How one entrepreneur turned a passion for sustainable landscaping into an award-winning ecological-restoration business
When Rosmarie Lohnes says her staff is “out working in the field,” chances are she means it literally. Based in Bridgewater, N.S., Lohnes is the founder of Helping Nature Heal, an award-winning sustainable-landscaping company specializing in shoreline restoration and ecosystem design. What does all that mean? In its simplest terms, it means she and her employees spend a lot of time outdoors, in the elements, rebuilding eroded shorelines and creating sustainable ecosystems filled with native species of plants, flowers and ground cover.
Founded in 2001, Helping Nature Heal (HNH) has grown from being a sole proprietorship to employing a dozen staff. Lohnes initially worked solo, doing organic gardening and landscaping – but demand for her services, specifically those related to shoreline restoration, quickly grew and she knew she needed to expand. “A lot of our clients were coastal homeowners, and they started seeing erosion happening more consistently than they had in the past,” Lohnes says. “Here I was, by myself, trying to solve all these challenges, and obviously needing to hire staff because I was working too many hours per day.”
For Lohnes, building an eco-conscious business was important. “I wanted to do something that was more sustainable than traditional landscaping,” she says. “Right away, I knew we weren’t going to be doing lawn maintenance.” But helping locals understand what, exactly, she was offering was sometimes a bit of challenge. “In the beginning, people didn’t really get the word ‘organic,’ let alone ‘sustainable,’” she says. “I was coming from university in Toronto to a rural Nova Scotia town that’s very traditional, and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m an organic landscaper’ or ‘I’m a sustainable landscaper,’ and they would just look at me like, ‘What do you mean? What do those terms mean?’”
Today, Lohnes and her dedicated team – whom she calls the “engine working this business” – oversee a range of private and public projects, including building edible landscapes, designing contemplative outdoor spaces, and restoring trails and pathways. But HNH’s primary focus has become creating “living shorelines,” which provide shoreline protection from erosion caused by wind and waves.
The nature of their work means employees are rarely in the office, and Lohnes has adopted a number of strategies for managing projects without actually having to be present at every job site. The company now has a foreman and an operations manager capable of executing Lohnes’ vision, and everyone is equipped with smartphones so they can stay in touch with her and each other. “The staff, when I’m not there, need to take pictures, and text or email photos of the work that’s been completed,” Lohnes explains. “They can be sending me photos, asking me questions, that kind of stuff, when I’m out of town.”
HNH also uses Landscape Management Network software – a cloud-based invoicing, planning, budgeting and costing tool – which helps Lohnes and her team manage projects remotely and without piles of paperwork. “It helps us with our estimating, so we can estimate on-the-fly now,” she says.
As for where she’d like to see HNH in the future, Lohnes hopes to share the company’s shoreline restoration-and-protection model with other communities – and the rest of the world. “[Our goal is] to take the methods of ecological restoration throughout the globe,” she says, “and educate other landscaping companies about tweaking their methodology to be more environmentally sustainable.”
In the meantime, she takes great pride in the accolades her company has earned – including the prestigious H.B. Nicholls Award (for significant achievement in Canadian coastal-zone management) in 2014 – and in the rewarding work they complete on a daily basis. “When the staff come home and they’re tired and dirty and they’ve worked really hard, when they’ve put in their sweat equity and the client is super-happy, then that’s exciting and makes me very proud.”