Mentoring Program Nurtures Budding Designers

By: Heather Bratton

How do I develop a clientele? What type of insurance do I need? Where is the best place to buy plants, pots, stone, etc.? Designers new to our profession come with training, enthusiasm, and LOTS of questions. This past year APLDWA recognized the unique needs of our budding professionals and responded by creating the Emerging Professionals Program (EPP).

The EPP was introduced to provide support and guidance for individuals in the early years of their career. The main idea behind the program is that through on-going small group meetings, collaboration, and mentoring, emerging designers will benefit from a network of experts in our field. Last spring all interested beginning landscape designers (‘Sprouting’ professionals) were connected with other beginning designers and seasoned professional mentors (‘Flourishing’ professionals) in informal ‘pod’ cohorts. Sprouts are APLD members with fewer than 5 years of experience, and pods were formed by connecting designers in common geographical regions.

Once pods were formed, each group met and set their agendas based on the needs of its individual members, allowing designers to focus on the questions and concerns that are immediate to them. The Flourishing Professionals act as mentors by generously donating their time and expertise to their pods. (A huge THANK YOU to our Flourishing Mentors: Octavia Chambliss, Susanne O'Trimble, Daniel Lowery, Kate Norgaard, and Laura Kleppe.)

We currently have four pods (three in the Seattle area and one on the Eastside) with between 25 and 30 APLDWA members actively participating. Pods range from three to nine participants. While each pod is unique and decides what is valuable and pertinent to it, there are some general overlaps: all groups are conscientious of each other’s time, meet on a regular basis, have a rough agenda for each meeting, and respect the differences of each other’s knowledge, experience, and aesthetics. Here’s a sample of some of the myriad of topics our EPP pods have covered so far since June:
  • On-going resource sharing (websites, vendors, suppliers, nurseries, organizations, horticulture trends, installers, lighting, favorite books, etc.)
  • Insurance and licensing needs
  • Working with clients and all of their wonderful intricacies
  • Photo rendering and client presentations
  • Money - book keeping, taxes, accounting, paying self, etc.
  • Working with a contractor/getting a project installed
  • Design project sharing/collaboration/opinion gathering within the group
  • Developing solid contracts
  • Sharing samples of design plans, client documents, installation documents, etc.
  • Bidding and pricing design, services, and goods
  • Invaluable anecdotal lessons from the Flourishing mentors
  • Design process – how individuals work through this
  • Client presentations, process, and communications
  • Marketing, websites, advertising, etc.
  • Goals and business plans
  • Moral support and encouragement
This vanguard program has been a lifeline for many new designers in our region. Its value is one of the main benefits of membership for many of our beginning designers and attestation that our chapter is dynamic and strives to support all of our members through innovative programs.

As we complete the first year of the program later this spring, pods will be given the opportunity to give feedback and assess if/how they want to continue into the next year. For more information on the EPP contact Heather Bratton at