How landscapers balance work and home life

When one or both people in a relationship work in the green industry, they face unique challenges in order to make family a priority.

Brett and Denise Lemcke at the R.M. Landscape office with their dog, Mia.
© Kate Melton

Before dating or marrying a landscaper, people might enter into the relationship with some misconceptions on what a landscaping job entails.

“You hear landscaper and think mowing lawns and planting flowers,” says Denise Lemcke, an assistant principal at an elementary school in Webster, New York.

Lemcke started dating and eventually married a landscaper, which showed her other aspects of the industry, though. She watched her husband, Brett, team with his dad to grow R.M. Landscape, their father-son landscaping business in Hilton, New York. Also, with Brett involved in the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), she learned the size of the industry.

“I didn’t realize how big the entire industry is,” Denise says.

Living with a landscaper has also given her a new appreciation for landscape design and the impact it has on a home or business.

“Before Brett, I never paid attention to any of that,” she says. “Now, it’s hard not to pay attention. You appreciate beautiful landscape work and when something is lacking, you recognize the need for it.”

Living with a landscaper has perks, but there are also challenges. Lawn & Landscape talked to a few people who married someone in the green industry about what it’s like to live with a landscaper and how the couples try to maintain a good work-life balance.

Marrying a landscaper showed Denise Lemcke that there is more to landscaping than mowing and planting flowers.
© Kate Melton

Brett & Denise LEMCKE

About: They started dating in the early 2000s and married in 2007. Brett is the vice president of R.M. Landscape in Hilton, New York. Denise is the assistant principal at Klem Road North Elementary School in Webster, New York. They have one son and two daughters.

Brett and Denise started dating in their early 20s; however, both grew up on opposite sides of the state. Brett was from western New York, working as vice president of R.M. Landscape, his father’s business. Denise was from the Albany, New York, area a few hours east of Brett, working as an elementary school teacher. When they decided they wanted to get married, it was clear one or both would have to relocate.

“I knew I would have to be the one to move,” Denise says. “I knew the family business was his passion and the family business was so grounded in the Rochester area. So, certainly it would be much easier for me to be the one to move and find a teaching job. It was an easy job search, thankfully.”

Denise accepted a job offer in the Rochester area for the 2005-2006 school year, moved in with Brett the summer before her job started and he officially proposed that fall. They got married in 2007.

During their first few years of marriage, Brett says he and Denise had opposite work schedules. While Denise had summers off as an educator, this marked the busiest time of year at R.M. Landscape. However, he says the opposite schedules were good once they had children.

“There was the responsibility of keeping (kids) busy and in camps (in summer) and that fell on her,” he says. “The benefits of an educator are fairly valuable to the family and business. It avoided me from having to get (benefits) through my company. I thought she and I aligned well, we just had different schedules.”

Yet the past three years, Brett and Denise are both busy in summer since Denise transitioned into a year-round role as an assistant principal after grad school.

“Currently, our plan is Brett gets the kids off in the morning,” she says. “The oldest gets on the bus. Our twins are not yet in school, so he drives them to day care. Then, I pick everyone up in the afternoon. And that works for right now. Come spring, there may be a shift in how we do that. So, we are constantly looking at our calendars and making changes. It’s a team approach.”

She adds that marrying a landscaper has given their three kids – Anna, 7, and twins Brooks and Tessa, 4 – a taste of the landscaping industry. The kids often visit their dad’s office to play with the “big toys” R.M. Landscape uses. The family will frequent the office on weekends, as Brett’s father’s house is also located on the same land as the office.

“The kids like to go to daddy’s office,” she says, adding a highlight is using a UTV to pull snow tubes behind it. Or, there are some days the Lemcke kids will join dad at work.

Pictured from left: Rick, Tessa, Denise, Mia (dog), Brooks, Anna and Brett Lemcke
© Kate Melton

“Our twins (Brooks and Tessa) have been to (R.M. Landscape’s) safety meetings with safety vests on in the middle of our huddles,” Brett says. “I have also brought them to jobsites to hand out candy bars and Gatorades to team members. They wear R.M. hoodies. We come out to the facility, which has a pond, to fish. Like my time with my father here, this is just part of our life.”

Brett usually travels six to 10 times a year due to his involvement with NALP and industry peer groups. However, Denise says Brett always makes family a priority when traveling by FaceTiming his kids each day he’s out of town.

While both Brett and Denise have leadership roles at their work, they try to leave work behind when they’re at home.

“Bret doesn’t talk about the ins and outs of business too often with me,” she says. “I think it’s good we have separate paths we both love that fill us up professionally, so when we come together as family, it’s about family. Brett has a good ability to focus on family and separate work.”

Brett advises those working in landscaping to delegate and let go of certain responsibilities that can be passed down to others, which he says frees up his time and helps him to focus on family more once he’s home. “Tasks that are good to delegate are those that don’t align with the role you are in,” he says. “I used to manage crews, but now that we have area managers I can delegate that responsibility to them. Anytime you can lose another ‘hat’ is another chance to spend time with the family.”

