When Valerio Morano Sagliocco was in high school in Westchester County, New York, he was reluctant to share that his parents were gardeners and landscapers because it was looked down upon. But now a third-generation landscape designer running his grandfather’s business, he couldn’t be prouder.
When I asked Valerio Morano, owner of third-generation Morano Landscape & Garden Design, what quality he looks for when hiring someone to work with him, he didn’t hesitate to tell me that it was pride.
“That’s the number one thing I look for,” he shared. “Whether I’m interviewing a development manager, horticulturist or lawn care person, for instance, I have to see that they have heart in what they do. Anyone who doesn’t have heart simply doesn’t work with us. I want people to have the same passion that I have for the business,” he admitted.
It turns out pride has played a big role throughout Valerio’s life. Having grown up in Westchester County—an area tucked into the Hudson Valley just north of New York City and boasting the second-highest-income in New York per capita, having landscapers in the family when everyone else seemed to work in finance or law—wasn’t always easy for young Valerio. “Saying my parents were landscapers or gardeners [growing up in Westchester], was like saying my parents were garbage collectors,” he shared—(not that he thinks waste management is of any less importance). His point: if your parents weren’t working a high-profile desk job, then it was definitely frowned upon.
Valerio’s grandfather started Morano Landscape & Garden Design in 1952, primarily doing landscape design, gardening and maintenance for residences and some institutions like private schools. Every summer and on the weekends, Valerio would work beside his grandfather and father, but ultimately the peer pressure of seeing gardening as a social handicap convinced Valerio to pursue a job in finance. “I wanted to be on Wall Street,” he admitted. “I went to Fordham and studied a double concentration in finance and business management. It was just cool to say [to others] that I was studying to be an investment banker or stock broker,” he professed.
In his last year of school Valerio got his dream: interning at a brokerage firm. “I hated it,” he said bluntly. “Everything just fizzled when you’re sitting in front of those screens. I just wanted to get out there and do stuff. I wanted to build gardens and spaces and tend to properties. That’s where my heart was—and is.”
Five years after his grandfather had passed and his father took over the business, Valerio said he went “all in” to the landscaping profession. “I kind of feel I had all these forces pushing me back into the world of landscaping,” he confessed. “It snowballed into a love affair of plants and gardens.”
As Valerio began to take on more of a leadership role in his family’s company, he started to expand the business to commercial spaces, which has been one of the major drivers in the business’s momentum. When he started working with his father, they only had one landscaping business, five trucks and 18 employees. Now they have one landscape contracting firm, two garden centers, over 35 vehicles and over 100 employees.
Most recently, they secured a contract with Panorama in DUMBO, which is a two-city block area connecting five buildings and featuring a tenant-focused retail plaza, multi-level landscaped entrances, indoor lounges, interconnecting sky bridges, and more. They also recently completed the incredible green interior and exteriorscapes in partnership with Plant the Future, a biophilic design firm based out of Miami, for The Assemblage, a hip coworking space in New York City. “What we were able to accomplish there [at the Assemblage] is truly mind blowing,” Valerio said to me. “We planted interior planters, hung biophilic art and moss chandeliers, built a custom black-stained cedar bar with green wall plantings and elements, completed exterior terraces and planters, and did the lighting, irrigation and maintenance.” Though I don’t have a co-working space at the Assemblage, I did do a houseplant workshop there in partnership with Well+Good this past April and it was—as Valerio said—simply ”mind blowing.”
I asked Valerio if he thinks there has been a shift in the views of landscaping as a profession since he was in school. He paused to consider. “Not everyone thinks it’s fashionable,” he shared. “When I’m coming out of my building on the Upper East Side with dirty boots, people look and judge. But I got past that. I’m a landscaper. I say it proudly. And I love what I do.”
If anything, Valerio would like to see that stigma shift. “You’re not getting people out of high school or even college saying that they want to work in landscapes. Maybe they don’t see it as an option, but the work is there. It’s hard to find good, qualified people now. And it’s good work; account managers can earn over $100,000 and those who work tending lawns and what not can earn a decent wage too,” he assured.
Valerio ended up joining the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) because he was attracted in part to the fact that they are educating the nation in the importance of hiring professionals, which he says he’s in need of. In response to the labor shortage, the NALP has recently launched its Workforce & Industry Growth Initiative, to proactively encourage people to consider positions within the landscape profession. According to NALP, the landscape industry needs to hire 300,000 positions this year alone, which is not an insignificant sum. Now the association is joining other national organizations in signing the President's Pledge to America’s Workers, committing to enhance career opportunities for 150,000 people in the next five years.
“The landscape profession is the most undervalued profession in the nation and maybe in the world in my opinion,” he said. “Not everyone realizes how important plants, lawns, landscapes, beautiful gardens, and exterior and interior landscaping is,” he shared.
But that perception is changing. Valerio says he sees incredible momentum, particularly in urban settings over the past 5-8 years. “I suppose it ties into the “organic” movement,” he told me. “People are more conscious about their environment, their health and overall well-being. People in cities want their own little green space, and that’s becoming more incorporated into commercial and hospitality spaces as a response to the demand.”
As more knowledge spreads about greenscaping, like planting pollinator corridors on roofs to even hydroponic farming on buildings, perceptions begin to shift. Landscaping simply becomes the cool kid on the block, and dirty boots and dirty fingernails are not something to hide—but something to show off—a sign of pride.
“I’m happy to say that [the perception] is changing and more people are realizing what a great industry it is,” Valerio shared. You are combining living art with land development with helping the environment and making people happy. It’s the best feeling when all that is combined; you can’t get that with any other profession.”
Now the quest is to get those working or considering working in the profession to feel the same way. “I tell my employees all the time,” he said to me over the phone. “You got to work with your heart. Do everything as if it’s your own garden. Take pride in the work that you do, because there is much to be proud about.”
This sponsored post is brought to you in partnership with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), which recently launched an industry workforce development initiative in an effort to promote and fill the more than 300,000 job openings available on a yearly basis within the lawn and landscape industry.
Some of my readers may already be working in the landscaping profession, but others may be interested in learning how to make a career switch, and my hope is that stories such as this inform you of the myriad options out there. Visit the site here for more information.