Fulfilling her innate talent as a gardener Email
Written by Colorado Green NOW   
Tuesday, November 24, 2020 03:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Debbie Stavish, owner, gardener and designer at Deb’s Gardening, LLC, founded her company in2001 after working with another small gardening business for about a year and a half. Deb’sGardening was a one-person company for a short time until she hired a helper while she was pregnant and caring for an infant who was born in 2002. During this time, she also earned her master Gardener Certificate from El Paso County.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in communication from University of Colorado - ColoradoSprings (UCCC), Stavish worked with Colorado State Parks, USDA Forest Service and a California winery. Her passion for nature and honoring the existing environment made the green industry an ideal fit for her gardening career that followed.

Design came mostly naturally
“I learned some about design in the Master Gardener labs,” says Stavish. “I also did some self-study with books to learn more about design. And working for the Forest Service and State Parks allowed me to see natural beauty often, the way nature designed it.”

When Stavish’s designs started to receive awards, things changed. “My company grew very quickly after receiving two statewide Excellence in Landscape Grand Awards in 2005 from ALCC. We grew from two to 15 people. We have stayed at around 13-15 people since then.”

Stavish’s designs continued to win awards for the next several years. “My designs seem to arise from inside, from my own inner resources, rather than from a lot of schooling, and they seem to work for my clients who want unique and interesting designs,” Stavish reflects. “We are fortunate that clients keep coming to us, either as continuing clients or from word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, we have to turn away a lot of people.”

Design is creative but maintenance brings in the money
Cultivation and care are always important aspects of any gardening endeavor, yet maintenance is a core part of the total income picture. “We have very low turnover with our maintenance clients,” says Stavish. “They [new potential clients] call us all the time about maintenance contracts but we have few openings.”

“The pandemic slowed us down for a month early in the season as we learned the rules and how tobe safe. Several employees had to quarantine. Our crews are compliant with the COVID safety mandates and pull up their masks when others are nearby. Other than a late start, it’s been a busy season for us, both maintenance and plant installation have remained consistent income streams.”

To grow or not to grow
Why not grow? “I’m not interested in growing the company beyond about 15 because that’s the maximum size crew I can, or want to, manage,” says Stavish. “It works well for current employees. Only one is full-time and the others, who are part-time, pair it with another part-time job. Our teams are made of people with varied backgrounds. For example, some are firefighters who love to do this work on their off-time—though not this season. This year we had several students—high school and college—who were out of school due to the pandemic, and several with military training and service working for us.” Stavish acknowledges another reason not to grow, a challenge shared by most green industry companies: labor.

“As the season winds down, our crew eventually shrinks to two as we handle fall displays and holiday decorating. Our skeleton off-season crew also does winter watering for clients.” Changing priorities “Is gardening a dying art?” wonders Stavish. She asks this question because she fields numerous calls requesting her company’s services that she turns down, and “gardening centers don’t seem to have many names to recommend.” In Stavish’s experience, people want gardening services, yet there seems to be a shortage of gardening professionals to handle the demand, pointing to an area of opportunity for those interested in gardening as a career. 

Her future plans involve teaching, which may introduce more young people to this in-demand career. After nearly 20 years in business, Stavish wants to “put more time into educating people about the value of gardening and the difference it can make in the world.” 

“I want to do more design consulting and more teaching. I want to help people understand the value of their backyards as a habitat and how it benefits the larger ecosystem. Using native and adaptable plants that attract pollinators and birds is hugely beneficial,” she says. “I also want to do some ‘hands-on consulting’ by working in a garden with people, especially young people who, because of circumstances, may not have access to a yard or garden. This feels very important to me now.” Stavish already teaches classes offered through Summerland Gardens and hopes to find ways to expand teaching.

“Lastly,” says Stavish, “I’m very grateful to this career for supporting me while being a single mom raising my son and for all the people who have been part of our great teams over the years.”

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Colorado Green magazine.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
To party or not to party--and how
Colorado Springs Utilities earns another HIRE Vets Medallion

How a hobby became a decades-long career