusiasm Dave does when working with clients.
Thank you, Dave, for taking on the President’s role – and thank you for the ways you will share your expertise with your clients and members of this organization.
— by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP. Cris is the Education Coordinator for NHLA and is a member of Newmarket Conservation Commission; Supervisor on Rockingham Conservation District; Board Member for NH Association of Conservation Commissions; and member of Garden Communicators International Sustainability Committee. Her photos have been recognized by the Mass Horticulture Society in 2020’s Photography Competition, and are used frequently in the NHLA Newsletter.