What Is Landscaping Like? Is It Like Work?

This is a recirculation of a post I made a couple years ago. Posts explaining what we do as landscapers are partially intended to inform any potential client of what to expect when a crew arrives at their home and begin tearing it all up. This is highly unsettling to anyone with a heart, and especially if they are super invested in years being used to their home…. 😉

My sis in law, Lisa – a lawyer herself – once visited a site we were working at, in such beginnings and immediately opined: “Good God, I could never do that!” The place in question was a perfectly nice landscape the client wanted to upgrade with more interesting stuff. We were at what was probably the ugliest part – it was pure destruction. There are no delicate touches at that stage, lol. We are uniquely qualified to tear stuff up. Hey – we’re guys, mostly. It borders on fun!

Anyway, another aspect I write to cover is what young people might expect who are considering the field itself from any angle. Every field has an entry point and even designers gain immensely from spending a year or two “in the trenches” so to speak.

So below is a peek at what we do.

I was asked recently by a high school kid whose Dad I played softball with how I chose to do landscaping. He is a senior this year and he is facing those major questions regarding his own future. I had him work for me a while back – nearly 3 years ago – and he was a willing and hard worker. There was a lot of banter between some of the older guys and he – the old “age smack” trash talk thing – which was hilarious. He even “won” a few. He was not afraid to speak his mind for which he was highly regarded among much older guys. His Dad was proud when I mentioned he was missed and that my crew asked about him often.

Left click any image to enlarge.

Doug and Ed 005

It made me think. I could see that this was a question which wanted as close as I could get to 360 degrees of an answer. It would not do to present half a picture. Truth be told, my route is not necessarily the one I would advocate for anybody – not whatsoever. The fact is, I stumbled upon it. However, one thing I have found is that landscaping does indeed suit a particular personality. This personality would be willing to wake up at 6 AM every morning for an 8 hour day of lifting, raking, carrying, wheel-barrowing and – in the end – of making things. In the end, this is what we do – we make things.

The Reward – Of all the rewards inherent in doing good landscaping – aside, that is, from the daily dose of endorphins and great sensations at the end of a day – the one primary reward can often exist in revisiting the project later and telling the company you are with – “I made that!”. Seeing a tangible result is a reward pretty much only for those who do make things – typically people in construction but also in art, in fabrication and manufacturing, and particularly in such pastimes as knitting, sewing, forming things from something else – and the tangible product tend to be their own rewards.


The Chores – So we wake up early and drive to work. Typically, on my projects, I tried to get the hardest work done in the morning. It is a truism, proven by studies of productivity, that nearly 75% of the day’s accomplishments all happen before lunch. I have found this to be nearly completely true on average. In fact, I planned around it when it was possible. What this means is that one stretches a little bit, early on, then goes for it. The quiet mornings are full of the odd grunt and fewer complaints than those you hear later. In my experience, mornings in landscaping are the fastest moving times ever. Next thing you know, it’s lunch time.

Landscaping consists of some very redundant and basic tasks, in many cases:

Dirt Work:

Moving dirt around is the landscaper’s lament. Move this dirt over here. Dig a hole and replace the hole with better dirt and lose that stuff over there. Then rake it out. Rakes and shovels are the trade’s primary tools, along with the ubiquitous wheelbarrow. Learning to load, carry and empty wheelbarrows, believe it or not, are “musts”. In fact, learning to shovel is one as well. There are ways to involve the back somewhat organically, to help with the work by bending knees in coordination, just as there are ways to insure shoveling will be your worst nightmare.


Shaping the terrain is what we do. It is nearly always first, sometimes following what amounts to a clean up of impediments or the trashing of a landscape which we are changing. Bottom line – We move dirt to where it will be a permanent medium for everything else that follows. Everything happens on top of that. Having said all this, we are helped, as often as possible, by the use of machinery.

Bobcats, mini excavators, larger stuff all reduces the body impact of doing the work by hand, just as teams of mules and horses once did for those land-shapers in England and all the many spots in the world who landscaped large swaths of land. The varieties of tools and equipment for landscaping goes back 1,000’s of years, actually.