Also, Denise recommends “unplugging” for family time by setting phones and laptops aside so work is less of a distraction at home. For the Lemcke family, she says they keep phone and laptop use to a minimum in evenings after everyone’s home from work or school, and if it’s a vacation, that’s a time they completely unplug.

“We do our best to stay off phones and laptops until after the kids go to bed,” Denise says. “We make the most of our time together in the evening by playing with the kids, helping with homework or snuggling on the couch.”

Occasionally, Denise says work slips into family time – sometimes Brett asks her to proofread R.M. Landscape memos or he’ll ask her for training advice because of her educator experience, but they keep the work-related talks to a minimum.

“Anyone driven with their career will always have work on their mind, but recognize that there’s someone across the table,” Brett says. “The reason you’re doing all this work is for your family. If you’re wildly successful but at the cost of relationships, would you still call it a success? For me, no. I’m not perfect at this, but I recognize this priority.”

Photo courtesy of the Leonard family

Stephanie & Eric LEONARD

About: They started dating in 2002 and got married in 2006. Eric is a law enforcement professional. Stephanie is the co-owner of Brad Rose Landscaping in Rensselaer, New York. They have two daughters.

Eric and Stephanie first met in 1992 at a restaurant. Stephanie’s family went there for dinner and Eric was her family’s waiter.

“They tipped well,” Eric says. “And Stephanie left a note on the table for me to call her.”

And he did. But when Eric learned she was still in high school at the time (and Stephanie learned he was already in college), they decided to hold off on dating. They didn’t reconnect until 2002 when they met at a bar. From that point on, Stephanie says they were inseparable.

When Eric and Stephanie got married in 2006, neither was working full-time in landscaping. Stephanie grew up in a landscaping family – her father owned Brad Rose Landscaping as a side job in Rensselaer, New York – but she didn’t decide to work full-time in the landscaping business until 2008 when she already had a newborn daughter.

“I worked for the state at a desk job,” she says. “It was a great place to work, but I had a draw to being outside and I hated being inside.”

So, Stephanie’s father invited her to join him full-time at Brad Rose Landscaping. She says her father treated the company as a side job until 2005 when he retired from Amtrak. At that point, he still wanted to work, so he devoted more time to growing his landscaping business. With Stephanie joining him full-time in 2008, the two were able to grow the business from a $100,000-revenue company in the mid-2000s to a $1.3-million revenue company by 2015.

Eric says he had no concerns or misconceptions of his wife leaving a desk job for landscaping, having already learned the ins and outs of the industry from his father-in-law. In fact, he even encouraged Stephanie to make the career change.

“I don’t think I would have traveled down this road and made the transition if Eric wasn’t my partner,” Stephanie says. “I think (my dad’s) business might have closed.”

Eric Leonard volunteers his time to his wife’s landscaping company, Brad Rose Landscaping, when he’s not working his job in the law enforcement industry.

While Eric didn’t follow his wife into landscaping – he has held a career in New York state law enforcement since 1999 – he often offers to help with the business. When they decided to move the business out of Stephanie’s father’s home and into an office, Eric helped them figure out how to lay out the new office property. Once the office was set up and established, Eric continued volunteering for Brad Rose Landscaping when he can on weekends and evenings to clean the shop, maintain the property and fix equipment. He also provides Stephanie with unbiased, outside perspective on business decisions.

“I call myself their ‘project coordinator,’” he jokes. “I’ve enjoyed watching the business grow from their first little lawn tractor with a backhoe and then move up to bigger pieces of equipment.”

Although the family had to rely on Eric’s paychecks more when Stephanie and her father were building the business in the late 2000s, her job helped the family by giving Stephanie more flexibility to be a mom and meet clients on her own time. By being her own boss, she says she could have her daughters join her on sales calls if needed while Eric was at work.

“There have been times where I meet clients with my kids,” Stephanie says. “Sometimes they need to use the bathroom while I’m with a client – they’ll say, ‘Mom, I have to go to the bathroom,’ while I’m in a consultation. Yet nine times out of 10, I’ll still end up with the job. Clients understand I’m a working mom.”

Both Eric and Stephanie work slightly nontraditional hours while also raising two kids, but they make it a priority to talk to one another first thing in the morning to share plans for the day and divvy up household responsibilities. Then, they reconvene at the end of the day.

“We sit down, look at everything we have to do and talk about it,” Eric says. “I have to say we balance each other out well as far as workload. If things need to be done at the house and she’s busy, I have no problem mopping or vacuuming. When I need help because I’m gone due to work, I know she’s got my back as well.”

Eric advises all couples in the green industry to talk regularly throughout the day – either by texting or a quick phone call – so work and busyness don’t overwhelm them. He and Stephanie add that connecting their calendars on their phones also helps staying connected throughout the day.

