Back in another lifetime, I worked for the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado as managing editor of the organization’s magazine, Colorado Green. Part of my duties included sitting on the judges’ panel for the Excellence in Landscape Awards program, reviewing submissions that ranged from best use of color to design and installation projects with budgets more than $250,000.

Other judges were landscape contractors and designers, all well-versed in both the nitty-gritty and the spectacular. Where they were impressed, I was dazzled. Where they were critical, I was dazzled. Where they were disappointed, I was dazzled. Occasionally, though, where they were dazzled, I was puzzled.

As we viewed slide after slide of an awe-inspiring installation at the second home of a multimillionaire in Aspen – a project whose budget ran closer to a half million than to a mere $100,000 – I couldn’t help but wonder how easy it must have been to create something so breathtaking on a site that was so, well, breathtaking.

Before I had a chance to reveal my naiveté and be hooted out of the room, a very kind fellow-judge whispered to me, “Look beyond the beauty.”


Photo courtesy of ALCC Excellence in Landscape Awards and Rocky Mountain Custom Landscapes Inc.

We then turned to a small, suburban, chain-link enclosed back yard – a low-budget project whose before-and-after photos looked deceptively similar. Keeping in mind the advice I’d received, I was tremendously impressed by the seemingly blah submission. This flat little postage-stamp installation, like the paradise in Aspen, won a Grand Award. It was the “during” that sold us.

Landscape awards programs serve a number of purposes, the least of which is a beauty contest. They’re a chance to showcase your work, but whether you win or don’t, you gain. Winning brings accolades and the kind of prestige that you can market – or have marketed on your behalf.

Even if you don’t receive an award, you’ve taken a bold step by entering, an act that’s worthy of respect in and of itself. What you do receive is invaluable, constructive criticism from your peers – with the emphasis on constructive.

This is a visual industry, no doubt about it. But in most aspects, we strive to look beyond the beauty to the work – and the benefits we both give and get. It’s a pretty nice journey to take, isn’t it?