Getting your hands dirty: Out and about with the crews at Blackjack Horticulture

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Updated Aug 30, 2019
Blackjack Horticulture manages between 14,000-16,000 flowers on UAB’s campus alone. Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape CareBlackjack Horticulture manages between 14,000-16,000 flowers on UAB’s campus alone. 
Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

Blackjack Horticulture in Birmingham, Alabama, prides itself on creating a company culture that draws employees in, keeps them content and showcases their talents and projects via social media.

Yesterday, we talked about what methods Blackjack takes to ensure its employees feel right at home when they walk through the door, as well as what they are doing to actively engage with the younger generations. Today, let’s take a closer look at the hard work these employees demonstrate every day out in the field.Tlc Part Two Of Three

Out and about

Flower crew

With a degree in landscape design from Auburn University and experience teaching high school agriculture classes, Taylor Elders, floriculture division manager, is no stranger to the green industry.

Today, her responsibilities include designing, helping install, caring for and managing all flower-related accounts held by Blackjack. Elders says on any given day, her team of floral experts can be seen around Birmingham tending to their sites’ hanging baskets, planters and flower beds, and the maintenance can vary from deadheading, pruning, removing weeds, watering or replacing certain plant varieties.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s dragon topiary stands tall in the middle of the school’s entryway flower bed. Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape CareThe University of Alabama at Birmingham’s dragon topiary stands tall in the middle of the school’s entryway flower bed.
Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

Elders says that the flower crews maintain both Blackjack’s commercial and residential properties, but the largest collection of flowers they currently manage is at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). According to Elders, it takes a full week for the crews to care for the flowers on the university’s campus, as there are between 14,000-16,000 flowers to manage.

Elders has been with Blackjack for seven years now and says every day is something new, which makes coming to work exciting and enjoyable. Aside from getting to see the beautiful way their flower projects turn out, Elders says her favorite part of the job is getting to know customers one-on-one and establishing relationships with them.

Elders says she retained so much from her college courses but working on the job really taught her how to manage people and customers, which isn’t always an easy task.

“Overall, actually being in the workforce teaches you how to interact and work with people from all walks of life, and it teaches you about adaptability,” she says.

Sherri Thompson finishes off her work day by watering a few planters. Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape CareSherri Thompson finishes off her work day by watering a few planters.
Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

Sherri Thompson, flower crew leader, has worked with Blackjack for three years and loves the time she gets to spend outdoors. Her love for the green industry began after watching a multitude of DIY landscape improvement shows. Once she realized she could take this passion and turn it into a career in horticulture, she pursued a degree at Jefferson State Community College and never looked back.

Crew members work to finish hardscaping projects. Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape CareCrew members work to finish hardscaping projects.
Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

As a woman in the green industry, Thompson says she’s never felt ostracized or belittled for her gender. To be honest, she says, she’s never really even thought a thing about it.

“I don’t think of it as a man’s job or a woman’s job; it’s what I wanted to do,” says Thompson. “I’ve got limitations, but I can do what half the guys do. Everybody is kind of equal. You get help, you give help. It has nothing to do with being a woman or a man; we’re all doing the same thing.”

Masonry  

Robert Davis, hardscape division manager, has worked as a mason for over 40 years and admits that there isn’t much interest in this particular green industry field due to the high amount of physical labor involved.

“The most difficult part is that it’s hard work and it takes a long time to learn the trade in and out,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for 42 years and I’m still learning. I learn something new weekly. (When it comes to) masonry, you are always learning.”

Some of his favorite projects at Blackjack dealt with more organic aspects, such as incorporating natural elements into the overall design, and the most rewarding aspect of his line of work, he says, is knowing the amount of time, work, effort and sweat equity you invested in order to make something beautiful, powerful and lasting.

Installation crew members remove trees from a site to replace them with new ones. Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape CareInstallation crew members remove trees from a site to replace them with new ones.
Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

Davis notes that one of the best things he’s noticed about working at Blackjack is the ease that accompanies working closely with the landscaping crews to create these projects. Instead of acting as two separate entities, Davis says that everything is one big cohesive team moving effortlessly from one task to the other.

Davis says that there can be much knowledge gleaned from working with those outside of your area of expertise because everything works together in the process of creating these projects. He adds that it also helps put the customers at ease to know that everything is handled all by one company and nothing will get lost in translation in the hand-off process from one company to another.

“We can elevate the quality of the job and enhance the look of a job with masonry as much as the landscape can enhance the masonry,” he says. “Working as a team is really an advantage that we may have over other companies because we can offer so much more, and I think a lot of people realize that.”

Check back tomorrow for part 3 of this series, where we’ll take a look at what pain points the company has experienced, how Blackjack handles reviews and feedback and what the company goals are for the future. 

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