Like many who have found their way into the green industry, landscape contractor Sara Bendrick developed a passion for nature early on.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Bendrick earned her Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She went on to study horticulture at Cuyamaca College in 2005.
While she was in college she worked as a landscape foreman for Ponderosa Landscapes Inc. After graduating, she worked as landscape designer and project manager for Sage Landscapes.
“I think it’s great to work for other people and maybe a variety of people where you can see how they run their business and how they maintain and handle their landscape installations,” Bendrick says. “There’s so much to be learned because our palette is a living one. There’s a lot of risk. If you go in really not knowing, it’s hard to wing it. If your plants die, you’re responsible for replacing them. I think it’s important to understand and have respect for the profession and by learning from others, but I also think that going out there own your own is definitely the way to go, if you want to do that.”
In 2012, Bendrick set out on her own to launch Sarita Landscape Designs, a landscape design/build company, based in San Diego, where she has been able to combine her artistic side with environmentally aware landscapes.
“As a landscape professional, I feel like we have the opportunity to be stewards of our environment and how we impact one yard transforms into many yards over one’s career, and all of those add up and impact our environment whether we do stuff that’s positive or negative for it,” Bendrick says. “When I’m designing a landscape or maintaining a landscape, it’s important to think of how what I do as a professional affects the bigger picture.”
As for how Bendrick got involved with showbiz in the first place, it really came down to her taking the initiative.
“I actually saw that DIY and HGTV were casting for a landscape expert and I had been working in the field for a few years already,” Bendrick says. “I decided it would be kind of fun, so I just replied to their email. They called me and asked me to do a formal submission. I sent them a video of me answering questions and they asked for a video of me doing a project, and then they asked me to go down and meet a producer.”
Out of the couple thousand applicants, Bendrick happened to be what the producers were looking for in terms of expertise and an ability to talk on camera.
“I would like to say I’m lucky, but I think fortunate is the right word,” she says. “I was just prepared for a good opportunity that just seemed to match.”
“I Hate My Yard” is a show where Bendrick comes to the aid of homeowners who love their homes but hate their yards. They work together to create desirable outdoor living spaces. Meanwhile, “Lawn and Order” highlights the value of curb appeal as both Bendrick and landscape contractor Chris Lambton work to improve a home’s landscaping so it will sell.
“Build it like Bendrick” is a show where she creates outdoor retreats for customers in California.
“It can be complicated but it’s a lot of fun,” Bendrick says. “I would say it’s very busy. Each show is a little bit different, so depending on what type of show it is, the needs are different and generally with shows, the timelines are shortened. The pressure is kind of on because you have not only the homeowners as your client, you also have the network and production needs and timelines and, of course, the budgets that all need to come together to create something that also appeals to a nationwide audience. It’s a little bit different than just designing for one client, but overall, it’s really fun and I really do like it.”
One of the major differences between doing jobs for her customers versus those on TV is the cost. While she says the landscape renovations done on TV are completed at the budget stated on the show, there is a considerable amount of teamwork with the production team in order to accomplish everything within their set budget.
“When I go from designing for TV to my real-life clients, I tell them to budget more because it’s just not realistic,” she says. “I don’t have a team of 10 people helping me coordinate and getting things there and there are some discounts that happen when you’re on TV. I usually say to budget more than what you see on TV, for sure.”
Bendrick balances her business with her TV hosting by shutting down her firm until they wrap with a show.
“I’ll come back to town and either pick up where I left off with clients or pick up brand-new clients all together,” she says. “I’m very open with my clients. I just tell them at this point I’m an entrepreneur because it’s not typical to start up and shut down so often, but luckily, people have been open to that and willing to work with my schedule to go ahead and accommodate their needs as well as mine.”
Despite the fluctuating schedule of when Bendrick is available, she often has more leads than she can actually take thanks to the publicity of her shows.
“I tend to just prefer the ones that are referred to me directly, but the best thing about it is I don’t need to sell myself to people anymore,” she says. “Because I have such a public portfolio, people can easily find information about me and also about my personality, so they know me and decide that they are comfortable with me and my ideas before they even call me, which is nice.”
Bendrick’s latest collaboration has been with Stihl to provide landscaping advice and tips for homeowners.
“I was super excited when Stihl reached out to me because they’re a top brand,” Bendrick says. “I respect them so much. It was very obvious to me that they really care about quality. They care about good information and that’s stuff I really try to instill in my own brand as well. I’m happy to and excited to collaborate with them on projects.”
Bendrick will develop digital content for homeowners on topics such as basic gardening, how-to tips and various yard projects.
“Sara’s passion for improving outdoor spaces through landscape design makes her a great addition to Team Stihl,” says Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager at Stihl Inc. “She shares our passion for nature and will be a valuable source of information and advice for Stihl customers.”
Bendrick also offered advice for her fellow landscape designers on dealing with design ruts and how to best collaborate with DIYers.
“It’s easy to do the same thing over and over and honestly, that’s how you make money as a landscape contractor is being able to do something and do it as many times over as you can, but I think that that can be a pitfall in terms of being creative,” she says.
She says she often thinks of the project and its unique needs. Bendrick also encourages designers to spend a little more time on a jobsite to take in how the lighting changes throughout the day.
“Sometimes, I’ll visit a yard and I’ll spend half a day there or so and actually just work from the backyard because that way I get to actually take in the different feelings of it versus just going there measuring, coming home to my computer and drawing it up,” she says.
She suggests collaborating with other specialty contractors such as artists or welders who can bring different ideas to life.
“I’d encourage any landscape designer to reach outside of the profession to bring in other professionals to create a unique landscape,” Bendrick says.
One design movement Bendrick is excited about is the effort to create a better sense of place in the landscape by sourcing local materials to match that specific region.
“When you incorporate that into the landscape, I feel like it visually works together better than when you’re mixing stuff from all over the world,” she says. “It’s just a different design aesthetic. I do both but I think people are starting to try and understand a sense of place by using stuff in a certain region to give a certain look. We’ve become so globalized and you can travel anywhere in the U.S. and they all look very generic.”
When it comes to working with DIYers who want to take on tasks alongside your landscaping company, it can slow things down for contractors when homeowners think they can do more than they actually can or they just don’t do it on time, throwing things off schedule.
Bendrick personally is open to homeowners wanting to be involved in the process and says a good way to compromise is to set parameters. Allow the homeowner a set amount of time to accomplish a task, and if they don’t, the company will step in to do the job and the homeowners will cover the cost in order to stay on schedule.
“I think it’s great when you’re able to collaborate with the homeowner instead of just keeping it like a business transaction and then it becomes more like a collaboration of efforts,” she says. “It’s a really rewarding thing for both the homeowners and the people involved in the build.”