My past few blog articles have focused on big picture ideas that I hope will lead us to a sustainable future. Today I want to hone in on a specific project that I believe is an important step in guiding us towards those changes, our California Native Plant Landscaper Certification (CNPLC).

Each week, many people interact with us through our nursery, education and outreach programs. With all of those conversations, we have a wonderful built in barometer of what our community is looking for. One of the most common requests we get is for recommendations of gardeners or landscaping services that specialize in maintaining native plant landscapes.

While there are some companies that are fantastic in this regard (we curate a list that we’re happy to share, just ask our team!), there is often a lack of training on California native plants in the LA landscape industry. We view this as a missed opportunity on several levels. Potential customers have trouble finding skilled gardeners, while landscapers miss out on growing their businesses and raising their incomes through specialized offerings. And it’s not just a missed opportunity right now, but a real bottleneck. One that makes it difficult for municipal projects to be successful with native plant landscaping, and for those who employ gardeners to convert their home gardens to native plants. This has been the case for quite some time, but as sustainable/ecological gardening spreads and becomes more mainstream, the need for a workforce trained in native plant maintenance is growing.

For the past decade, TPF has worked closely with our partner the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), and a team of native plant experts throughout the state to develop a curriculum that covers all of the major aspects of maintaining a California native plant garden. Everything from site prep to pruning to irrigation is covered, and along with lecture instructions, each course contains a hands on component, sharing knowledge of these topics in the field. In addition to the horticultural curriculum, the course also touches upon marketing these new skills with the hopes of earning higher revenues. At the end of the program, students receive a ‘Certified California Native Plant Landscaper’ certificate along with decals to use in promoting their business.

With the generous support of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Community Partnerships program, and in partnership with CNPS and the US Green Building Council, LA we officially launched the CNPLC in the summer of 2020. During the one year pilot phase, the course was offered in Spanish and English, with priority given to sole proprietor businesses. To date, 139 landscape professionals have completed the certification program. I’m happy to share that LADWP has funded a second round of these trainings. Over the next twelve months, we expect another 300 individuals will complete this program.

With this program we have the opportunity to make significant and impactful changes to our landscape, which can preserve the unique ecology of Southern California while saving water and reducing the use of chemicals and plastic in the landscape. At the same time, we can lift up workers in the landscape industry, giving them new skills and access to a new clientele.

Innovative, nature based solutions to our biodiversity and climate crises are essential, and if they can help elevate a historically underpaid sector of the labor market at the same time, that is a real win for everyone. To learn more about the CNPLC, visit the landing page here.