The Unexpected Powerhouses: Caitlin Bowie on leading an all-female landscaping team
Caitlin Bowie hired and manages an all-female crew for Earth Inc., an award-winning landscape design firm. Her team is often underestimated — and used to proving every day that there’s no such thing as a man’s job.
By Hailey Eisen
Caitlin Bowie is a horticultural technician. She works outside, she installs and plants stunning, meticulous green spaces, and maintains them with precision and care. She works hard, lifts heavy objects daily, and gets her hands (her whole body for that matter) dirty. She couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.
The fact that she has hired and works daily with an all-female team doesn’t seem abnormal to her. “But the reactions we get when we arrive at a job,” says the 33-year-old, “that’s what makes me think we’re a bit of an anomaly.”
And the jobs are not small. Caitlin works for Earth Inc., an award-winning landscape design firm known for transforming outdoor spaces with a unique blend of architecture and horticulture. It’s a role that takes her across the GTA — sometimes to renovation or building sites that are packed with male crews.
“We’re constantly being offered help,” Caitlin says, laughing. “Typically, it’s the other tradespeople working onsite — electricians, carpenters, and the like. They don’t expect a group of young women to be capable of the heavy lifting, of maneuvering a 500-pound tree.” But it’s all about good communication for Caitlin and her crew.
As Caitlin’s crewmate Elli Garlin recalls, “Most of the time they’ll at least ask us if we need help first, but one time we were getting a large tree into the back of a truck and a guy doing construction work nearby literally came up and just shoved the tree.”
“We like knowing we can do things ourselves. We’ve built strength and confidence by pushing ourselves and making the impossible possible on so many occasions.”
The women know that “gripping and ripping,” as Elli refers to it, is not the best way to get a job done. “We have a system that helps us work safely and efficiently. We make a plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
While Caitlin says men typically use force to get a heavy job done, she and her team are more strategic. It’s the shared attention to detail that Caitlin appreciates most about working with other women. When she was first hired by Earth Inc. five years ago, partners James Dale and Kennedy McRae gave her the power to hire her own crew. She had worked with men before — after all, most of the industry is male — and recognized the advantages of building an all-female team.
Both James and Kennedy will attest to that. “Earth Inc. does not intentionally try to have gender-specific crews but we do understand that cohesiveness within a team is paramount,” Kennedy explains. “Caitlin’s crew is a powerhouse.”
James adds, “They bring a different energy to the work that they do. Thoughtful, exact, well-organized; a fantastic ‘girl power’ that everybody senses.”
Creativity and precision is also a big part of their success as a team. A lot of the planting they do is for modern designs where straight lines are essential. Caitlin recalls one project in particular where they were creating a meadow-like feel (with grasses, a river, and flowers) in a backyard in Etobicoke. “It was an incredibly tough project and we had to bring eight giant trees into the yard and plant them perfectly straight,” she says. “The end result was immaculate.”
For the women on Caitlin’s crew, there’s also great power in doing something society doesn’t necessarily expect you to do. That’s what crew member Emilie Martin loves about the work. “We like knowing we can do things ourselves. We’ve built strength and confidence by pushing ourselves and making the impossible possible on so many occasions.”
Caitlin officially started in the industry when she was 18, initially as a grower in a wholesale greenhouse. She later graduated from the Horticultural Technician Certification Program at Humber College, and officially became a “journeyperson” — a certified skilled worker — registered in the Ontario College of Trades. But her path to becoming a horticultural technician working outdoors in nature started long before that. “I grew up in farm country where there was no such thing as male or female jobs — people just worked,” she says. “I’ve been covered in dirt my whole life, and I’m comfortable that way.”