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A celebration of young talent

Caleb Washington from Goom Landscapes was named 2023 Young Landscaper of the Year after winning a tightly contested competition between some of the best young landscapers from across the country

Open to anyone under the age of 30, RML’s annual Young Landscaper of the Year competition saw nine of New Zealand’s best go head-to-head in a written exam, practical tests and a public speaking event.

The practical section was held at Nichol’s Garden Centre in Dunedin, where the competitors were put through their paces across seven key aspects of landscaping: lawn preparation, paving, painting, digger use, profile set out, tool care and plant identification and layout.

The written exam asked competitors to calculate the areas of different shaped plots and price a landscape project based on a provided plan.

Finally, they were asked to give a speech on the topic of sustainability in landscaping.

“It takes a wide variety of skills to be a good landscaper and this competition speaks to the depth and breadth of knowledge required to excel in every area,” said RML board member and competition organiser Ollie Newman of Onlandscapes.

He added that the class of 2023 provided the strongest field of competitors yet, resulting in the closest contest in the competition’s 10-plus year history.

After carefully assessing each individual’s performance across the three elements, judges agreed on an overall winner – and it was Caleb Washington’s name that was announced at a gala dinner at Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday 2 September.

Second time's a charm

It was Washington’s second attempt at the title and his success saw him take home a cash prize of $2,500, entry to the Young Horticulturist of the Year awards, a tool bundle from PlaceMakers and a 12-month affiliate membership to Registered Master Landscapers.

“Given it was my second go, it really cemented all the work I’d done over the past year to make sure I was as prepared as possible, because I knew I’d need a diverse range of skills to do well,” said Washington.

“Last year, I felt like I let myself down a little bit. I walked away knowing I could have done better. This year was the complete opposite. I knew I’d given it my all, so no matter the result, I would have been happy.

“More importantly, it was a big win all round. It’s great to give the team at Goom something to be proud of, and hopefully it inspires some of our younger landscapers and gives them the confidence to have a go next year.”

Explain your knowledge

While the majority of the competition revolves around practical skills, the judges also want to know why tasks are performed in a certain way. Explaining his methodology is an area that Caleb felt had improved from 2022.

“It’s all very well showing the judges that you can do the practical tasks, but it’s important to explain the methodology behind that and make sure they know you’re aware of the full process behind the job, which is something I was a lot better at this time around.”

Caleb said he felt the written test went particularly well and was also proud of his performance on the paving exercise – “I really did my homework for that one!”

Like many in the competition, he reckoned the plant identification and layout was the hardest task – a feeling shared by plant ID judge Nicola Rochester from ICL Specialty Fertilizers.

“I think this is a topic everyone always dreads, and I can understand why, because it’s a tough one!” said Rochester.

“I guess there isn’t always the connection made between botanical names and the plants landscapers are putting in the ground, and it can be difficult to learn. People who know the names of plants have often been in retail or worked in a garden centre, where it can be easier to learn.”

One young landscaper who felt it was his strongest suit was first-time competitor Tyla May from Natural Habitats Waikato.

“Soft landscaping is a strong area of mine, because it’s what I mainly work in, so I was happy with my performance in those areas,” said May. “However, I wasn’t very familiar with paving, so I found that to be a bit tricky.”

A learning experience

Bernice Cumming from Firth was one of the judges at the paving station, alongside Brendan Kerr.

“We asked each competitor questions about how they’d lay the paving, but we also had the wrong materials on hand, so it was important that they recognised that as well,” said Cumming.

“We also wanted to hear how they’d set their depth and decided what pavers to use. We then gave them a scenario to work towards, which allowed us to observe their process. We were also making sure that competitors knew the BZS 3116:2002 paving standard.

“The knowledge of the contestents was impressive. You can see that some are more comfortable with paving than others, but that was to be expected. We also released a training video the week prior to the competition, and it was great to see that some of the young landscapers had watched it.”

The skill level shown in paving was reflective of the competition as a whole, said Career Development Award winner Amandeep Singh, from Natural Habitats Commercial.

“I love this competition and it’s a great experience,” said Singh. “You get to test your skills face-to-face with the top young landscapers in the country, but it’s also a great, friendly atmosphere. Everyone is helpful, the judges are great and happy to help improve your skills, so you learn a lot, which is helpful for career development.”

Thanks given

RML CEO Janine Scott said offering the experience to young people was an important part of the organisation’s role and praised the work of the judges and sponsors to “It’s important that we offer the next generation of landscapers these opportunities to grow and develop, and the Young Landscaper of the Year plays a vital part in that,” said Scott.

“Of course, without judges and industry sponsors, none of it would be possible, so I’d like to extend a hearty thanks to everyone who made the event, and the Landscapes of Distinction Awards and gala dinner, possible.”

Registered Master Landscapers is committed to supporting landscape professionals and young future leaders.

For more information contact CEO Janine Scott on

or phone 0275 444 090


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