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Combined passions craft new career path

Kate Campbell took an unusual route into landscaping and, like the gardens she now creates and looks after, she is flourishing in her new-found, award-winning career

Kate says, with a smile, that getting into the landscaping industry was a bit of a career “twist”. Nineteen years ago, she was working for the United Nations in New York, following the completion of a Masters in International Relations from the University of Otago. A few jobs later, and having already moved back to NZ, a love of the outdoors and desire to be her own boss led Kate to set up Kate Campbell Gardens in her childhood home of Arrowtown.

“As a girl, I was always inspired by my mum and her friends, seeing how they transformed spaces around Arrowtown into beautiful, tranquil and functional areas.”

Inspiration for a generation

There’s a good chance Kate wasn’t the only landscaper inspired by these women, who include Janet Blair and Mairi Speight.

Blair's 5.5ha garden near Lake Hayes has been listed as a garden of national significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust, while Speight is the architect of Speight Gardens.

Kate says she loves how the gardens respond seasonally to the local environment, which is one of the things she enjoys most about working with soft landscaping.

“I love having the ability to create living, evolving works of art that bring joy to people's lives,” says Kate.

“It's a career that allows me to combine my passion for people, creativity and the natural environment. I really do feel fortunate to be a part of this industry.”

Female role models

Having such strong female role models inspired confidence as Kate forged her own path, finding valuable support from her peers.

“My parents and their friends were pioneers, and instilled in my brother and I a can-do attitude. For example, my mum is 75 and can still wield a chainsaw and dad was one of the original venison recovery helicopter pilots. I have never thought that being a female in what is, traditionally, a male-dominated industry, is a barrier. I haven’t experienced any gender bias, and feel that my expertise and leadership are always recognised and valued,“ says Kate.

That team now numbers eight and includes Kate’s husband Matt, who uses his background working for PwC and in corporate banking to manage the financial side of the business, as well as being on the tools everyday.

Award winners

In terms of proving their expertise, a 2022 Landscapes of Distinction (LOD) award for Garden Management/Maintenance stands as a shining endorsement.

The winning project was The Elms – three luxury apartments in stunning grounds, overlooking Lake Hayes in the Wakatipu Basin.

A formal, American-style entry to the apartments is complimented by a well-maintained historical Ulmus glabra ‘Horizontalis’, which, combined with careful plant selection and management, won over the judges.

Their appraisal read:

“The gardens (designed by Suzanne Turley) include a well thought-out ground floor mixed garden, with an orchard, roses, perennials and formal clipped hedges, as well as planter boxes on the top and middle apartments to enhance their balconies. The extensive knowledge and skills needed to keep all the planting looking superb is a testament to a well-skilled team. Formal clipped hedges frame much of the garden, while several playful moments within the planting create a garden that is hard to place into a box.”

Kate says it was a project that required all her team’s collective skill and experience to complete successfully.

“It is a steep site with limited access and includes several challenging elements, from the orchard and perennial gardens to formal hedging and roof top gardens, so we really needed to understand all aspects of garden maintenance to ensure we did a good job.”

A mark of distinction

Not only did the LOD award provide a sense of achievement to the people who worked so hard on the project, it also proved to be a key point of difference in a competitive market.

“The win has been highly valuable from a marketing perspective,” says Kate. “It has allowed us to differentiate ourselves and build trust with potential clients, who recognise the recognition as a mark of quality. It also increased our visibility and the number of enquiries we receive!”

After the “tremendous honour” of their 2022 win, Kate reckons the team will be back in the running for an award in 2024, which she sees as a highlight in the Registered Master Landscapers (RML) calendar.

Kate has been with the organisation for three years and says the support network it provides has been a valuable resource.

“Being a member of RML has provided us with a supportive network of peers and resources that have been instrumental in overcoming challenges and navigating industry changes.

“The opportunity to network at regional catch-ups and industry events, like the LOD gala evening, has been important to us as a growing business!”

Organic growth

The current name of the business, Kate Campbell Gardens & Residences, alludes both to its founder’s first passion and to the wider range of services it now offers.

“We work across residential and commercial gardens doing maintenance, design and soft and hard landscaping,” says Kate.

“After being asked by an incredibly supportive client to manage the interior of their home, we also expanded into residential management, where we take care of both the inside and outside of properties.”

As a relatively new, female-led landscaping business, Kate Campbell Gardens & Residences has already established vigorous roots, with the fruits of its labours producing award-winning quality – expect a lot more to come from this dynamic team!


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