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Thriving Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Former Young Landscaper of the Year Andrew Rae now runs his own business in Central Otago. As Andrew explains, the environment around Cromwell and Alexandra is as tough as it is beautiful, with the natural constraints only adding to the landscaping possibilities

Andrew first started landscaping in 2005 and, after years honing his skills in Dunedin and Christchurch, he started Weka Landscaping in Alexandra in 2014 with his wife Nicola’s help.

“We are still a small business,” says Andrew. “It’s just me, a foreman and an apprentice on the tools, although I’ll be looking for another foreman soon.”

Find your calling

Like many practically minded people, schoolwork didn’t always go smoothly for Andrew, but taking a course in landscaping identified he was a quick learner when the subject matter wasn’t abstracted from real life.

“At school, I often felt like I didn’t understand what the teachers were trying to teach. After I left, I took a one-year Polytech course in Landscaping Design and Construction (Level 4) and I received the award for the top practical student. I haven’t looked back since!

“In 2012, I won Young Landscaper of the Year, which was pretty lucky, because I had decided not to enter. My boss at Southern Landmarx, who had long been a Registered Master Landscaper, convinced me I should just before the cut-off. I’m glad I took his advice!”

“Winning the Young Landscaper of the Year award was a great thing for me – it confirmed I knew what I was doing and that I was capable of taking this career further by starting my own business.”

Schist happens

Andrew loves the natural environment of central Otago. It’s rugged and can set strong themes that Andrew likes to work with rather than against.

“Schist rock around here is a great focal point. It’s also pretty hard to move, so it makes sense to work with it, rather than try to fight it! In fact, the schist has been a real feature of some of the work we do around here.

“On a recent job, the house had been built around the rock, so it was crucial to tie the house and the landscape together. I like that we don’t always have a blank canvas. Working creatively within natural boundaries is one of the things I love about landscaping.”

It’s not just the hard rock that makes Central Otago unique, though, the plants that work best are often hardy, too, as Andrew explains.

“Compared to my time landscaping in Dunedin and Christchurch, aside from the rock, the big difference with the work here in Central is the desert climate and the plants that suit this environment. For example, Libertia Peregrinans works great here and the cold weather brings out a bold orange colour. Chionochloa rubra is also well used here – it holds its shape, doesn’t shed much and looks great with schist stonework and lavender. Roses do well with our limited rainfall, too, as they don’t get the same diseases and the flowers hold onto the petals.

Not surprisingly, the other thing that’s needed in a desert landscape is water, as Andrew explains “effective irrigation is key here. It does chew into the budget a bit but it’s crucial if you want your lawn and planting to look good into the future.”

Structure and challenges

Andrew says one of the key elements to landscaping, that many clients don’t immediately think of, is the level of design and construction that can be involved.

“Some people still have the idea that landscaping is just pulling weeds and mowing lawns. Of course, landscapers know that design and structure are huge parts of effective landscaping.

“I think of it a bit like a house, but outside – landscapers can create privacy and separate spaces, almost like different rooms. Ultimately, good landscaping creates an environment that means people will enjoy spending their time at home.”

“When it comes to designing people’s gardens, I found early on that I could visualise what people wanted when they explained it. After you’ve got what it is that they’re after, it’s a matter of talking through options and budgets to achieve that.”

Asked if there is anything that is still a challenge, Andrew says that quoting accurately used to be difficult, and getting a system in place is key.

“I have worked it out over time, and my wife has been a big help – she’s familiar with quoting and numbers from her job at the local council, so she was a huge help with getting my systems to a point I’m now happy with.”

“As well as benefitting from Nicola’s help, being a Master Landscaper gives me industry support from fellow members, which has been invaluable. Of course, it also gives our clients quality assurance, along with setting a benchmark within the industry, as there aren’t as many requirements on landscaping businesses as there for other trades,” says Andrew.


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