Monthly Archives: February 2016

Current Garden Design Trends We Love

Like most things, garden design has its trends. From the 1700 French parterre gardens to the English ‘Gardenesque’ to the modern day ecological style, garden design has always reflected the current mindset of what nature is. What is so fantastic is there are places like the Chicago Botanical Garden (CBG) that allows us to see and experience these past and present gardens. From the Bulb Garden to the English Walled Garden or Native Plant Garden to the Prairie each section of CBG has a unique and special personality. Just like nature itself, garden trends are ever changing to reflect the changing mindset. The landscape architects here at ILT Vignocchi do endless research, reading and continuing education to try to stay on top of those trends. Doing this not only makes sure we stay ahead of trends, but helps us make sure every garden we do from Lake Forest to Evanston to Hinsdale is one that is unique and special.

During our research there is one garden designer in particular whose work we have grown to love, Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. Anyone who has spent time in the Laurie Garden downtown Chicago knows of Piet’s work well. As he, along with several other well respected designers, was the driving force behind that spectacular garden. What makes his work so great is, what I have been calling, his “contemporary native” (or as Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough call it “Enhanced Nature”) approach to garden design. The next generation of gardens will match the changing mindset and will be sustainable, have a high level of Biodiversity, and be a bit “wild.” However, it is realized, and Piet emphasizes, as designers it is our job to focus relentlessly on shapes of flowers and seed heads, then leaf shape and texture and lastly color (leaf color more than flower color which Piet considers an added bonus) to help tie garden elements together to a more homogenized look.

A look that is more contemporary or enhanced than the word “wild” conjures in our heads. Structure is the key to a successful garden which is why the initial emphasis is on the shape of flowers and seed heads. Colors come and go throughout the year, but sound structure persists in a garden all year. Consider this, as the bright and bold yellow petals of the Black-eyed Susan’s fade and fall off what is left is a brownish-black cone that adds emphasis and accent to a late summer garden. This accent persists adding a fourth, often not thought-of, season to the garden – winter. This is also why ornamental grasses are so important to this style. Ornamental grasses can be used during the growing season as a way to create repetition to tie the garden together. However, it is the grasses that give a winter garden so much structure during the cold months.

Like with any new style care has to be given to how and where this style has value. One size never fits all and one person’s “wild” is Goldilocks’s “just right” and vice versa. Several of the Piet Oudolf books we have read and gardens we have studied have provided us a style map for his new approach. A style map that we will store in our “Kit of parts.” We will use this, and parts of this, style where appropriate while knowing that more traditional styles, such as the English garden, still have their wonderful place among garden history and current garden design.

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In case you were wondering…

First we clarified some of the terms of a typical snow removal contract.  Last week we offered some insight into the preparation process we go through at ILT internally when the weather forecast calls for a winter event.  But in case you were wondering about the operational process that takes place on the ground during a snow event, read on…

PART 3 of 3:  The operational process from flakes to finished.

Simply stated, it is our goal to remove snow and ice from parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, etc. as rapidly and efficiently as possible while ensuring the safety and mobility of the employees, tenants, and residents of our customers.  As I stated last time, and it bears repeating, it all starts with our people; dedicated, capable, accountable people who care about the work they do and take ownership over the properties for which they are responsible.

To achieve this goal, our people need the right equipment, selected for a specific purpose, and maintained to provide reliable and uninterrupted service.  ILT owns and operates a large inventory of equipment used in our snow removal operation, which is allocated to specific job sites well before the first flakes fly and much of which is stored on those sites to facilitate the operation.

Now to the operation.  Our men have been discussing the forecast, confirming manpower and equipment status, and checking site conditions as a storm approaches.  As the accumulation reaches the plowing trigger point, the crews head to their sites.  Every crew member has been assigned a specific job but because every storm behaves differently, they must be ready to shift gears and adapt to a change in the game plan at any time during the operation.  The superintendent surveys the property in general as the equipment operators jump in their machines (plow trucks, skid steers, snow blowers).  The hand shovel crews get a head start in front of the machines.  That head start is an important factor in the operation to avoid causing any damage as they work ahead of the machine operators to clear the areas in front of garage doors, windows, building entrances, and other tight places that can be risky for a skid steer or plow blade to approach closely.   Emergency exits, fire lanes, accessible parking spaces, etc. are attended to first to ensure safe and passable access for those areas.  The crews proceed from there around the site according to the predetermined plan, alternating the starting points and progression patterns from storm to storm so that no one area is serviced first for every event.

Working in conjunction with Village snow plow operators presents its own set of challenges.  It is usually the job of Village plows to clear the streets in an office park or residential community, which can work to our benefit or detriment depending on the timing of their operation.  It is important for our crews to try and learn the patterns of the Village plows to minimize the frequency of return visits to clean up areas that we have already cleared that have since been closed off by the street plows.

All of our men carry cell phones to communicate their progress to their supervisors, relay issues that arise, and to provide frequent status updates to the Snow Commander and Sales Manager throughout the course of the operation.  Our customer service team stays available 24/7 to field phone calls, text messages, and emails from our customers who may have special needs or specific requests.  Those are relayed immediately to the site superintendent for resolution.

