Big business and chance conspired to push Jay Eichfeld in the dirt -- and now he wouldn't be anywhere else.
After living through two hostile takeovers in three years, the New Jersey businessman left his prestigious corporate job to move to Georgia and help out his brother-in-law in grounds maintenance. Eight years later, he has firmly rooted his own landscaping business in Augusta.
"Once you get your hands in the dirt, it's tough to sit back, then, and be a desk jockey," he said, standing in the shade of the Elk's Club in Martinez, where shrubbery planted by workers for LandCrafters Inc. lined the front of the building.
Like many landscapers, he started from the ground up, learning his trade out under the sun. Although some of the people in his business have taken horticulture courses, few have degrees in landscape design, and most have worked their way up, he said.
He puts his business degree from Tulane University to work, offering comprehensive benefits for his workers and making sure the company is licensed and certified. It puts him behind a desk three-quarters of his business hours these days.
About half the company's work is maintenance. The other half is design and installation -- a type of natural engineering in which landscapers take the dreams of homeowners or landscape architects and turn them into a reality of sculpted sod and blossoms, accented by shrubs and trees.
That can mean work as simple as raising the bushes outside the Elk's Club on a layer of topsoil so the hollys, crepe myrtles and cleyera japonica don't get root rot from the damp clay underneath. Or it can be as complex as working out drainage, building retaining walls and installing sod and shrubbery to build the delicate terracing of a back yard in Rivershyre Estates.
"You have to have the ability to almost perceive, three-dimensionally, what the finished product will look like," Mr. Eichfeld said. "We'll usually discuss it with the client and show them photographs of work we've done in the past."
Just don't ask to see his yard, which he compares to the proverbial shoeless children of the cobbler.
"There's one of everything there, and it's all asymmetrical," he said with a laugh. "Whatever's left over from a job, that's where it all ends up."
Subject: Jay Eichfeld, landscaper
Time in field: Eight years
Training: On-the-job training, studying trade publications and information from the Columbia County Extension Service. Mr. Eichfeld has a bachelor's degree in business from Tulane University.
Best part of the job: "I like the final details -- we want everything to look paint by the numbers. At the end of the job, it's clean and finished, with no indication construction work was done. And then getting a compliment on a job well done."
Worst part of the job: "You're constrained by the weather. When it's raining, we'll work on equipment, work around the shop, do maintenance repairs. It's important our people get paid 40 hours, so we'll make work if we have to."
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