Landscaper or Groundskeeper? There’s More to it than You Think

April 19, 2022

I kneel in the frosty earth, cutting back amber stems of perennials gone by. I look up at the paver walkway I installed in August. Will the de-icing product we apply this winter kill this autumn’s tender transplants? So many hands are on the salt scoops.

When I was a landscaper, that is, a contractor, I wouldn’t have worried. My guarantee only covered new plants, not divisions. If I had done my job properly, my crew would maintain the divisions in the spring, ensuring their survival.

Here, the odds were not so favorable. I am the sole grounds maintenance technician here, responsible for more than seven acres of landscape, spread over three facilities. With our fourth facility under construction, I am soon to inherit more. For my baby plants, it’s survival of the fittest.
I now work directly for an industrial manufacturing company. When I made the transition from contractor to full time employee, I had no idea how different that would be. The learning curve was steep.

First, I had to become more adaptable. Plans and budgets are 100% required, but at any given moment the priority can change. In the middle of spreading 90 yards of mulch? Wait, “we” have decided that I need to pull the curbing from two parking lot islands, store the granite, transplant the trees, and install two 18 by 18 paver walkways. And yes, this is coming out of my budget. I have to decide what to give up from what I planned. In all honesty, the project makes sense. Who decides a tree in an island should be right in front of a door? The people who made the blueprints, that’s who. Now I have to undo it.
Lesson two stung a little more: the grounds are of low importance. My managers want the grounds to be beautiful, thriving, and ecologically progressive. However, manufacturing is the priority. We do not sell landscapes. If a task that effects production arises (a storage area needs to be turned into cubicles) I must drop everything and help with that. My budget reflects the perceived importance. I must wring every ounce from every resource to maximize every project, but that part is similar to being a contractor.

My third lesson is the one I struggle with the most to this day – slow down. Pace yourself. Do not come in expecting to hustle all day, every day – or anyone else to do so. Yes, management wants productivity, but time is built into every day for communication with multiple layers of co-workers, contractors, and supervisors. Translation: meetings.

I loved my time as a landscaper. The creativity and satisfaction of installations, the quiet routine of maintenance, being outside every day, all of these made me happy. Now, I have traded some of it for an excellent benefits package, and an employer who believes in things such as a “good work-life balance.” I have taken on tasks not related to the landscape, like generator, crane and check valve inspections. With each new responsibility I am rewarded, but also pulled inside more. My “growth plan” has a goal which doesn’t have me outside much at all, but I am assured that I will always have jurisdiction over the grounds. My hands will just be a bit cleaner.

— by Melody Hughes, NHCLP


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