Jeremy Martin
Jeremy Martin
Thank a veteran – those who make a difference
By Jeremy Martin

This sentiment is heard a lot when Veteran’s Day is observed in November. That’s all about veterans of the armed forces, and we should thank them every day. For this article I have a different kind of veteran in mind.

What IS a veteran? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person of long experience usually in some occupation or skill, such as politics or arts.” What about the veterans of the hardscape world?

At Willow Gates Landscaping, we started hardscaping in 2006 to fill in the summer slump that landscaping always experienced around July-August. Over the years, it grew to represent more of our revenue.

At the end of 2011, I made a decision. Willow Gates was average and I knew it… and I didn’t like being average! We were at a pivotal moment, and it was time to go all in if we wanted to continue hardscaping.

I decided to invest as much time and money as I could into training and becoming better at hardscapes. I hadn’t even heard of Hardscape North America yet, but there were some great opportunities to learn from hardscape vendors in the Northeast. I took full advantage of them! I met some giants in the industry who made a huge impact on my career. I couldn’t be where I am today without those lessons, as a contractor or as an educator.

Making a difference
In the last year or 2, I’ve been struck by how fleeting life is. That includes “fame”, if you want to call being a popular speaker in the hardscape world being famous. When I kick off introductions while teaching an installer course, I sometimes mention some of the people who made such an impact on me a decade ago.

And you know… most times nobody in the class knows who these industry giants are! As I reflect on those who made such an impact on me, some have sold their businesses to reduce stress, many are retired, and at least one has passed away.

Last October I met one of my hardscape heroes at HNA; he was an amazing speaker and writer but today is mostly retired. He mentioned that he somehow thought the hardscape world would be different today, and that as an instructor or speaker he would have made more of a difference. That we’d see fewer hack jobs being installed, fewer black marks on our industry from uneducated or uncaring contractors. Our conversation left me a little sobered… maybe my efforts as an instructor won’t affect much change. A good reminder to not take myself too seriously.

I was thrilled to see the Mid Atlantic Hardscape Trade Show return last December after a 7 year hiatus! After all, it was through MAHTS that I met some of the people who would have the biggest impact on my career. And it was a tremendous honor to be invited as an instructor for their first year back.

One night I was chatting with an old industry friend and I relayed my conversation from HNA. He and I have had similar career paths and know many of the same people. I call him a frenemy. He says we’re friendly competitors. Regardless, I enjoy a good discussion with him, no matter the subject. The next day, he did something that inspired this article.

The following day, he found 2 hardscape veterans at MAHTS and personally thanked them for their contributions. He reminded them that they inspired the next generation of hardscapers, and their efforts live on in us. The torch has been passed, now it is up to us to carry it on.

So… if you’re a millennial a decade or 2 into your career, find some of your hardscape heroes at a trade show. Drop them an email or message them on Facebook. Let them know how they impacted your career as a hardscaper. Thank them before it’s too late… life is short and they are moving on in various ways. Thank a veteran!

To my hardscape heroes
So, to some of my heroes… Tom: We wouldn’t have a YouTube channel without you. Charles: You taught me how to recover overhead and kept me awake and laughing in what would otherwise have been a boring financial class. I wish I could still thank you, but I’m a few years too late. Bill: More than anyone else, your passion and public speaking skills inspired me to become an instructor myself. You were a sounding board as I found my way in this crazy world of public speaking. Bart: Your class on raised patios helped me avoid a potential disaster just a few months later. Ross: You helped us on the final tweaks to our hybrid installations, LONG before the term hybrid was even coined and became the subject of Instagram reels. Rob: Our discussions on technicalities always sharpened me. Pete: Your fiery presentations often helped chase away the winter blahs and build enthusiasm for the upcoming season. And to Martin: You believed in me as an instructor, long before I proved myself and before I even convinced myself. Your confidence opened doors that led to where I am today.

To all of you….THANK YOU. Each of you made an impact on me and shaped my career. I will do my best to pay it forward!

Jeremy Martin co-founded Willow Gates Landscaping in 2005. He became an ICPI instructor in 2016, NCMA in 2018. He also founded Dust Killer Tools to help his company meet 2017 OSHA silica standards. Email Visit and

Digital Edition
April/May 2024