Stephen Kraus is an entrepreneur with interests in real estate, and is the CEO of Baltimore Realty Group. His company specializes in the buying and selling of distressed, and renovating run down ones for sale. It also holds a portfolio of rentals that include gulf-front properties, single and multi-family units among many other apartments that are valued at tens of millions of dollars. Stephen’s current position is a testament of his business acumen. When starting, Stephen spotted an opportunity in buying distressed properties from financial institutions and capitalized on it. Through experience and an eye for opportunity, Stephen also started buying up strategic, but run down properties, and renovating them for resale. It is in the process of this business that he discovered the potential that rental real estate holds, and has incorporated it as part of his core business ventures. Rentals now make a sizeable portion of his portfolio raking in millions in passive income. Besides running his business, Stephen is also a very selfless man and spends a lot of his free time mentoring young entrepreneurs, especially those in real estate. Stephen also gives to charity and regularly donates to non-profits that support the homeless. It makes him happy to help change someone’s life for the better and give them dignity.

 What is your hobby?

While I have several hobbies, gardening and landscaping are my favourites. I have a lovely home with a beautiful lawn as well as a beautiful garden in my backyard. I love the fulfilling feeling that I get after I trim a hedge or mow my lawn. The orderliness and beauty is something that makes me feel excited and accomplished.

How did the hobby start?

I have always loved watching these English movies that feature royal families in beautiful castles and magnificently manicured compounds. It is from them that I developed the love for gardening and landscaping. Having visited some of these castles in my travelling escapades, the love for landscaping grew even more. Since I have a large home with hedges and a large enough space for a garden, I decided to take up this these tasks during my free time. I already had workers doing this for me, but I wanted to add my personal touch to everything. So, I occasionally join my workers and direct them what to do while taking an active role in the physical work.

What do you love about this hobby?

There is just too much to love about gardening and landscaping. I love the challenge of designing the land area, and deciding which plants to plant on which location, and how to tend to them and have them bring out the theme you intend. Landscaping is not just about planting flowers and trees; it is about creating a theme in a place to pass on a message, and to make a place look as beautiful as possible.

When you create these designs, they bring out some sense of orderliness and magnificence that just sets any place aside from the rest. You kind of create a statement through the various elements that you use to bring out a grand look.

A popular philosopher, Epicurus once said that you should not have in your home anything that you do not consider either beautiful, or useful. I also live with this mantra, ensuring that I get rid of anything that cannot be transformed or blended in with the surroundings to improve its outlook. I am fond of using locally available materials as flower pots, lawn benches and for other purposes all in a bid to make my home as beautiful as possible.

This hobby has quickly grown into an obsession, and I often find myself spending quite some time doing research on better ideas of gardening and landscaping. I get this good feeling when I invite my friends over and exclaim how beautiful of a home I have. Some have gone ahead to have me help them with landscape designs for their homes.

What type of things/equipment have you spent money on for your hobby?

Landscaping can be quite expensive, but you can use simple farm tools. I have had to buy advanced pruning tools like gas powered edgers, electric lawn mowers and a variety of other tools and equipment. I also invest heavily on buying seedlings, composts and fertilizers. Flowers require very special handling to give you the desired outlook. I also have to spend on garden furniture, spray nozzles and their hose pipes, pruning shears and others.

You can, however, create that garden and landscape your compound with locally available materials and some simple tools. I have decided to go over and above to try and match my source of inspiration; the immaculate English gardens.

What are some of your favourite places to shop for your hobby?

There are various places I have for buying gardening and landscaping tools. I, however, have a one stop shop online that has quite a variety of these tools. I order mine online from this shop and have them delivered to my doorstep. I also buy fertilizer for my flowers and plants online. I find it easy to shop online to save on time and also safe a lot of money thanks to the numerous discounts from these shops.

There is a local seed grower around my home area where I buy most of my seedlings. They have a variety of trees and flowers, and a variety of other plants. I love the way they tend to their seedlings which makes it easy to transfer these seeds from their seed beds to the landscaping area.

Are there any good books for beginners?

I believe there are good books and even tutorials for beginners, but i never begun with books. I just joined my workers and learned through actual activity. I have, however, over time; in a bid to get even more immaculate results done some research online and visited other places with nice landscapes and learned more from the same. You do not need to read a lot. With just a few YouTube videos, you are good to go. If you want detailed information, there are a lot of books online that you can access and read through. Mostly, you will learn more by doing and not by reading or watching tutorials, but they will help you a great deal.

How has your hobby changed your life?

Gardening and landscaping is such a fulfilling activity. This hobby has changed my life for the better.  I used to be a very apprehensive person, but have now changed into a tolerant and very patient individual. When you visit a beautiful place that is immaculately landscaped, you probably rush to take pictures exclaiming how beautiful that place is. What many people forget is the effort put behind the landscape and the time it takes to bring out such beauty. I have over the time I have been undertaking this hobby grown in patience as a direct result of what it takes to create beautiful gardens.

I find myself transmitting these qualities to other activities in business, social and family life. It has been especially helpful in most of my business activities and in my relationships with my family members and friends. I am glad I started this hobby.

What advice do you have for others just starting out?

While not only being a fulfilling activity, landscaping is also a way of increasing forest cover and reducing greenhouse gases. It is also a way of improving the outlook of your area, and especially your home. If you live in a place where you have live fences and hedges, lawns and gardens, take time to transform this places into beautiful areas. If we all took to this activity, we would have beautiful towns and neighbourhoods and live a fulfilling live. I believe there is none amongst us who does not like the beauty of any properly landscaped area.

Whether it is that back yard parking, or yard or lawn, take your time to transform the place from just a boring and basic looking environment and add some life into it. It might seem like hard work while starting out, but when you begin seeing the results, and begin getting appreciations from your neighbours and visitors, and then you will find yourself getting even more motivated to do more. It could start with your home and spread through your entire neighbourhood and transform the entire area. The key point is taking that initiative to start.