The really “trick stuff” involved in wall-building can be shocking when others take a design skill or theme and expand on it………….but certainly no less pleasing:

263319_153105891435930_1592884_nNow, since I have lived in dry climates, irrigation is installed typically at the original dirt-moving time. Trenches are dug, cleaned out, pipes installed, heads inserted and all the rigmarole involving irrigation is dealt with very early on. It won’t do to try and irrigate retroactively, at least not when grass or sod is involved. Drip irrigation is different but even drip needs a supply line established under the ground.


Anyway, so we shape the land to conform to the original design. Next, there are any number of directions to go. The original shaping could have left room for paving materials for patios, walkways or patios. We could have carpentry projects where the carpenters are busy forming up their gazebo, fence, trellises or whatever. Hopefully, they work with us in what almost always tends to be a crowded space. Otherwise, we often resort to beating them up. It’s tough out there, I tell ya. 😉

If indeed we are paving, obviously there is a need for different materials to provide the sub-base materials for compacting. Dirt just won’t do. So guys bring in the base material, rake it out and compact it – either by machine if access is good or else by the handy old method of wheelbarrow. Since a wheelbarrow of base material weighs about 200 pounds, and the site of even the smallest patios or walkways require tons of material, this is a chore not to be sneezed at. It represents lots – and I do mean lots – of trips, back and forth.




We then arrive at the point at which we install those paving items.  This involves and immense amount of carrying. The pavers need to go near the spot they were designed to go and they often require selective delivery, owing to the many different sizes and shapes and patterns they require. The onus is then upon the carrier to get it right. There is always a dude or two on the ground to put them in place and a crew ahead preparing the strata for laying.


Once the patio is near completion, we work on what we call “finishing”. The soil is in place – perhaps needing amendment – and the “hardscape” is complete, so we can consider things like planting and installing grass and maybe edging materials, if required. So we order up our plants and we plant them, usually – in fact always – (except in the case of monster trees which we often dig by excavator) use shovels for this. Planting can be tough, too, depending on the native soils. Often times we need the help of picks and mattocks to get the hole to a decent enough size to handle the plants and trees. After planting, those familiar with drip irrigation know this is the time we run our feed lines to all the plantings. Oftimes, we will cover them up a few inches deep as well, particularly when no mulches are called for.


Having completed the planting, we move to laying the grass. Since each roll weighs about 20-40 pounds, depending on the weather and the amount of clay they were grown in, this is another extremely tedious chore. There is that satisfaction, however, in laying grass, of such an immediate impact, aesthetically. Everyone picks up on it, invariably. There is something extremely satisfying in laying grass. The change is so quick and so total. But it, too, is tiring.


After all this, we move to the “real” finishing which involves laying in mulches where the planting beds are and depositing art works or thrills into the landscape accordingly. Once we clean the place spotlessly, we are basically done. It’s pretty much beer-thirty.

The picture below is a shot at the business end of the plants we plant. This 22 foot Sequoia will thrive in Reno, an almost ideal climate save for the need for outside irrigation. Given water, however, few plants do better in Reno than the Giant Sequoia. You just need one heck of a lot of clearance to appropriately plant something which will get 25 feet wide and 100 feet tall.

Crystal Springs March 3 09 268

So a review of all this activity reveals a couple of things: One, that the work is hard work. It requires a body that is either strong already or one which can get that way. This is not the toughest thing in the world, by the way. Every year, once Winter ended and the work> started really getting underway, it took me a week or two to get into what I call “landscaping shape”.  It is no different for anyone. By the way, I have seen many women coming into the field and it is a good thing for all. While strength is not presumed to be ladylike, the interesting fact is, it is pretty attractive, actually. The female influence on a crew can also be a wonderful addition, the truth is. It tends to keep things decent in terms of language and even in terms of behavior in general. And they seem to enjoy it as well. Here is the one cardinal overlooked fact of a hard day at work:

The endorphin count is out the roof. The satisfaction of a full day’s labor – while hard – can have its biggest reward in how good the body feels at the end of a day. This is not small, either. There is something to be said about getting legitimately “high” at work and this is exactly what happens. The other benefit is in the benefit offered to anyone who works hard – I personally believe you live longer and that those efforts which maintain a pretty awesome physical tone impact a person fantastically well. I used to play ball games after work. I lived for it.

Advancing In The Field – But this should not keep one from advancing further in the field, either. This is the second phase of a trip through any successful landscaper’s journey and one which I will resume next post.

