Out and About with AOLCPs: Camilla Worden Teams up with Mason John Petriello

Once upon a time, in what feels like a lifetime ago, AOLCP Camilla Worden worked as a polymer chemist researching epoxy resins in the plastics and additives division of a large Swiss firm. She earned her master’s degree in business at New York University and then worked in marketing and product management, getting out from under the chemistry laboratory hood.  Then one day, she found herself staring out the window, and wondering what it was like outside. “That’s when you know it is time to change professions,” said Worden, who left her corporate job after having her second child.

After her third child was born, she answered a newspaper ad and began installing and maintaining gardens. “I will never forget that really hot summer of ’88, where I happily sweated bullets at the local golf course. I would start the day in the cold and dark and, after I paid the babysitter, I took home $2/hour. My Mom thought I was crazy. She was probably right, but hey, it started a whole new career!” said Worden, who has been NOFA accredited since 2004. She said she knew “by common sense” that the benefits of applying Pesticides would not outweigh the long-term consequences.

It seemed almost criminal to me that there was so much pesticide being broadcast everywhere – tree guys shooting big pressurized hose guns into the air, lawn guys motoring over huge green lawns, jetting pellets left and right. County Extension agents on the phone talking about Sevin and Dursban and Oftanol.”

Today, Worden teaches the “Planting and Plant Care” section of the NOFA 5-day course in Rhode Island, has served on the Client Relations panel and lectures locally, in southern Connecticut. She serves on the OLC advisory board and the Danbury Land Trust board.

She remembers the early days of her land care career. “Some of the golfers on the course admired my work and begged me to come to their houses to work on their landscape. So back in 1988, I stuffed a shovel and as many bags as I could fit of potting soil in the trunk of my 1984 Ford Tempo, and laid flats of colorful impatiens over newspaper in the back and front seats, and started what would become Camilla Worden Garden Design. The official business came later in 1998, after the fourth child was born and in school.”

“I progressed from sedan to station wagon, then to a 1981 extended cab Ford F-150 pick-up truck. Boy did we load that up! Certainly over the legal limit with wood panels to make the sides higher so we could carry more. We held soil and mulch and man-power. It felt like the big time,” she recalled. “When I finally got my first box truck in 2005, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Fast forward to 2011 . . . we have four trucks and a van, an excavator, front loader and the usual landscape equipment . . . and I am very thankful to have a wonderful partner and a great crew!”

Last year, Worden merged her business with that of John Petriello of Mt. Kisco, NY, to form Camilla Landscape Design LLC. She met Petriello in 2005 while installing gardens in Greenwich, Conn. And noticed how the mason – Petriello – had perfectly matched the stone of a client’s house addition. Worden then worked with Petriello to coordinate the hardscape for a corporate park project, the first of many they would collaborate on.

“Over the years we realized that our customers, our values, and our goals matched up and decided to merge,” she said. “John is a super mason and landscaper contractor extraordinaire. Our partnership has been excellent; we are a good match and are happy working together. The difficulty in merging is that there are SO many things to iron out – operating agreements, company name, truck and other signs, licensing, advertising, insurance and more. This takes a lot of time and we are still working on it!”

Shortly after merging, the duo moved their operations to a new heated garage/shop in Brewster, NY that stores all their vehicles and supplies.

“It’s been a pleasure to pull the office out of my home and to have an appropriate space to assemble the crew in the morning,” she said. Worden is still challenged to convince “so-called traditional” clients to go organic. “They just don’t think it’s going to work and they think their landscape investment is going to be ruined. Little by little, we are chipping away at that. Our clients are starting to appreciate what we are trying to do for them. They trust us to make the best decisions when it comes to the landscape.”

Worden is grateful for the OLC education she received from Mike Nadeau, Bill Duesing, Todd Harrington, Kim Stoner, Chip Osborne and many others, she said. “We think more about how what we do will affect the health of the local soil, the greater environment and the long-term health of our clients. ‘It’s in our nature to care,’ is our company tag line. It reflects how we feel and act,” she said.

“We look carefully at what’s already growing on a site to give us clues about what will thrive. We try to minimize soil disturbance, channel water into places where it can be naturally filtered, and use local, native plants where possible. Soil tests, compost teas and compost topdressing have become routine. In addition, we try to buy from suppliers who are ecologically-minded and who vet their product line.”

Worden loves the sense of community she feels amongst AOLCPs, and the sense of importance that what she’s doing is making a real impact. She loves seeing students’ faces brighten when lessons “click” in their heads and they apply that practical information in their lives.

And she continues to find her work rewarding. “While I wish we were following all of Frank Crandall’s business advice, at least I feel that I am now running the business rather than having the business run me!,” she laughed.

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