Following in her father’s landscaping footsteps
Martin Brown never expected his daughters to follow him into the landscape/tree surgeon business.
“If you’d asked me five years ago I would have said ’probably not’,” the owner of Brown & Company said.
But his younger daughter, Poppy, fell in love with the industry working for him one summer.
She’d just obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology but decided, she was more interested in landscape design and horticulture.
“I liked working with plants,” the 24-year-old said.
And she liked the creativity of landscape design.
“My staff thought she’d be a shoo-in, being the boss’s daughter,” Mr Brown said. “They were surprised when I insisted she work in the field, and go back to school to get qualified.”
Ms Brown has just completed her City & Guilds advanced technical diploma in horticulture (Level 3) at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, England. She graduated with distinction and won the Sir Harold Hillier Trophy for best overall performance in horticulture for the year. Due to the pandemic, she had to pass up a work experience opportunity at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens’ arboretum in Romsey, Hampshire.
“I just did the work experience internally at Brown & Company,” she said. “I was working with all the crews and getting to know everyone, which was nice. I was getting some more practical experience.”
She also did a work placement with the Bermuda National Trust working with the conservation manager preparing conservation management plans for some of their sites.
“My main project there was to draw up a conservation management plan for Butterfield Nature Reserve in Fairylands, which simply put, involves culling invasive species and gradually introducing more native and endemics in order to sustain the habitat,” she said. “I'm excited to see this through to completion.”
On a typical day at Brown and Company she is in the yard getting work crews ready to go at 7.30am.
“We have five crews and about 23 employees,” she said.
Much of her day is spent organising quotes for jobs or doing plant runs. Sometimes she will fill in for missing crew members.
“I have been up a tree once with rope and harness, and would like to get out there more,” she said.
Ms Brown said there are not many other women in her chosen industry. Besides her stepmother, Sarah, who works in the office, she is the only female in the company.
So far, her male colleagues have been very supportive.
“But they want to help me when there is heavy lifting,” she said. “I just say I’m okay.”
Her hope is that other women will see her working in landscape design and horticulture and give it a try themselves.
“It’s fun working outdoors,” she said.
The plan is for Ms Brown to gradually take the reins from her father, but he has no immediate plans to retire.
“I will probably never retire,” he said. “I will always want to come in and kick the tyres and do the bigger design jobs. I love drawing. It is nice to be able to do when you are not so time pressured to get out on site and supervise.”
He started the company in 2000. Now his clients are typically residential.
“We did the installation at the Loren a couple of years ago,” he said. “We do the ongoing maintenance there. But we have typically worked a lot for Belco doing utility line clearance. We haven’t done as much this year. I think they have other priorities right now.”
Mr Brown is chair of the occupational advisory committee with workforce development. He said over the years they have tried many different ways to get Bermudians interested in landscape and horticulture as a career.
And while they have sent young Bermudians abroad for training, most of them have returned to the island to work in a different field, or not returned to Bermuda at all.
“It is nice that we have helped them develop a career, but we are not really reaping the reward of it now,” he said.
Mr Brown said at Brown & Company they will always give someone a try if they come for an interview and he sees something in them.
He said the soft skills, being on time, being polite and working a steady eight-hour job are very important.