Why I Landscape – A Happy Career Story

December 24, 2023

As part of an awareness campaign with the National Association of Landscape Professionals, I’m sharing my ”Why I Landscape” story. I love my career as a landscape designer, and I hope this story encourages you if you are thinking about a career change or trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.

I don’t know many people who have come to landscape design or a garden designer career in a linear path – I certainly didn’t.

Of course, there are some wise young people who are inclined to study botany or horticulture or one of the related design practices in college, but that isn’t my story. I am one of the many people who seem to find landscape-related jobs as an antidote to another era in their working lives.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I followed my space and flying dreams for quite a while. I learned to fly shortly after I learned to drive. Then, I pursued a degree in Applied Physics, and after college, I happily worked on F-18 flight simulators and I also wholeheartedly enjoyed adventures in launching satellites around the globe. Physics in action.

Why I landscape - a happy career story.  Ginko by Travis Cox - The Garden Scout

Career Changers Are Welcome

But then, without good career guidance, I meandered my way into management levels of software engineering at companies that I found deeply uninspiring. I had a series of jobs that left me broken and hating my day-to-day life so much I often cried my way through my morning routine.

Getting laid off by Nortel Networks (as part of their infamous implosion in 1999-2000) was a blessing for me. It allowed me to find a new path that has been just as exciting and satisfying as chasing the dreams I had as a kid.

That new path started with a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and brought me to where I am now. I’m a garden designer, teacher, author, speaker, and TV host who generally works in the realm of garden-related media, and I love my job.

It suits my appreciation for design and beautiful things and my love of physical activity and being outdoors. It combines science and art, and it has been a career that I can make what I need it to be.

I’ve found extraordinary flexibility to continuously invent and re-invent my career path and evolve it to suit my needs and my family.

Why I landscape - a happy career story. Sunken riverside garden Designed by Embassy Landscape Image by Sandy Defoe
Landscape Designer or garden designer? These terms are mostly interchangeable – but landscape designer can imply you are an aspiring but unlicensed landscape architect.

The Chelsea Flower Show Changed My Life

It is not an understatement that one visit to The Chelsea Flower Show changed my life.

It was May of 2000 when I attended the show for the first time and was shocked to see that such an event even existed.

Like all visitors, I was amazed by the gardens and feats of horticulture, but more importantly, I was awakened to the existence of the industry that put on the event. I had never considered that there was any garden-related industry – let alone one so glamorous and exciting.

The show brought together landscape design, horticulture, business, entrepreneurship, and media through gardens, and as it has evolved, it has become a platform for a variety of social issues to gain attention and focus.

It was eye-opening and revelatory. I knew in an instant what my next career move would be. My layoff package went straight into design school education, and I went to work immediately, creating my new life as a landscape designer.

My Career as a Landscape Designer

I don’t have any regrets as I look back over my career story so far – with one exception. I wish that I had found a mentor. Or that instead of immediately launching my business, I’d chosen instead to work for another designer right after I got out of school.

I wish I had not spent so much time recreating the wheel, as you do when you are starting out – completely green – in a new industry. Also, I wish I could have continued to learn and network with others as much as I did in school once I graduated.

I knew what I had learned in design school (I attended the English Gardening School in London, England). I graduated feeling confident enough to start designing gardens. And I had a lifetime’s experience as an actual gardener (an education passed on from my family).

Why I landscape - a happy career story.  Ginko by Travis Cox - The Garden Scout
Are landscape architects happy? I can’t speak for an industry, but working with plants and nature to solve our earth’s most pressing problems while also making everything more beautiful is a recipe for career happiness.

However, I knew almost nothing about running a small design business and where I wanted to go or could go in the industry.

Obviously, I have since found my way – learning what parts I love and what parts I loathe and mostly how to navigate through it all to find a path that suits me. This is what I love most about this trade: paths aren’t so linear, and an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit pervades the industry.

I find it interesting that despite the fact that my dad was a civil engineer in a town planning department, until that day at Chelsea, I had never heard of someone who called themselves a landscape architect – let alone a garden designer, which gets to the real point of this post.

Landscape Design is a Growth Industry

The landscape industry is growing and there are lots of opportunities for people of a variety of skill sets. I found my way through design and media, but you might find a path in business, or horticulture and gardening, or non-profit management, or something else… the options are vast.

Why I landscape - a happy career story. Vertical planted wall by Town and Gardens NYC.
Where will your landscape designer career take you?

