If I were going to move to another country I would want to learn their language as soon as possible. I would learn enough in the beginning to get by, and then gradually learn more to be able to express anything on my mind.
Plant information is a lot like a language. From an artistic standpoint we use the different plant types, forms, textures and colors to create all kinds of compositions. There are architectural and period styles, even different feelings and moods we can communicate – just like with a language. All by arranging the right selection of plants.
From a practical standpoint we use plant information to solve problems in the landscape. Just like we use a language to communicate a solution.
A cornerstone is something that is basic, essential, indispensable, and the main foundation upon which something is constructed or developed.
Even if you’re a lawn care contractor a fundamental knowledge of plants will help your business. In fact, if you’re well-versed on turf you already have a good understanding of plant life in general. And although plants can be very different from one another, there’s also a lot they have in common.
No matter what your specialty within the industry, it’s all part of the landscape. Everything is integrated in one form or another. Having an understanding at some “base level” on each of the parts of the landscape system makes you better at the particular thing you do. For example, an irrigation contractor with some plant knowledge can more effectively design a sprinkler system than one who doesn’t.
For the landscape architect, designer and landscape contractor plant information is truly cornerstone. You simply can’t provide the best solutions for landscapes without plant knowledge. Period. A major portion of the work I do is “renovations”. Some of these renovations are only a few years old. The most common errors on these landscapes is the incorrect selection, arrangement and spacing of plant material.
You Can Build Your Plant Knowledge Easily Everyday
As you’d expect there is an endless number of plants out there. You could take it upon yourself to just start studying and memorizing information, but experience has shown me that learning like that “doesn’t stick”. The best way to discover new information and remember it is while looking for a specific solution.
For example, let’s say your client wants to replace an overgrown spruce on the corner of their home. You know that was the wrong choice because it’s hanging over the house. You measure the space the new replacement will have to grow (at maturity) and also take notice of the surroundings (exposure, soil type, wet or dry, grading, etc.).
You may already have an idea what that new plant should be, but here’s my approach. When you visit the supplier(s) look for the plant you may have in mind, but at the same time consider something different. You know the basic form and growth habit you’re after – let that be the identifier for another possible choice.
If another plant has that basic form and habit take a minute to consider it. Odds are good it’s labeled in some way with basic information. In my truck I carry 2 books for reference: Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs by Michael Dirr and The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. These 2 books are also great for showing pictures of plants to clients. Michael Dirr’s “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” (pictured here) is an outstanding reference too. It is more comprehensive and detailed, but without color pictures.
This learning experience is part of your productive day. Maybe you did discover and purchase a new and different plant for that spruce replacement. But even if you didn’t you’ll likely remember the one or two others you considered. That process of solving a particular problem creates an association with the new plants you looked at. This association is what helps file it in your memory.
Another way to gather new information on plants is to just be aware of their use in other landscapes. I’m always checking out properties as I go about my day, and invariably I’ll spot an interesting plant being used. It could be a plant I have never seen before, or maybe the way it’s being used is unique. Both circumstances are learning experiences to add to your knowledge base.
We’re all busy trying to be productive and profitable every minute of our day. Don’t let that stop you from expanding your knowledge. Make learning a part of your day. You’ll benefit directly because you become a better expert – your work will show that and your reputation grows. In addition, use your knowledge to “educate” your clients & prospects. This gets their attention and respect…and you know what that gets!