A welcome message from Tim Becker, Director of Horticulture

Hello and welcome to the Professional Educational Portal (PEP). As the Director of Horticulture at the Theodore Payne Foundation and Program Director of the CNPLC, it is my honor to write this inaugural blog post welcoming you all to PEP. This space was designed to serve as a gateway for professionals looking to advance their knowledge of native plants and their care and maintenance. Our blog is a way for myself and others to engage with you, the professional landscaper, on a number of horticultural and industry related topics. My hope is that these posts serve as way to create and develop a discourse around our collective work to change our practices and landscapes with an increasingly native plant-centric focus.

Over the past five years, and in particular over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape and nursery industries have seen huge gains in demand for goods and services. This is certainly the case for ecologically and environmentally minded landscape services. People want to make the right choice with their landscapes, and there is a growing realization that native plants can curb carbon emissions, save water and support biodiversity. It’s exciting to see this growth in demand, and with that the development of new landscape businesses that cater to and reinforce an environmentally friendly landscape industry.

Without a doubt, there have been a few setbacks as we attempt to accommodate this new passion for plants and attention paid to landscapes: shortage of plants, lack of qualified individuals to execute projects, and labor shortfalls to name a few. We hear examples of these very issues every day at the nursery, from the, “When are you getting in more hummingbird sage?” to “Do you know anyone who can install and maintain these plants?” While we as plant professionals may have to occasionally pass on new jobs or suggest alternatives to some staple landscape plants we usually rely on, there is a silver lining to all of this pent up demand: as the status of industry raises as we find ourselves coming out of the niche and into the mainstream. This is the key concept that we are collectively addressing from every side of the landscape process through our work, outreach, and education. How do horticulturists, landscapers, and designers sustain a movement as it emerges from a small subset of a huge industry into what we hope will become one of the most popular forms of landscaping?

From the customer angle the need educate and train clients on what to expect, how to best utilize, and how to truly appreciate native plants is of utmost importance. Professionals and aligned non-profits can inspire them to want native plants in their yard and to value them for not only their aesthetic appeal but for their ability to build resilience and biodiversity in the garden. Perhaps even more critically, there must be a sustained effort to enhance our professional abilities as landscape professionals to execute projects and maintain landscapes without it being based on guesswork or a roll of the dice. When your career, reputation and client base are on the line, you need confidence in your practices and consistency in your result. That is where the professional community building that we are doing comes into play.

Landscape professionals are the stewards of the plants and landscapes. They are the caretakers of plants in the built environment and are more critical than people realize when it comes to maintaining and cultivating the spaces outside of homes and offices that dominate our day to day lives. We may have different approaches but it is our common desire for success in the landscape that bring us together.

The CNPLC program and forthcoming supplementary advanced courses address that multi-disciplinary work environment by covering, from broad to articulated strokes, several of the most critical elements of tending to a unique category of plants: those native to our home state of California.

This educational space has been developed with the intention of creating a community of landscape professionals who are dedicated to advancing their knowledge of CA native plant horticulture. From proof of concept to installation and the care thereafter, CA native plants provide unique challenges to even the experienced architect or landscape maintenance professional. These challenges are not insurmountable, and given the rising need of residential and commercial clients alike, professionals with a foundational understanding of the best practices for native plant horticulture are critical to the success of the transformation of our built spaces.

Whether you are a seasoned landscaper or a newcomer, architect, designer, contractor or journeyman, I applaud you for taking the step of being part of this community. You are joining hundreds of fellow plant professionals who have committed themselves to learning more about these plants and their care. Even if you have been working with native plants for years, there is always something you can learn. And always something you can teach a newcomer. I look forward to seeing and hearing about the amazing work you are doing to advance our collective mission of building a more environmentally friendly landscape industry in Southern California.

Tim Becker