Whether he knew it or not, Luke Robertson’s life was leading him to a moment of choice – strike out on his own or take a job that wouldn’t fulfil his ambitions. You could say his decision, and the decisions he made before that, were all part of some grand design
Luke Robertson always considered starting his own business but never felt ready to take the leap of faith. As it turns out, he didn’t need to. All he needed was the right circumstances to give him a shove.
“The company I was working for shut down, which left me two weeks to decide what to do next with a mortgage to pay and a young family to look after,” he explains. “I made some panic phone calls and was offered two roles, but neither of them was right for me. In the end, I started up Epic Landscape Design – which is something I’d always thought about, but never felt quite ready for, until I was kind of forced into it.”
Luke was confident his background in horticulture and extensive experience in landscape design would see him right. His first role was at a nursery in Christchurch working part-time during school holidays, which gave him the bug. “I was offered a full-time role and then qualified as a horticulturist, before working my way up to Nursery Manager,” says Luke.
“I learned a huge amount about plants and, by working closely with landscape architects, about how they integrate with landscape design.”
Master of all trades
A spell at Texture Plants expanded his plant knowledge, says Luke, and gave him a chance to do some design work of his own – initially on an ad hoc basis. Luke’s designs were so popular that Texture Plants hired several full-time landscape architects and designers.
With that fruitful blend of design and plant knowledge to rely on, Luke took the plunge and started Epic Landscape Design four years ago. It was a bold move, and the right one – the business is now well established among Canterbury’s landscapers and mainly works in the residential space with Luke as the sole full-time designer (he also employs a third-year landscape architecture student on a part-time basis).
Luke says the fact he only offers design services lets him focus on the things he does best.
“When I started the company, I wanted to stick to my knitting and do what I know well. Even though I have a good understanding of how to construct my designs, it’s not a huge part of my background. I’m a big believer in doing what we do well and letting other people do what they do well.”
To make sure his clients are left with smiles on their faces, Luke only works with a small group of construction firms.
“We have two or three contractors that we recommend to our clients. I’ve known them all for a long time – in fact, one of them was my first manager when I was 17 years old! They all have a good understanding of our design intent and they know what we expect from them.”
Points of difference
As a design-only firm, Luke offers several services that he views as a point of difference.
“One of our services is plant design, which I feel makes the most of our horticulture knowledge. I find that a lot of our clients end up requiring to cut back their garden because other designers have planted too much.
“We believe the long-term appearance of a garden is the most important consideration. Our gardens look sparse when first planted, because we know how big our plants will be once they grow and we want to allow for that. It ensures we are futureproofing our designs, and our clients appreciate that.” He values long-term results and works hard to ensure he leaves a good lasting impression on his clients.
“I have done jobs that I could return to 10 years later and the clients would be more than happy to show me their garden.”
Luke also emphasises the value of correct plant selection, noting that his customers are often sceptical of landscape designers when he does remediation work. He says plant selection is a point of pride across the business.
Get their teeth into it
Most of the work Epic Landscape Design carries out extends beyond plant design to full landscape design.
“We love doing that work because we can spend more time on the job and go in-depth into what’s required for the client, which is typically a homeowner,“ says Luke, who admits he prefers residential work in general.
When it comes to the choice between a designer, or a landscape architect for a residential project, Luke argues that you can’t get better than a designer who has been there and done it all.
“I think it’s better to engage a designer, who usually has more experience. The things a landscape architect learns often have no relevance to landscape design – they’re learning about how to build motorways and urban areas, but residential design is a subject that’s not really touched on in the curriculum. Plus, I find they often come out with limited plant knowledge.
“Put that against someone who has come through the industry, who has extensive plant knowledge, and there is a big difference between what designers and architects can offer.”
Epic Landscape Design and the three hardscaping firms it regularly works with – Greenscapes, Onlandscapes and Landscapes Unlimited – are all Registered Master Landscapers (RML) members. Luke has been an RML member for three years and values the networking opportunities it brings, as well as the professional recognition it provides.
“From a business perspective, it’s great to have awards alongside your name, which is why we’re so keen to enter the next Landscapes of Distinction awards. It’s also valuable to have your work recognised.”
The regional RML meet-ups are another way the organisation provides value to its members, says Luke.
“I’m always keen to go to the meet-ups. There have been so many great speakers. Even if
I’m not always able to attend due to other commitments, it’s a side of the organisation that I really value.”
Looking to the year ahead, Luke isn’t driven by a desire to grow at all costs. Instead, he wants to continue to prove his quality and develop his reputation as one of the industry’s best. One of the ways of doing that is to continue carrying the badge of an organisation that demands excellence from its members.