Bob Cook: It’s not about the products, it’s about the person.

December 17, 2021

How does a person new to the horticulture business, who has lived in Florida for only one year, earn 100 percent on a plant identification test?

During our eight weekly classes covering the FNGLA Certified Landscape Maintenance Technician manual, Sandra Bodnar quietly sat at the back of the class and took notes. She had to miss one of the lessons because her position of branch manager at Mainscape demanded her attention.

I remember Sandra from 2021 when she also attended the Certified Horticulture Professional classes. She had just moved to Florida from Nevada and was beginning a new career. I wondered how a person with a degree in criminal justice and a master’s in public safety leadership & business would do in world of gumbo limbos and fire ants?

But, it’s not about the products, it’s about the person.

Sandra's response to my inquiry? “My experience with management and interpersonal skills brought me to this position.”

Her friendly demeanor and disarming smile have earned the regard of her landscape maintenance customers. And her willingness to learn from her seasoned employees has earned their respect.

Sandra says she is “at home in the field, not behind a desk.”

For 20 years, she served as a police officer in California with positions of patrol, undercover narcotics and vice, and detective. She explained how she worked her way up to sergeant.

Yet, an injury forced her to look for a career change. After a few years as director of operations at Ricoh in Las Vegas, Sandra and her spouse set their sights on Florida. This was during the business shut-downs brought on by the pandemic, so she chose an essential industry: horticulture.


A search through helped her find a position where leadership and management experience are valued: Mainscape in Fort Myers. And, in this humble horticulture teacher's opinion, it was a wise choice to bring her into their team.

Ranking #32 in Lawn and Landscape magazine's 2021 Top 100 Largest Companies list, this nearly 900-employee company prizes Sandra’s people skills. Plant skills can be taught.

Case in point: Sandra admits of her humble hort beginnings, “I knew ten plants before taking any classes.”

And, admittedly, Sandra does not classify herself as a gardener. The highlight of her day off, in fact, is boating.

But, by studying the manuals, photos, and videos on FNGLA’s website, and attending one of the Association's hands-on review events, she passed the FNGLA Certified Landscape Maintenance Technician test with flying colors.

Proper irrigation, maintenance standards, landscape design, deficiencies, pest problems and more are addressed when doing a walk-through. And the focus on Florida Grades and Standards helps to illustrate three levels of plant quality, including photos of proper pruning techniques.

“When we are doing quality checks at a property, I need to know all aspects of landscaping,” Sandra explained of her drive to get certified. “Certification training helps me when making landscape proposals too.”

Plant selection and knowledge of soils are also essential to a beautiful outcome.

What is next for Sandra? “I’d like to try for the landscape technician certification and any irrigation courses, and right now, I’m working on learning Spanish.”

It is encouraging to meet a person with a diverse background, a great work ethic, and a willingness to learn, like Sandra Bodnar, FCLMT.

And, Mainscape is an exceptionally professional company. In fact, the company has already certified more than 60 of their employees in FNGLA’s horticulture, landscape maintenance, landscape technician and landscape irrigation certifications. Not bad, indeed. 

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