Also, Stephanie recommends speaking up to a significant other if it seems like they’re burning out due to work. “If I tell him it seems like he’s working too much, he doesn’t get offended,” she says. “And he’ll try to get me in check, too, by saying, ‘Hey, it looks like you’re burning out. You can’t keep doing these long days.’”

And when they both have rough work weeks, they say extended family and close friends can be a big help.

“There is never a time we’ve asked for help from our close-knit group that we’ve been left high and dry,” Stephanie says. “That includes parents, friends, great neighbors. So, have a huge support system.”

Photo courtesy of the Carpenter family


About: They started dating as arboriculture students in 2005 and got married in 2010. Ed is the owner of North American Training Solutions (NATS). Marcy is the owner of Arbor One Tree Service, started in 2009. They have one daughter.

Ed and Marcy Carpenter describe themselves as a tree care couple, both having careers that relate to arboriculture.

“Husband and wife as well as father and mother are our most important job titles,” Ed says. “But working in the tree and landscape industry is really a lifestyle for us. It’s not just a job.”

Even their daughter, Sophora, is named after a tree.

They met and started dating in the early 2000s as students in a two-year arboriculture program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, a unit of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After graduating, both worked for Massachusetts-based tree care companies. Ed also worked part-time for North American Training Solutions (NATS), which provides equipment training and tree care industry training. And in 2009, Ed teamed with a colleague to start Arbor One Tree Service in Douglas, Massachusetts.

“We started with the intent of doing something a little different with tree care,” Ed says. “We happened to start it at the worst time to start a business, smack-dab in the middle of the Recession. So, the first couple of years were a real struggle, paying more in insurance fees than we were paying ourselves. It was Marcy, I and my business partner working and living in a second-story apartment.”

However, the tree care business boomed two years later due to demand for their work after a few severe storms hit Massachusetts in 2011. They moved out of the apartment and into a rental home to live and run the business.

“That year, we had more work than we knew what to do with,” he says. “So, Arbor One quadrupled its size in a very short time period.”

Yet in 2012, Ed’s business partner decided to move and leave the business. Around the same time, Ed was starting to work more with his part-time job at NATS, which required a lot of travel for training events. So, to keep the tree care business running strong, Marcy left her other tree care job and stepped in as owner of Arbor One.

“I was also pregnant,” Marcy says. “Sophora was born March 2012, so that’s when I started being a mom and a business owner.”

She says the transition to being a mom and a business owner at the same time was challenging, but the family and company made it a new normal.

With both Ed and Marcy working nontraditional hours, they set aside work and focus on family when they are home.

“People were pretty understanding,” Marcy says. “At seven weeks old, Sophora would come with me to check on crews. I wasn’t doing tree work, of course, but she went with me to meet the guys. The guys would often joke with me, ‘Where’s the big boss today?’ if I didn’t bring her.”

Today, the Carpenters have nontraditional schedules. Ed now works full-time at NATS as he acquired the business in 2015 with a goal of expanding the program nationally, but this puts him on the road about 180 days out of the year. Marcy’s work at Arbor One also has her working odd hours to meet clients.

“It’s certainly not the normal 9-to-5 clock in, clock out lifestyle, but that wouldn’t be for us, anyway,” Marcy says.

However, Ed says they always aim to make focused family time either at the end of the day or when he’s back from travel. He adds that he has a goal to appoint more regionalized trainers at NATS, so his travel will be more localized in the future.

Also, they say having a six-year-old daughter helps them to set aside work and focus on family when they’re home.

“That puts us into parent mode,” Marcy adds. “So, cooking and eating supper together when we’re all here is very important to us. We really enjoy those small moments, like Friday night laying on the couch eating popcorn together are just awesome family times because those might be the only two hours we’ll all have together. Or, spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon pruning apple trees with Sophora. The little moments put things into perspective.”

For other couples both working in the industry to build a company together, Ed recommends they seek a third-party consultant for outside perspective to prevent conflicts at work from following them home. He says this was “tremendously helpful” to he and Marcy in the early years of Arbor One when both were working in the business.

“Any time you’re in a relationship and a business together, emotion can run high,” he says. “When emotion is high, intelligence is low. So, have someone serve as a third-party – a referee – who is removed from the situation. This was good for both of us early on when we were still trying to figure everything out and what was my responsibility or Marcy’s responsibility.”

When starting Arbor One, Ed says they had lots of field knowledge but lacked business knowledge, which led to confusion and some disagreements.

“We could prune the heck out of a tree, but the skills it takes to run a business and the skills to do the work are different,” he says.

So, a consultant helped as their “referee” to build Arbor One and minimize conflict from following them home. Since then, Ed says they have had the opportunity to pass their insight on to another boyfriend-girlfriend team starting a tree care business in Maine. “They asked us very similar questions (Marcy and I) were asking,” he says. “So, we’re hoping to pay it forward for the next generation.”

April 2018
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