From Maryland to Colorado

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    Josh Burwell

    My wife has finally convinced me to move westward.  I have been involved in the Landscape Design/Build industry for over 15 years (10 years self employed). Currently I am pursuing a degree in Landscape Architecture.  My concern is that I am counting on my years of Landscape construciton experience and local plant knowledge coupled with the degree to land employment (ignoring the current crisis) . Should I be so concerned? I assume the construciton methods are similiar?  I understand the zone difference and plant pallette difference, but heard that some of the same plants are used in the landscape ??   anyone?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    My understanding is that the most development (=landscape architecture opportunities) are in the greater D.C. area. I would not make the move based on opportunity, but we all have more in our lives to consider than best places to get a job. If you make the move, make it for those otherreasons (assuming you are near D.C.).


    Ok..I’ve been out here for about ten years between Boulder, Fort Collins, and now Denver.

    Personally I think if you have a strong construction background/knowledge coming from the east coast (as I did) you’ll have a better sense of craftsmanship and overall higher standards than a lot of what is considered standard practice out here. I still feel like construction is qucik and cheap here compared to back east.

    Jobs are scarce here. That said, I have seen a lot more listings for design/builds around the metro area this summer than planning/design-only listings. I’ve seen a fair amount of ads for foreman, project managers, but not many design positions. Although I have a few friends that are working in design-build that landed their jobs this summer as designers.

    There are clearly two tiers of landscape construction companies in this area–low end plug and chug and very high end. The plug and chug landscape market is completely flooded, whereas there are only a handful of really good design-builds here. Check out the ALCC site for an idea on who does what.

    As far as plants–you’ll be fine, there are piles of great resources at you r fingertips from the CSU Extension to the Denver Water books on Xeriscape. We get very little rain here, and it is important to use water-wise planting. here is also a lot of irrigation which a foreman must know in my opinion if you want to manage projects on the front range.

    Most local landscape architects I would say are more adept at planning and larger scale site design than landscape design/planting design here.

    On a personal note–if you like to ski or spend time in the mountains, be prepared for heavy traffic. Rush hour near the Denver-Boulder corridor runs from 6am-10am and again from about 3pm-6pm, other than that it;s just regular heavy traffic. It will drive you nuts. There are a TON of people here.

    If you have any questions, let me know.

    Josh Burwell

    thanks for the great response, I am sure the traffic is bad, but I commute between Baltimore and D.C. now, so it cant get much worse than that, can it??
    I figured that more jobs in the design/build sector would be available, probably where I would be heading anyway.
    thanks agian.

    Rob Halpern

    The High Desert is very different from the Mid-Atlantic in many ways. But a good plantsman should be able to do the homework and adjust.
    And the soils will be quite different as well. Not only the water issues, but the soils themselves. But you can learn that, too, if you apply yourself to it.

    Rick Spalenka

    What are you looking for? If it’s a solid relationship with your wife you have few options. My wife and I moved here from Virginia 15 years ago. The front range/Denver area was too much like what we were trying to escape from so we settled on the Western Slope. It’s much more laid back here but that can be a detriment. The quantitiy of refined gray matter is more limited here. New ideas (new to the area) are very slow to be accepted and incorporated. The soils move here. I’ve seen two year old projects where the concrete and asphalt is cracked and a mess but suggest pavers and you hit resistance. There is far too much stone mulch used because of it’s availability and low cost. The classiest commercial landscape seem to be done by out-of-town chain businesses. I miss doing high end classy work I did in Virginia but I don’t miss the humidity and insects. I now live in paradise but I don’t work in paradise.

    Tanya Olson

    Denver Botanic Gardens is one of my favorite resources for plant selection all across the mountain west, particularly if you are a plant geek! There may be a few plant similarities, but not many. The lower elevation front range areas have a much wider plant selection than the mountain interior and then there are elk, deer and fire / bugs to contend with. Any person who knows much about plants should be able to learn very quickly.
    I think Nick gave an excellent description of the opportunities and challenges in the area as did Rick for the more rural parts of CO. Personally I’ve been frustrated with the lack of really good landscape installation companies in Denver that stay in business long enough to be able to refer them from client to client (this is in the residential sector). LOTS of fly-by-night underbidders.
    I would think there could be lots of opportunity for an installation company with a sound history if you wanted to keep your company going. If you’re moving up into the mountains, those areas could use a business that understands fire wise concepts, fuels management and forestry.
    Best of luck to you!

    Josh Burwell

    Rob- I did not consider the soil difference, as knowledge of soil type is as important as plant choice.

    Rick- naturIally soilid relations with my wife is top priority, if she’s happy i’m happy right? we have not considered the western slope, but you dont get all that wonderful sunshine like on the Front Range correct? oh, and the humidity this summer has been the worst.

    Tanya- I love the Denver B G. we are visiting Denver in 2 weeks and I will have to visit them again. It is amazing how learning plants becomes a life long passion. I may very well consider reinstating the business, as i may find it hard to work for someone else??

