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Second-choice career, first-class pro

Southern Landmarx director Joe Nutting has forged a fine career in a profession that wasn’t even his first choice, and, more than two decades later, he’s leading a small but committed group of landscapers who are intent on complementing Central Otago's dramatic landscape

Joe grew up dreaming of becoming a farmer, but admits: “I started farming during my first year out of school, but, due to the farming downturn at the time, I couldn't see a future in it, so I looked elsewhere.“

Farming’s loss has been landscaping’s gain, as Joe quickly caught the bug via an introduction to the industry through his sister’s friend. Once he completed his landscape architecture degree from Lincoln University, he was good to go.

“When I returned to New Zealand after travelling overseas, I got a job as a landscape architect with Ralf Kruger at the Queenstown branch of Morgan + Pollard. I always thought I’d return to farming, but I never did!

“Ralf was awesome to work for and I learned a lot, but I felt more comfortable working for a smaller firm, so I eventually split off and started Southern Landmarx.”

Getting personal

Joe’s clients receive a personal touch, which is something he enjoys.

“I really enjoy working closely with bespoke clients, and that’s an area I want to concentrate on in the next few years, because it keeps everyone happy. Our staff love these projects because they’re always unique and it keeps them interested, plus the owners are very engaged and take a lot of pride in them, which is nice for both parties.”

Joe says it’s a world apart from the work he was doing when Southern Landmarx was cutting its teeth in 2003.

“We did anything we could back then, from repairing gates to planting one tree, we even built sheep yards during the global financial crash!” explains Joe.

“Times have changed now as the majority of jobs are on a larger scale.“

Southern Landmarx focuses mainly on high-end residential projects, but does dip into commercial work from time-to-time, most recently completing hard and soft landscaping for the nearly 400 section Wooing Tree subdivision in Cromwell.

“It's such a great project to work on because it incorporated lots of different types of planting and materials,” says Joe.

Setting up a strong knowledge base

Despite having his roots in design work, Joe says that he’s proud of his plant knowledge and the experts Southern Landmarx has employed.

“Planting is an important focus for the business. It took me so long to build up all my knowledge that it would be a waste to not use it,” he laughs. “We also have our own nursery and five staff who work there, which I love because it allows us to run trials to see what new plants we can get to work in our Central Otago climate.”

Joe reckons building a strong base of plant knowledge is one of the trickier parts of a landscaper’s education, but an important one.

“To be a good landscaper you need plant knowledge. A lot of learners don’t like that because learning the botanic names can be daunting!”

Joe prides himself on having employees who know their plants, and says owning a nursery and putting young landscapers through their Primary ITO National Certificate in Horticulture (level 4) is one way to bring them up to speed.

“We always talk in botanic names, so our staff pick them up quickly and a lot of our young staff spend time in the nursery because they’re on the Primary ITO course.”

Training is an important part of Southern Landmarx strategy. Joe adds that, while you can work as a landscaper without an official qualification, he likes his staff to get a foot on the ladder by doing an apprenticeship at the minimum.

‘We always offer to put staff through apprenticeships. I’m an assessor so I can sign them off, and it makes it easier for all parties. A lot of people can say they’re landscapers, but having qualifications is good for us, good for our staff and good for our clients.”

Joe is no stranger to apprentices, and along with a number of landscaping awards, Southern Landmarx has had two apprentices take home the Registered Master Landscapes (RML) Young Landscaper of the Year title.

Best badge for business

A long time RML member, Joe says the awards are an important part of the value he gets from being part of the organisation.

“I can’t even remember how long we’ve been a member now! The awards are a great night and an ideal opportunity to showcase your work, plus it’s important for the staff and gives them a real sense of pride in the quality of work they've produced.”

While Joe admits he hasn’t entered the Landscapes of Distinction awards this year due to his focus being directed to other projects, he’s keen as mustard to get back in the running for 2024.

In fact, being ‘keen as mustard’ sums up his attitude towards RML more generally.

Along with the awards, RML membership allows for strong industry networking where members can support each other.

“It's not uncommon for us to pick up the phone to talk to other RML members, whether its about a construction method or recommendation for industry software.

“I think the RML is a lot stronger now, the regional meet-ups are a great way to build connections across the local landscape firms.”

Being an RML member has also helped Joe differentiate himself from firms that offer a less complete service than he does.

“There’s a lot of people mowing lawns and weeding gardens saying they’re landscapers. That means we’ve got to define ourselves as more skilled operators. Being an RML member helps us do that.”


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