By Shelby Longland, ‘13

While living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with her family, Beth Hellmer constantly noticed the same generic landscaping plaguing her neighborhood. She saw identical plants in front of each house, all lacking creativity and sustainability. This sparked a passion in her: she decided she would someday work to rid the world of this repetitive and unimaginative landscaping. But she didn’t yet have the skills and knowledge to do so.

A few years later, Hellmer moved to Richmond and decided it was time for a change. She left her family business with the hopes of pursuing the landscaping career she had always dreamed of. When a friend mentioned the Landscape Design certificate program at the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Hellmer knew this was her chance to start living her dream.

Hellmer looked into the program and quickly decided to enroll. The Landscape Design Professional Certificate program entails 408 hours of coursework, focused on creating landscape spaces in practical, aesthetic, horticultural and environmentally sustainable ways. The School also offers a Landscape Horticulture, Plants and Practices certificate which requires 208 hours of coursework focused on developing and implementing sustainable plants in a landscape.

The Landscape Design program gave her a solid background in design, but also expanded her knowledge of other specific topics such as installation, how to work with difficult clients and more. The program’s instructors were all professionals in the landscape business, and were able to provide her with invaluable firsthand advice and tips.

The variety of courses was also impressive to Hellmer. Specifically, having always advocated organic gardening, she was “excited to see so many elective classes on native plants and sustainability.” She also dabbled in a few other subjects, taking elective classes on pruning, operating a business and more. The compilation of these classes gave Hellmer the encouragement to finally take the step to starting her own business.

At the beginning, Hellmer’s business was not exactly a grandiose company. She was renting a house and had many perennials in her yard, and decided to sell them. From there, her business has expanded tremendously. Her business, Garden Gate Landscape, now encompasses many aspects of landscaping: design, installation, maintenance, consulting and more. She sells more than 100 varieties of plants, and 95% of the species are native.

Hellmer shares her personal goal, a reminder of her original passion for creativity and sustainability: “To continue to educate [herself] and other people on the importance of sustainable landscaping, the need for native plants and how to use them in landscapes.” Her initial education on the subject came from the Landscape Design program, and she hopes to use her business, Garden Gate Landscape, to continue to promote this education and encourage the use of sustainable practices in all landscape designs. 

Cary Jamieson, Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Design program coordinator at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, explains her understanding and support of Hellmer’s sustainability-mindedness: “I believe the future of the Landscape Design and Landscape Horticulture industries will focus on sustainable practices. As we define the way we live and interact with the natural world we need to balance the beauty of design with the science and appreciation of supporting a local ecology, and Beth’s business epitomizes this.”

People want beautiful yards, and Hellmer takes pride in knowing she can give her clients what they’re looking for while also being environmentally friendly. She loves her job, Hellmer says, and thanks the Landscape Design program at SPCS for making her business a success and her dream a reality. She encourages others to pursue their goals and feels confident in sharing this advice with others considering a return to the classroom: “With a little education, determination and hard work, anything is possible!”

Photo by Beth Hellmer (pictured, with dogs Bailey and Ladybird)