March 1 2004 12:00 AM

2_20.jpg In an industry for the most part dominated by men, more women are expanding their horizons in the landscape industry. No longer considered part of the office staff, there are many talented women who have moved, either alone or with their spouses or partners, to develop their own companies.

These women are out in the field doing landscape work, maintenance, irrigation and turf management. Some also do design/build, while others are involved in the interior plantscape end of the business. Whatever the niche, these pioneers are paving the way for more women to follow in their footsteps.

One such pioneer is Sue Crowle. ?All my life I?ve been a gardener,? says Crowle. ?At first I did it for fun and as a hobby.? Although Crowle held other jobs she found that nothing was as satisfying as landscaping; it was something that she had a knack for. She decided she was going to make this her life?s work and made the decision to go back to school where she received her degree in landscape design. ?When friends approached, asking for advice on how to arrange their properties, I gladly gave my opinion.? Crowle found out that giving advice then turned to helping, and finally to her taking over and finishing the projects.

In 1999, she decided to form her own landscape company, Sandcoat Farm Enterprises in Auburn, Pennsylvania. From the beginning, Crowle decided that her niche would be design/build for the residential market.

Starting with a couple of jobs, it soon blossomed into referrals on top of referrals. Business has been good ever since. ?I want to keep this business small,? said Crowle. ?I have enough business to warrant hiring more people, but I don?t want to. If I hired more people and more crews, I would lose control of each site. I like to be able to oversee each and every aspect of the job from beginning to end; it?s what I love to do.?

Crowle sits down with each potential client to discuss what will and what won?t work. ?I do a lot of research for each customer,? she adds. ?In this way, I can tailor each design specifically for the client.? They talk about their ideas and her ideas, and if she feels that she won?t be able to provide them with exactly what they are looking for, she doesn?t take the job. ?Some things I know not to tackle,? Crowle says.

During the winter months she spends her time at seminars, continuing her education. She also spends a lot of time woodworking and building general wood projects. Currently she?s building a 10' x 21' patio for one of her customers as part of a design/build project. And you better believe that she?s building that patio all by herself. ?I?m very hands-on,?

Crowle affirms. Crowle dealt with a lot of rejection early on. But she was willing to get out there and hustle. ?It?s pretty hard for women to come into this industry and make a splash. You have to know the technology, know your own comfort level.?

It wasn?t always easy being a woman in a largely maledominated industry. ?In the beginning, I got a lot of disrespect from the men,? Crowle recalls, ?but it?s funny? the majority of the disrespect came from the young men in the industry?not the older ones who had been in the industry for years.?

There was a time when she encountered problems with material suppliers, who used to hassle her and not give her the same service as they would the male standing behind her. But as soon as they saw that she knew what she was talking about, and using the proper terminology, they began to realize they were working with a professional and changed their tune. ?My respect is earned through my work,? said Crowle. ?When they see what I can do as far as designs and installation, there is a difference in attitude.?

She offered some advice for women joining the industry, ?Don?t back down?be more professional than the boys have to be. Use the right terminology, know how to use the equipment, but more importantly, show the boys that the girls know how to play?when something is set up a certain way, it?s done on purpose.?