A few weeks ago, I shared some info and opinion on the drought in Southern California (available to watch on our YouTube channel if you missed it.) In preparation for that talk, I was more attuned than normal to the state of our landscape here in Los Angeles. As I went about my life, traveling around the city, it really hit me how wasteful many of our landscapes are. High water, low biodiversity lawns are everywhere. If LA is going to have the large scale shift that water managers and ecologists are telling us we need, there is a huge amount of work to do.

Many people (likely many of you) have already made those changes, or are in the process of making them in their gardens. Nonprofessional gardeners are very important contributors to this transition, but in order to achieve the scale of change that is required, there needs to be major shifts within the professional landscape industry in Southern California. There’s incredible opportunity right now for knowledgeable, horticulturally minded landscape professionals to reimagine gardens, parks, municipal landscapes and other outdoor environments in LA. I suspect that turning that vision into tangible change will be a great business opportunity for those with the right experience.

For many years at Theodore Payne Foundation, we’ve been part of a wonderful community of landscapers, designers, landscape architects, arborists, environmental educators and other professionals. Many of those individuals support our programs, teach our classes, share their time and expertise during our sales, and much more. We are incredibly grateful to those people (you know who you are!) While the ecosystem of Los Angeles environmentally minded landscaper professionals has been around for a long time, it’s not big enough in its current state to take on the challenge of converting vast tracts of lawn and other high water plantings into sustainable, ecologically diverse landscapes. During the last drought, some companies exploited this niche and arguably created more problems than solutions. This was in part due to gaps in the sustainable landscape industry.

With that in the back of our minds, we’ve been working hard on a brand new website that will serve as a portal to educate the next generation of native plant landscapers, and provide support and structure to the existing environmentally conscious landscape industry in Southern California. The new website, known as the TPF Professional Education Portal (PEP) is live, and I encourage you to take a look. It will serve four primary functions, which we hope will accelerate the transition to a new landscape paradigm in Los Angeles:

  1. Deliver classes for professionals, including our flagship professional class, the California Native Plant Landscaper Certification program. In addition to the CNPLC, we plan to host special advanced courses on a range of topics.
  2. Provide a job board where homeowners, business owners and others can connect to environmentally minded landscape professionals. (Check out TPF Director of Horticulture Tim Becker’s blog post announcing the job board and seeking a gardener for his own extra-curricular landscape project.)
  3. Provide a community forum for professionals to discuss the horticultural, business and other dimensions of the changing landscape of Southern California.
  4. Consolidate resources for professionals looking to save water and create habitat.

Some of these features are accessible to everyone, including nonprofessionals (anyone can post a job or learn more about the programs for instance), but some features require a membership into the website. Membership is free for those currently working, or starting on a new career in the Southern California landscape industry (including landscapers, gardeners, arborists, designers, landscape architects, educators and more.) Those interested should fill out this brief survey to determine if you are eligible and receive login information. Once registered, you’ll be able to take classes, see job postings, the resources page, and community forums.

The success of this project will rely on community input and direction. Whether you are an experienced professional, aspiring student, or a member of the general public who cares about these issues, we hope you’ll share this new resource widely, and help us usher in a new era of low water, habitat creating landscaping in Southern California. I’m so proud of the team that put this together, in particular, Marie Astrid Gonzalez, Tim Becker, Erin Johnson, Brenda Kyle and Anjali Berger. It would not have been possible without the support of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, California Native Plant Society, and US Green Building Council, LA.

The drought provides a unique opportunity to make very meaningful changes to the local environment in Southern California. If we grow the existing environmental landscape ethos, we’ll be adding a different set of goals and motivations to what currently exists. Rather than an industry which focuses solely on aesthetics, form and function, we’ll have one that also incorporates sustainability and environmental impact as important factors to consider and implement in landscape projects. This is achievable, but it will require new organizational infrastructure and a strong sense of community. I am hopeful that our new Professional Education Portal can help bring us closer to this vision, and we look forward to developing it in partnership with other members of the Southern California landscape industry. I hope you enjoy the site!