Chula Vista Enrique Mar-tinez had an excellent paying job as an account executive with Dell Inc., but he was not happy. He wanted to do something different.
“I wanted to be independent,” said Martinez, adding that while attending a landscaping show at Southwestern College, a business idea blossomed.
“I noticed the growth that was taking place in the area and saw a future possibility,” said Martinez. He began taking courses in landscape design and irrigation through the Southwestern College (SWC) Landscape and Nursery Technology (LNT) program, which turns 30 this year.
While the LNT program started in 1975 offering a single course, it now offers more than 50 different classes. LNT classes and other nine-week courses begin October 18, 2005. You may register at www.swccd.edu or by calling (619) 482-6550. Classes are offered days, evenings, and weekends.
Martinez enrolled at SWC in 1995 and four years later, Picket Fences Landscaping was up and running.
“Landscaping had always been my hobby,” said Martinez, who credits the “excellent classes” and “top of the line” instructors with some of his business’ success.
Picket Fences Landscaping, which specializes in high-end residential and commercial jobs, started with two workers. It now employs 10 people, and does about $1 million in sales annually.
For three decades, the SWC Landscape and Nursery Technology program has been preparing students such as Martinez interested in pursuing careers in the horticulture arena.
“We’re giving people the skills to go out and get a job,” said Bill Homyak, SWC Landscape and Nursery Technology Professor. “The program is designed to give students a comprehensive ‘textbook’ approach in the classroom, as well as thorough hands-on training in the field.”
Through the Landscape and Nursery Technology program, students can acquire skills as simple as the right way to plant a shrub to complex ones such as using computers in a horticulture business. The LNT program offers associate degrees in Landscape Occupations, Nursery Occupations, Floral Design, Landscape Architecture, and Golf and Sports Turf Management. The LNT program also boasts an outstanding four-acre facility consisting of hundreds of trees and shrubs, lawns, greenhouses, and nursery areas.
An average of 150 students enroll in Landscape and Nursery Technology each semester. Since the program began, hundreds of students have gone through it. Former Navy enlistee Don Ebarb is one of them.
“I had always been around baseball and my dream was to work at Dodger stadium and take care of the field,” said Ebarb, who enrolled in the LNT program after leaving the Navy.
While working on his Associate of Science degree in Golf and Sports Turf Management, he got a job at the Auld Golf Course, nestled in the foothills of Mt. Miguel in east Chula Vista. Ebarb started “raking bunkers” on weekends, but worked his way up. He is now the Auld’s Superintendent, manages 17 employees, and is responsible for the aesthetics and maintenance of the golf course.
“The classes are small and the instructors are able to work with you one-on-one,” said Ebarb. “I would definitely recommend the program.”
Susan Weichert, a pediatric nurse for 20 years, took a different path to a career in the horticulture arena. While taking a plant identification class at SWC, she discovered an entire new field.
“I love plants and gardening. When I found out this was an actual field, I was elated,” said Weichert, who transferred to California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, after completing the LNT program at SWC. “The more I got into it the more I loved it,” she said, adding that she said good bye to her nursing career because “I needed to move on and was ready for a change.”
Six years after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Landscape Architecture and working for some landscaping firms in the region, Weichert returned to SWC where she is now an LNT instructor.
“There’s a real comfort-ableness because of the camaraderie of the people that I’ve know for a long time. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours. You have to have a passion for this field,” said Weichert, who is also Senior Project Manager at SKA Landscape Architects.
“When observing all of San Diego’s great parks, golf courses, and landscapes, it is a real pleasure knowing that many of these beautiful places have been designed, installed, and maintained by former Landscape and Nursery Technology students from Southwestern College,” said Homyak. “After 30 years of instruction, it is almost impossible to walk into any green area, nursery, or floral shop and not run into a past graduate. That is what makes all the hard work of instruction worthwhile.”