Growing into the field

Landscapers build on love for outdoors

Laura Stine
Lynette Milne

Being a woman in a male-dominated business like landscaping can be a tricky path to navigate. Both Laura Stine, owner of Laura Stine Gardens, and Lynette Milne, owner of Lynette’s Landscaping, have faced at the very least some raised eyebrows – and at worst, outright sexism – when people learn what they do for a living.

Milne has been in the landscaping business since 1992 and has owned Lynette’s Landscaping since 1999. She has an established client base and gets new business by word of mouth.

“I love the outdoors,” she said. “I grew up near St. Joe and Spencerville and always loved being outdoors.”

Milne had been working in a factory, on the third shift, when she had her children and was “not getting a lot of sleep.” The idea of working in landscaping came to her. Her now-ex-husband wanted to start a side business mowing lawns, which took off, and she was able to quit the factory job.

“The more I talked with people, they’d ask me about plants,” she said, so she decided to take landscaping coursework at Ivy Tech so she’d know what she was talking about when working with customers.

Milne met her current husband, Tim (who owns a fertilizing business), through her landscaping company, and the couple combined their businesses several years ago.

“It’s rewarding, and I just have a passion for the work,” Milne said. “I just love to exceed people’s expectations.”

Stine began working with Neuhouser Garden Center more than 20 years ago and founded Laura Stine Gardens in 2011 after Neuhouser closed.

“Never in my life have I aspired to own a business,” she said. “A customer suggested it.”

Stine, too, has always loved the outdoors. But growing up in a very rural area near Trafalgar, Indiana, she didn’t realize landscaping was a viable career choice for a woman.

“I didn’t even know the field existed,” she said. “I was so rural and sheltered.”

When she first came to Fort Wayne, she worked as a manager at the former Hudson’s department store. She had studied interior design and enjoyed making homes look beautiful. But Stine’s love of being out in nature led her to Neuhouser, where she helped many customers pick the right plants for their homes and businesses.

“I love drawing, and I love designing spaces,” she said. Stine said she loves to use native plants and grasses in her garden designs to take advantage of their natural place in our local ecosystem.

“I have a very naturalistic style,” Stine noted. “I want every landscape I do to not only look beautiful, but work with the ecology. I use plants that connect with the larger environment, with the insects like butterflies.”

Both Stine and Milne enjoy designing, installing and maintaining beautiful gardens for people across the region. They both also offer hardscaping services such as designing and installing patios and walkways,

and they offer continued upkeep and maintenance of the gardens and lawns they create.

Every once in a while, Stine said she encounters sexist attitudes. She said she was recently attending a landscaping seminar on patio pavers with several of the men on her installation team in a room full of about 150 landscapers from Fort Wayne. There were fewer than 10 women in attendance.

“One of the videos the presenter showed was about a new piece of equipment they were promoting,” she said. “All through the video men are operating it, showing how it works and how every company can benefit from it. When they get to the part about how easy it is to use – they say something to the effect of, ‘It’s so easy to operate we brought Deborah out from the marketing department to show you that even she can do it,’ with the visual of a woman operating the machine.

“I had a good laugh with some of the other women in the audience who caught on to the message that ‘it’s so easy to operate that even a woman can do it,'” she said. “I know every woman has experienced this type of thing, but as we talk about being a woman in a male-dominated field, I have to wonder if half of the audience were female, if something like this would have made it past the final edit.”

She says when she attends workshops and garden-related expos, “98 out of 100 people there will be men. I might be looked over, and the men want to know” how big her business is.

Still, Stine said she’s benefited from men who work in the various aspects of landscaping, men who’ve taught her about how to design and install patios and those who have helped her understand how various soils with function with different plants.

“What’s surprised me is how helpful the guys are,” she said. “I work with a fabulous group of guys. The great majority have been extra helpful, and it does remind me to check my own stereotypes.”

Laura Stine recommends planting with plants native to Indiana to create a beautiful garden for years to come. The Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society cites these benefits of using native plants:
• add to the resources that support wildlife
• build landscape corridors in our communities to counter habitat fragmentation
• help stormwater percolate safely into the soil rather than running superheated into rivers and streams
• garden more sustainably, with less watering and fertilizing
• create gardens that honor Indiana’s rich natural heritage
• make gardening easier, because native plants are not finicky

The type of Indiana native plant you choose will depend on the type of area you’d like to plant in. INPAWS recommends the following plants for several different styles of landscapes.

Shrubs:
• Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
• Ilex verticillata (Winterberry holly)

Woodland/Shade:
• Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine)
• Sedum ternatum (wild stonecrop)
• Iris virginica (blue flag iris)
• Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

Prairie grassland/sun:
• Echinacea pallida (purple coneflower)
• Coreopsis tripteris (tall coreopsis)
• Dodecatheon meadia (Shooting star)
Helianthus occidentalis (Western sunflower)
• Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie blazing star)
• Physotegia virginiana (Obedient plant)
• Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)

Water’s edge/wetland:
• Caltha palustris (Marsh marigold)
• Eutrochium (Eupatorium)
• Purpureum (Sweet joe-pye weed)
• Filipendula rubra (Queen-of-the-prairie)
• Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)

Grasses:
• Carex stricta (Tussock sedge)
• Juncus effusus (Soft rush)
• Panicum virgatum (Switch grass)

Homeowners wanting to refresh their outdoor spaces are turning to landscapers like Lynette Milne, who can help design and install new outdoor looks that will be enjoyed for years to come. Most of the trends in outdoor landscaping focus on ways and spaces to entertain friends and family through transformations that include patios, outdoor kitchens and fire pits.

Homeowners want looks that last, and hiring qualified outdoor landscaping companies that have a strong track record is key. Make sure you examine photos of previous projects and check references, and, of course, you’ll want to have input into the final design. Here are some of the trends people in the Midwest are incorporating into their designs.

Outdoor living spaces:
Whether your backyard is postage-stamp small or acres large, there’s probably a way to open it up to create a new living space to be enjoyed in seasonable weather. Lattices are great for enhancing privacy and setting apart spaces, while pergolas offer architectural beauty and some sun protection (you can even add a clear topper to keep the rain off your patio space). Outdoor barbecue kitchens are an investment that will bring years of fun, while decks featuring storage boxes that double as tables or benches offer dual purposes. There are lots of ways to incorporate a fire pit in your backyard, from a simple sand and circular stone pit to elaborate statue-like bowls and globes that add dramatic elements to your backyard. Contact your utility to add gas lines that will burn cleanly, or simply collect fallen branches from your trees to build a simple fire. S’mores, anyone?

Water features:
From bubbling urns to fountains to koi ponds, the soothing sounds of water are increasingly affordable options for homeowners looking to increase the relaxation quotient of their properties. There are plenty of do-it-yourself projects that only take an afternoon or a weekend to install, but it’s also easy to hire someone to ensure your water feature is properly installed. Maintenance is even easier with new eco-friendly options abounding.

Outdoor furnishings:
New outdoor fabrics are designed to be fade-resistant, waterproof and easily cleaned for low maintenance. Comfortable lounging options include couches, chairs and tables that look good enough to move indoors. Retractable sun shades offer protection from the heat and the sun’s glare, making your outdoor patio an inviting space all summer long.

First appeared in the April 2016 issue of She.

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