If you want to know more about my experiences, I’ve been answering questions about the industry (with the help of NALP ) on my instagram account. (see “Why I Landscape” #whyIlandscape in my story). If you want to know something, ask away – we will do our best to answer all reasonable questions. Alternatively, you can always post in the comments here, too.

Twenty-plus years later, I look back, and I still wish I’d been able to ask more questions from someone who went ahead of me. I wish I’d have had more mentoring.

If you need Landscape Design Career advice, Just Ask.

So to round out this post – I wanted to do a little shout-out. A few months ago, a very brave teenager named Travis Cox contacted me. He is a junior in high school, and he loves gardening, gardens, design, writing, and lots of the same things that I love too. He has a blog and and instagram account (#onetofollow), and lots of ideas about what he might want to do with his career. And in an effort to figure out his path, he reached out to me.

Why I landscape - a happy career story.  Travis Cox - The Garden Scout

I did my very best to tell him everything I know about design schools and horticulture programs, and paths he might choose and I think (hope) I was able to expand his ideas and encourage him along his path. It felt good and not only was I happy to spend the time, I look forward to seeing where he goes in this industry. I think I got just as much out of our talk as he did.

If you are reading this and you are a seasoned professional, I’d encourage you to help someone starting out (as much as you can). And if you are considering a landscaping career here – know that I have never experienced an industry with more genuinely nice people. So, feel confident about reaching out and asking for some help, mentorship, or guidance. You will probably find that the people who make up this industry as just as lovely as the gardens and landscapes we create.

Images (from Travis Cox instagram – and NALP instagram). This post was sponsored by the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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  1. Deniel says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It inspired me a lot about a horticulture career in the future 😀
    By the way, the combination of wooden pallets with plants are very impressive.

  2. Alana says:

    Hi! I love this post! I recently found someone that has been an amazing mentor and it has made a huge difference.

  3. Martha G. Hill says:

    Rochelle, thanks for taking the time to share your story. You have and will inspire many of us ‘seasoned’ landscape professionals to reach out to mentor anyone searching for a rewarding career in the landscape profession. As a retired educator of Landscape Management for 31 years and a licensed landscape architect, I can honestly say that I have served and continue to serve in the best profession out there. Who wouldn’t like to create beautiful spaces for others to enjoy and to educate others in the career opportunities available. Keep sharing your story!

  4. BILL Galanis says:

    I stumbled upon you when I was thinking of renaming my landscape design/install/maintenance biz to Studio G and goggled it to see if was available and you came up. I’ve admired your work, magazine, podcasts, and your recent work and endeavors since then. Upon a divorce, some bad business decisions, family health issue and basically life threw me a curb ball. I am thinking of rebranding my biz to focus on sustainable landscape design. Here in Maryland we have a county government program called Rainscapes that helps with the watershed problem to our bay. Any ideas on what steps to take to achieve this passionate goal I have?

    • Hi Bill –
      I am so sorry to hear you been through the wringer. A few thoughts – first – I wouldn’t name your business studio ‘g’. I say this only because you will be one of many many businesses that have the same name (in many different fields – most notably, if I remember correctly – a big one that sells photography stuff at michaels craft store). I changed away from it not only because of its ubiquity (and much confusion) – but also because it was meaningless and a flash in the pan thought that, at the time I did it – represented about 5 seconds of consideration. If I were you, I’d find a name that tells more about what you plan to do and is perhaps a bit more unique and special. But as for focussing your business on sustainable landscape design – I think that is great! But do you need to rebrand? what is your current business called? Maybe a new name isn’t so much what is needed but just a new conversation and clarity about what it is that you will offer that is distinctive. (I’m really just trying to keep this easy for you… if you need a new name, you need a new name – but it sounds like you really just need a fresh start in general (which is a lot of work) – but I would think that salvaging anything you can would help you get going faster. Any way – happy to help more if you have any specific questions – perhaps better to email – you can do that at

  5. Craig Ramsey says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. the combination of wooden pallets with plants is great. It inspired me a lot about a horticulture career in the future.

  6. Linton Tomlin says:

    I am building a Party Barn type building in a rural Texas area and am wanting to hire someone to design the landscape around it. I was wondering if anyone does this online. Also, what’s the best way to find someone. Thanking those who respond in advance for any and all suggestions.

    • Hi Linton, I don’t know anyone who designs online that I could recommend. Other alternatives 1) you could learn to do it yourself through my Garden Design Boot Camp classes (and with that you get my hands on help). or 2) often local nurseries (go to an established and well stocked local – not big box store) will be able to refer you to someone nearby. (and sometimes they even have pros on staff!)

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