Mason Shaffer says his story of making his way into the landscape industry is much like many others. He had parents who gave him the “freedom to play outside.” And even as a child, that meant playing with dirt, rocks and plants to “change the environment.”
Though in college he started out in engineering, Shaffer soon saw that his purpose was to create outdoor spaces. He has a degree in both ornamental horticulture, as well as a graduate degree in landscape architecture. In 2011, he joined Bozeman, Montana-based Blanchford Landscape Group and is the company’s senior garden designer.
When he’s not at work, Mason can be found spending time with his family or developing a nonprofit he founded, Montanical Garden (a moniker that blends “Montana” with “Botanical Garden”—institutions not readily found in Montana). A goal of the organization is to work toward making a garden accessible to the Montana community to promote horticultural education, research and enjoyment.
What is your proudest moment in business?
My proudest moment has been the true realization that I’ve had over the years to understand that good design is truly practice. As a designer you have to try new things, take risks and be willing to fail sometimes. But you learn from those failures and become better. Usually it’s in the small things, but they make a huge difference. Every project you work through makes the next one better. I’m proud that I continue to evolve through practice.
What is your biggest business challenge?
Setting proper expectations for clients of Blanchford Landscape Group is one of my biggest challenges. It’s been a learning curve for sure. As somewhat of a visionary person, I sometimes fail to remember that many people can’t always see the process of the project the same way that I can. They don’t always understand how things will go. One way that I am improving is to bring potential clients to a project in-progress so they can see that process in action. Speaking frankly, it can be a mess. I think people don’t always anticipate that completely. But then I also take them to a finished project to show how it is all worth it. I think setting expectations is really important even though it can be difficult to do.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
I think what motivates me at work in general is being able to deliver value to my clients, my company and my community. I am plenty passionate about what I do, but I believe it’s the value of what I do that really matters. Working in this field aligns with my motivations. It’s what I like to do and what I’m fairly good at it. Finding that sweet spot where you can deliver the most value in your work is so important.
What is your favorite business book?
I have a lot and I keep an ongoing list. I’ve never been an “open a book and read type of person, but Audible.com has changed everything for me. I’m always listening to books on my often lengthy drives to and from jobsites. The idea that I can continually progress is important to me. Maybe it’s just being able to appreciate other peoples’ perspectives. There are so many ways to grow both personally and professionally through books. I believe personal and professional development are often bridged through continuing education. Here are a few of my top picks:
- “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David. J. Schwartz
- “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, PhD
- “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek
- “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
What does it mean to you to be a member of NALP?
I think by joining any professional organization, you’re making a commitment to yourself and as a company to pursue the next level of professionalism. There are plenty of professionals who aren’t even engaging their local organizations. I really believe they are selling themselves short by not giving an awareness as to where they stand in the industry on a greater scale. It’s invaluable to have that connection with industry peers. We also find great success connecting with students at NCLC. I participated when I was in school and met Andy Blanchford, which ultimately led me to my current professional opportunities at Blanchford Landscape Group. I’m proud of our company’s commitment to participate in NCLC each year.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope that I will have reached a threshold where I am practicing at “the next level.” I am committed to continually improving. I would hope that I could say in five years that I’m consistently an award-winning garden designer.