Doug and Ed 021


  1. Hey Steve
    I loved this post. “A day in the life” of a landscaper. The photos all show a little progress each day and this is what we landscapers can appreciate. Sometimes our clients don’t “see” the everyday progress if the day has been spent doing “underground” work– drainage, sprinklers, sleeving, but we do!Excellent landscaping resource. Have you moved yet?
    shirleyComment by Shirley Bovshow “EdenMaker” — October 14, 2009 @ 11:25 am
  2. Yes, Shirley, I am now almost two full weeks into life in Louisville. It’s been an easy transition and an especially rewarding one so far, being with family again on a daily basis. I have also been approached for landscaping, lol.I knew this one would be one you might enjoy. Next, I’ll take a trip through the ranks. But I will also include a safety section.Comment by Steve — October 14, 2009 @ 4:03 pm
  3. Steve, that’s a great meditation on how you got to where you ended up, at least for a while. There are lots of great ways to be creative, and working with your hands seems to be one of the most rewarding. I’ve been doing a several weeks’ worth of pretty hard physical labor around the house after the day job is done, and I sometimes wondered if I’d have had a more satisfying life if I’d done some of the outdoor things that really satisfied me instead of doing all the desk job things that people kept telling me I should be doing. The day job has its satisfactions and pays the bills, to be sure. But how many of us don’t think every now and then about paths not taken? That said, you’ve definitely been clear about what isn’tso fuzzy and wonderful about the field, and to that I suppose you could add dealing with all sorts of people, many of whom will be terrific and a few of whom will never be satisfied. None of these big life decisions are easy…Comment by lostlandscape(James) — October 15, 2009 @ 12:25 am
  4. James, maybe I’m just lucky or maybe I have selective memory about events and relationships, but my relations with people in landscaping– and let’s speak 360 degrees, here – from the guys who I have worked for, and from those working for me and the abundant suppliers and clients, both residential and commercial, made it all just that much more rewarding in the end. The knuckleheads can hurt you – bad – and, to be honest, every now and then you make mistakes and must pay for them – (you being the knucklehead) – but they are outnumbered by a long way by the pleasantest relationships (outside of romance and family) that are possible for a human to have. In many ways, I regret nothing. Even the pain was worth it.Comment by Steve — October 15, 2009 @ 6:28 am
  5. Steve- it is so strange for me to see your workin the “wide open” plains surrounded by mountains. I am from New Jersey where it is totally different….. Super interesting to me…Comment by New Jersey Landscape Architect NJ & Landscape Designer — October 17, 2009 @ 9:43 am
  6. It’s why they call it Big Sky Country, lol. And, Lord knows, it’s the truth. When thunderstorms course through, once or twice a Summer, you can see the storm’s lightning lighting up clouds 100 miles away.Reno – where much of my work took place – is incredibly gifted, believe it or not. Having the Sierra Nevada Range basically mere miles away – including Tahoe – offers something you don’t see many other places. You still get the Big Skies but you also get a mountain show and all that ice cream snow-capped stuff. If you’re really lucky, you can get caught in one of those storms up there!They got 10 feet in one night once up there, 19 feet in two days. Reno got 4′.Comment by Steve — October 17, 2009 @ 10:23 am


14 thoughts on “What Is Landscaping Like? Is It Like Work?

  1. You’ve captured the life of a landscaper wonderfully. That look on client’s faces when you start destroying everything never fails to make an appearance…

  2. hi, im from sydney aus. i have mates in landscaping and other trades but the landscapers say it os the hardest job going and they often get life long injuries early. is this the case and how do they prevent this? im a police officer and my boy is almost old enough to start thinking about the future. i want him to do a trade and i can sure see the art in landscaping. what can you tell us? thanks!

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  7. Hello Steve, I was browsing the net for some landscaping blogs for ideas and ran into this. I have recently gotten into the landscaping business myself, and this may be a place I direct new clients to, for you did a great job of explaining all that goes into transforming one’s home (whether it be an upgrade or a fresh job) into a work of art. A true landscaper understands the kind of physical endurance it takes and appreciates the natural “high” that they get. I’m also a firm believer that a body in motion stays in motion. Hard work is good for everyone, and the reward is old age hopefully won’t be quite as rough as it would be otherwise. Great post. Thanks!

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