    Rick Spalenka

    Josh – The Western Slope is mis understood. I live south of Grand Junction and it’s called the banana belt for good reason. Our climate is more, much more moderate than Denver with more, not less sunshine. Actuarary studies show the line from Montrose to Grand Junction is the safest area from natural disasters in the US. My e-mail address is Send me your e-mail address and I’ll send you some pictures that will take your breath away. I tell my friends that living here is like living next door to Jessica Alba. You can look but you can’t touch.

    Here’s a sample:

    Tanya Olson

    It is a must see this year as they have a collection of Henry Moore sculptures from his estate in England that only came to 3 cities in the US!

    Josh Burwell

    wow, love his work

    Thomas J. Johnson

    If you have 15 years of experience in the design/build industry, I honestly don’t understand why you would go back to school for a degree in Landscape Architecture. Not only will you have 3-5 years of lost wages but you will have the additional expenses of going back to school (i.e. 20k/yr min).

    If you enjoy the design/build environment, you probably won’t like the stuffy, attitude filled studio life. That is, unless you like working 60+ hour weeks making $40,000 ($55k-$60K with 10 yrs experience) for the rest of your life, glued to a chair, exercising your index finger. Get your contractors license in CO and a few books on drawing/ landscape design. You’ll be able to get your plans through planning departments. Design and build it yourself. Make money on both ends and screw all the “design” b.s. You don’t need to work for some big name L.A. outfit to be a designer. Start your own thing, find a nich and make it happen.

    If I could do it all over, I would have never gone to school and would have stuck with my landscape maintenance business from high school. I’d be in a better place than I am now. It would have evolved into a build/design practice and I’d be doing well. Then again, I’m just a bitter, unemployed, B.S.L.A with $40k in student loans who spent every penny I had to get out to CA to work for a hot-shot L.A. firm, worked 70-80 hour weeks, only to get laid off after four months, while a bunch of slackers who showed up late, left early and surfed face-book all day, got to keep their jobs.

    Honestly, the world doesn’t need Landscape Architects. It is the most confused profession out there. Nobody knows what we do because we don’t even know what we do. We are a mix-mash of things that doesn’t do any one aspect well. Developers, Architects, Engineers and Contractors really make it all happen. We just beg for scraps along the way, as much as we like to tell ourselves otherwise.

    My advice; stick with design/build, unless you want to spend a bunch of money to learn how to draw pretty pictures that you won’t get to draw once you get out into the “real world” anyway. Design/build is the only field that is doing well right now. L.A.s are a dying breed and I honestly wonder if the profession will even exist after the economy recovers, a long, long, time from now…

    By the way, after checking out your website, you do really nice, clean, work. You even have some innovative designs like those granite arcs through the flag stone. You might want to loose the 2×4 scraps holding down the irrigation tubing though 😉 Why are you going back to school? It seems to me you have the best of both worlds right now. You’re designing and building. Why get stuck drafting other peoples stuff, never seeing the light of day…?

    Trace One

    Hahahahaha!!hee..Look but don’t touch..funny..the Jessica Alba landscape..I love it! I think my landscape is the Daniel shore of landscapes – skinny, dried out, very political, recently deceased..

    Rick Spalenka

    Thomas makes many great points that can be debated. I wrote on another discussion in this forum where I know of a high school drop out who made it big in landscape construction and was hiring two LA’s with master degrees. I was in the design build business for a combined 20 years and made better money acting like a general contractor and sub contracted out everything but the design/sales. Many successful home builders don’t have laborers showing up at a yard instead they know good sub constractors. If you want to get old fast hire labor. It takes effort and costs to get a license, be it law, medical or architecture. But once you have that license you should rise above the crap. Colorado didn’t have a title/practice act for years and it showed. Every jack leg with a back hoe was a landscape architect. Now municipalities require the license for new construction and the architects, engineers and contractors are knocking on our door in order to get their applications for construction approved. I got two small development jobs just this week from architects and engineers who wouldn’t have given me the time of day a year ago. And it’s because of my license. The design/build people who can’t afford a licensed LA on their staff are now standing on the sidelines. Oh, an aside, who would have thought this recession had a silver lining? In the past whenever I tried to promote my services to engineers and architects I couldn’t get past the front guard (front desk) let alone get the architects to answer my calls. Now the architects are answering the phone and are talking about their fishing and hunting trips. It’s a great time to network.

    Josh Burwell

    Thomas- you make many great points, I think you are probably correct in most. I guess I had 2 reasons to hang it up for now and go back. First I think I was getting a little burnt out and disgusted with the labor pool. Hard to attract good help to a small company. Seems like all the good ones feel safe with the big guys. A second reason was more personal in that I have always wanted to get the degree, I guess it was on my bucket list. Plus the economy tanked two years ago when I started school, I wish I could say that was a reason then, but It sure sounds good now. I also think you are correct in that working in a stuffy LA office is not my style, I am not affraid of getting my hands dirty, although I dont mind wearing a clean shirt around town once in a while either. I think Rick’s talk out the license thing and finding good subs is a goal of mine, although I anticipate finding the subs is more difficult. Overall I am happy with the decision of going back, the time is flying by and I am sure I will not regret the break from the hecticness of the business.

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