Back at the shop, a series of training initiatives are ongoing. Most sessions take place first thing in the morning before crews depart to the field. Some of the usual topics are covered, including safety, first aid and proper equipment operation. Handouts are provided in both English and Spanish.
On that note, Special Gardens has also started providing classes to help employees improve their English. Obviously, words and phrases that will improve jobsite communication are covered. However, the primary purpose of these workshops is to help employees learn better English in general to make their lives easier.
The training doesn't stop there, though. The Plant of the Week program helps employees improve their plant identification skills, and also gain a better understanding of how to care for different kinds of plants. Safer and more efficient pruning procedures are also frequently discussed, as well as safe spraying application for plants and trees.
ongoing training at Special Gardens includes discussions on the safe use and storage of chemicals.
Thorough irrigation training in both English and Spanish is also offered. Detailed maintenance
processes are also taught:
• Things to do when patrolling a property before maintenance work begins
• Mower and string trimmer operation
• Proper edging techniques with special considerations for sprinkler heads
• Safe and courteous debris blower operation
• Things to do when patrolling a garden area (before and after work is complete)
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Lopez and Highsmith agree that employees are always very appreciative of the extensive training they receive at Special Gardens, particularly the all-day, on-site sessions. "Employees take more pride in their jobs when they have more knowledge and skill, and nothing conveys that importance more than investing in their education," Highsmith says.
To take training and pride to the next level, Special Gardens administers written tests on a regular basis. Testing allows employees to show what they've learned and earn some positive recognition. On the other hand, the tests can also point out shortfalls in an individual's training. Whatever the case, nobody skates through training without understanding the information and procedures so they can improve their performance. The tests aren't a way to catch slackers or embarrass people. The are about helping individuals learn and grow so the team as a whole can improve.
Another way Special Gardens encourages stronger team performance is by cross-training. Hand pruning specialists also operate equipment, and vice versa. "The meticulous attention to detail required in hand pruning carries over when that person is mowing or trimming," Lopez points out.
Job titles play an important role at Special Gardens as well. "We have Project Managers who manage maintenance accounts, and Lead Gardeners who run the crews," Highsmith says. "We then like to call our workers 'Assistant Gardeners' so they feel like they play a more important role in the process—because they do."
This is perhaps the biggest reason Special Gardens has had good luck keeping employees over the years. Some have even left the company, only to return later. Investing in their education helps Highsmith and Lopez show employees that they are part of something special. When everything comes together in the end, customers realize it, too.
Making a Partnership Work
Gabriel Lopez and Maia Highsmith each worked for different landscape companies before teaming
up in 1999. The two met while servicing adjacent properties one
Lopez actually worked for Special Gardens, while Highsmith worked for another area company. Lopez eventually recruited Highsmith to come work for Special Gardens, and in 2003 the two bought the company from the founding owners and became partners.
They agree that the key to making a partnership work is having talents that complement one another. Each has something he or she focuses on, so they aren't always stepping on each other's toes or duplicating efforts. At the same time, both share a commitment to training and development, and have a keen understanding of what really makes a landscape maintenance company successful: good people with pride in what they do.