Women in Landscaping: Denise Ritchie
Denise Ritchie arrived in the green industry by accident. For several years, she and her husband, Randy, worked as screenwriters. “I felt like I was on top of the world. I was doing what I loved, with someone I loved. I couldn’t have been happier,” she says.
Unfortunately, her professional triumphs would soon be undone by personal tragedy. Ritchie had just sold a major television project when she received some devastating news: her son had been murdered.
What followed was one of the darkest periods in her life. Ritchie filed a wrongful death suit, and the resulting legal battle lasted for five years.
During that time, she developed addictions to alcohol and tranquilizers, was diagnosed with cancer and saw her savings disappear. “When things like that happen, you can either let them destroy you, or you can learn from them,” she says. “I decided that I wasn’t going to let them destroy me.”
Ritchie got herself back on track.
She kicked her drug habit, beat the cancer and returned to writing. Things were better. However, her struggles weren’t over.
Just as her life began to turn around, the writer’s union went on strike, leaving Ritchie without a source of income. “We had kids and medical bills and legal bills,” she says.
“We were in trouble.”
The landscape industry would be the family’s savior. The couple had a friend who was a design/build contractor. He was having difficulty expanding his client base. So Denise and her husband offered to provide marketing services on commission. “We figured if we could sell movies, we could sell just about anything,” says Ritchie. “We just switched our hats from being producers of movies to being producers of landscape services.”
Gradually, the couple learned the ins-and-outs of the landscape business. Randy earned his contractor’s license, and Denise continued to hone her marketing skills. The contractor who they did the marketing for decided to retire, and the Ritchies bought the company. “We still laugh at it today,” says Ritchie. “It’s one thing to do a little part-time marketing in between writing gigs. It’s another thing to be in charge of a working construction company.”
The couple flourished in their new profession. Their business grew, and the size of the jobs they did were getting bigger. Most importantly, they loved what they were doing.
There was just one problem. Ritchie worried that the work they were doing could have adverse effects on the environment. “We had just performed the biggest job we ever had. It was a beautiful job, but something just didn’t feel right to me,” says Ritchie. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment, and the thought that some of the products we were using could be harmful to Mother Nature was really disconcerting to me.”
After months of careful consideration, they came up with a plan: they would shut down the business and start a new one, a company called Eco-Partners. It would be devoted to performing sustainable practices in both the office and at the jobsite.
Ritchie poured herself into the new venture. She spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours researching products in order to ensure that the work she was doing would be as eco-friendly as possible.
“The response to the new venture was overwhelming,” she says. “People want to be environmentally responsible. Sometimes, they just need someone to give them a shove in the right direction.”
One day as she was standing at the checkout line in a supermarket, she spied a copy of a magazine. The cover story was on biodynamic compost. Intrigued, she purchased the magazine. “I really think it was fate, because that article changed everything. I was blown away by what biodynamic compost is capable of.”
Biodynamic compost consists primarily of dairy cow manure. According to Ritchie, due to the unique stomach structure and digestive systems of dairy cows, the manure produced is a perfectly balanced, live ingredient. When it hits the soil it creates what Ritchie calls an “alive and balanced” eco-system.
“When we started using biodynamic compost, we were just floored,” says Ritchie. “The plants looked amazing, and we were able to maintain them without using pesticides.
Additionally, the plants were able to thrive with 75% less water. We knew it was something that we had to introduce to the public.”
That’s exactly what she plans to do.
Ritchies recently created another business, called Malibu Compost. It
is the world’s first manufacturer of biodynamic compost for the
landscape market. The product will hit the shelves in October, and
Ritchie is brimming with excitement. “Starting a new business is
exciting,” she says. “But this time it’s extra special, because I know
that what I’m doing will leave the world in better shape than I found
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are interested in biodynamic compost, you can contact Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org.