A group of four local residents who met while doing environmental advocacy and community organizing have formed a cooperative venture based in Silver Spring to provide landscaping services using native plants.
The Swamp Rose Co-op, named after a plant native to the wetlands in the Washington area before it was colonized, was created after “we all discovered we had this shared interest in native plants and using our home landscaping in a way that was much more ecologically sound and beneficial to the natural world around us,” said co-founder Jake Hess.
“We also had experienced a lot of shared frustrations trying to find either nurseries that had a good selection of native plants, or landscaping companies that had any idea of how to select and use these plants in the home landscape setting,” Hess added.
The cofounders all have day jobs and do their landscaping work on the weekends, Hess said, though the hope is to grow the business into fulltime jobs for all.
They chose the co-op model “because we all have a shared belief in alternative workplace structures and more collective decision making,” Hess said, “and in particular, a different approach to how profits are managed and shared.”
He pointed out that many workers doing the hardest jobs, like landscaping, are viewed as low-skilled workers who rarely, if ever, see the profits they help their companies earn.
The folks who work for Swamp Rose are mostly immigrants from Latin America and have jobs with other landscaping companies, Hess said.
“We’re working with them to convey that we’re doing this so that in the end, as we do grow and become more successful, that they’re actually going to share in the financial benefits of all the work that we’re doing,” he said.
The four finalized their partnership in the summer of 2021, and then began talking with similar ecologically oriented landscaping companies locally and around the country, as well as researching potential sources for plants, doing what Hess called rigorous business planning.
“Almost all of [the companies] have been very welcoming and not competitive at all,” Hess said, “because it’s such a small number of people that have this kind of expertise, and everyone’s really passionate about it.”
Swamp Rose also offers plants for retail sales. They learned that the two best local sources of native plants are nurseries in the mixing bowl around Springfield, Va.—not exactly convenient to get to for Montgomery County residents.
Interested customers, then, can order from Swamp Rose online, then pick up plants on the weekend via curbside pickup in Silver Spring or Gaithersburg.
Graphic and photo courtesy Swamp Rose Co-op. Below, two Swamp Rose Co-op founders, Piumi and Jake, working on one of the company’s first jobs earlier this year.