Landscape Horticulture alumna Julie King makes gardening her life’s profession
In 1980, Julie King had just graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., with an Environmental Studies in Geology degree, but the responsibilities of starting a family led her away from that career path.
Working briefly in the field of geology, King married and several years later moved overseas with her husband, whose job had taken him to England.
“I worked for the Geological Survey the summer after my senior year,” King said. “In 1989, my husband and I moved to England with our three kids ages 6 weeks, 2 years and 6 years.”
Family entertainment on weekends involved visiting the National Trust properties throughout southern England where she took in the historic gardens and castles. The kids usually found a maze to occupy their time.
“I was exposed to amazing gardens,” she said. “We had 130 rosebushes in the backyard of the house that we rented. Everywhere it was just gorgeous—and that’s what got me interested in gardening again.”
After returning to the states, King began checking into colleges with strong landscape horticulture programs. She briefly considered going to the University of Minnesota, but the vast university setting wasn’t conducive to getting her children to and from preschool and kindergarten on time.
As it turned out, the convenience of Dakota County Technical College’s smaller campus fit perfectly with her busy, family-first lifestyle—as did the Landscape Horticulture program’s curriculum, which offered a full-range of classes in one centralized location.
“I started out taking one course to see what I thought of the program,” she said. “During my first few years, I stayed with one or two courses at a time as they fit into my schedule.”
By 1997, she had earned her A.A.S. degree in landscape horticulture, having focused initially on greenhouse operations before moving on to landscape design with the arrival of Matt Brooks, the instructor she credits with piquing her interest in the design portion of the program.
As part of her studies, King eventually accepted an internship at a local company called Artgarden, working for landscape designer, Jodi Hohman, for the first eight years of her landscaping career.
While at Artgarden, King met Colleen Corcoran, another student in the DCTC Landscape Horticulture program. In 2006, with Hohman approaching retirement, King and Corcoran bought the contracts for Artgarden’s garden maintenance clients and started their own company called Sage Landscape Design, which services homes in throughout the Twin Cities area.
“Colleen and I have divided up our business so that she primarily does the design work,” King said. “She meets with clients, creates the landscape designs and oversees the installations.”
King and her crew handle the garden maintenance aspect of Sage, a job she loves because it gives her the chance to be active and work outside when she might otherwise be cooped up in an office—especially on perfect spring days.
She noted that garden maintenance is a part of her company that shows solid growth potential. Even in a tough economy, homeowners are still looking to maintain their gardens and landscaping—and that’s one area they aren’t cutting back.
A resident of the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, King serves on the advisory committee for DCTC’s Landscape Horticulture program. Having been a student, she understands the coursework and operates from an ideal position to offer expert advice on curriculum changes that will keep the program current with a Minnesota green industry that tops $2 billion in sales annually.
As an employer, she is interested in students gaining the practical experience they need to jump directly into the workforce. “We’ve found that DCTC grads are better trained,” she said. “They understand the nuts and bolts of our industry. As a small company, we are looking for new employees that don’t need a lot of training and can get right to work.”
In 2009, the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association recognized King with a prestigious Merit Award for Residential Full Yard Management. Her Lake Residence submission received the following praise from the MNLA judging panel: “The health and appearance is very good for this yard. Overall it was very well done, showing appreciation for more naturalized materials, especially in the back.”
One thing King values in her job is the trust she has earned with her clients. In concert with garden maintenance, she works closely with her clients to arrive at the design that best meets their needs.
“We get to work on some wonderful estates,” she said. “The owners really want everything to look good. Their homes are showcases and they leave it to the professionals to take care of their gardens, woodland areas, shrubs, perennials and annual designs.”
The DCTC Landscape Horticulture program offers students the technical and business skills needed to succeed in the landscape industry. First-year students learn the basic science and technical skills related to all fields of landscape horticulture. Second-year students specialize in one of three interest areas:
- Design and Sales
- Landscape Construction
- Plant Production (nursery and greenhouse)
Landscape professionals design, install and care for residential, commercial and public landscapes. They also find rewarding work in nurseries, greenhouses and garden centers as well as in exterior and interior landscape or maintenance firms.
According iHireLandscaping.com, landscape designers in Minnesota earn a median salary that approaches $41,000/year. Top earners make well over $60,000/year.