When the site superintendent feels like his crew is reaching a completion point, he will make one more pass around the entire property, checking to ensure that everything is clean and passable and that all of the details have been addressed.  Once the superintendent confirms that the snow has stopped and been cleared to the point where ice melt can be applied effectively, he will instruct his crews to begin that operation.  Generally, rock salt is applied to asphalt roads and a chloride based product is applied to concrete walks, drives, stoops, etc.  Material in parking lots is applied from tailgate or truck bed spreaders while pedestrian areas are treated by hand to minimize spill over onto grass or planting beds.

The snow has stopped, the storm is over, the pavement is clear and wet, and it is time for ILT’s crews to head out.  Reserve crews are kept available to handle return visits and/or drifting and icing issues as they may arise during the course of the following day.    Another successful effort by the ILT SNOW TEAM!

Favorite Plant Series: Taxodium distichum

One of my favorite trees is Taxodium distichum, or Baldcypress (also Bald Cypress). Once you recognize it, it’s always a delight to see. Baldcypress has the rare distinction of being a stand-out tree in virtually any type of setting or application. Alone or in groups, in formal or naturalistic settings, urban or wild, Baldcypress often becomes the focal point of a well-thought-out planting design. Part of that distinction arises from the fact that it has yet to have been overplanted – at least in Chicagoland-area landscapes – and is often greeted with delightful curiosity by the uninitiated.

While such a versatile tree, there are limitations to Baldcypress’s use given its eventual size and habit. Growing 50’-70’ by 20’-30’ wide, Baldcypress takes on a mostly pyramidal shape. While tall, it may not perform as a traditional shade/canopy tree for many years, if at all. Although the northernmost portion of Baldcypress’s native range is technically southern Illinois, the tree does quite well in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Baldcypress does well in wet, dry, and well-drained soil conditions and is relatively salt-tolerant.

Leaves in springtime are a bright yellow-green and eventually turn a medium sage green come summer. The leaves turn orange-brown in autumn and hold for a while before dropping as winter approaches. Interestingly, Baldcypress (along with its cousin Dawn Redwood, also hardy in this area) is one of only a few varieties of cone-bearing trees that lose its leaves in the winter. Seeing the small ½” – 1” cones Baldcypress produces adds to the surprising nature of the tree. The reddish-brown bark with a fibrous nature can be striking in winter.

Famed modernist landscape architects such as Dan Kiley and Peter Walker used Baldcypress in formal, urban settings (see Fountain Place in Dallas and water features outside UBS Tower in Chicago – see picture). Locally, the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden features a pruned baldcypress hedge, now several decades old. Such formal cues can be also adapted to residential settings, as well as using Baldcypress as a standalone specimen tree or loose grouping. With such versatility, Baldcypress might be the “problem solving” tree for your landscape.

Taxodium form


Bald cypress in the landscape

Up close of the leaf

Written by Ken Horinko, ASLA
Landscape Architect

In case you were wondering…

Last week we offered some interpretation of the terms of a typical ILT snow removal contract as they relate to the service provided to your facility or community.

But in case you were wondering about the mobilization process that takes place prior to a snow event, read on…

PART 2 of 3: The mobilization process: from forecast to flakes.

It starts with our people; dedicated, capable, accountable people who care about the work they do and take ownership over the properties for which they are responsible.

While snow removal is an occasional topic of conversation at ILT throughout the landscaping season, the conversation starts to get serious as early as August into September. At that point, the Sales Manager, Snow Commander, and Zone Leaders finalize contractual arrangements, take inventory of equipment, confirm staffing, and review property needs. By October, our assessment of the workload and the assignment of our resources is all but complete. Crews are confirmed and assigned their properties (repeating from year to year wherever possible) and equipment is allocated.

The Sales Manager and Snow Commander then discuss our capacity to accept additional snow customers. Unlike landscape maintenance, snow removal requires a very concentrated effort over a relatively short period of time. Therefore, we believe we should limit the number of customers to whom we offer snow service so as to never be over extended. We make a commitment to our customers to only accept as much snow business as we can manage under the most adverse of conditions, ensuring that all of our customers will be serviced in a timely manner during the absolute worst of circumstances. That said, now it’s November and we are ready.

The key to making sure we are always equipped with the data we need to make informed, effective decisions lies in accurate, proactive forecasting. General media outlets can provide a good overview, but they do not offer much specific information. ILT hires a private forecasting firm to provide us with periodic and highly refined updates on every impending winter weather event, often 24 – 72 hours in advance, and then as frequently as conditions warrant. Specific information is sent to us for (90) different villages in the geographic area we service, containing data on precipitation, accumulation, icing conditions, freeze/thaw cycles, etc.

When a weather event becomes imminent, our Snow Commander talks with this forecasting service to open a dialogue about the details of that event. She contacts our zone leaders to inform them of the forecasted conditions in each of their specific geographic areas. Additionally, every zone has an individual who is responsible to physically inspect and measure accumulations on each of our properties and report back on conditions. Once it becomes clear that service will be necessary, they agree on a mobilization plan which includes property specific start times, unusual manpower needs, special equipment status, material usage, etc. Snow personnel are then notified of the plan and of what will be expected of them. The information is also relayed to the Sales Manager to handle customer inquiries.

No two snowstorms are exactly alike so each event must be analyzed independently. Our mobilization response must be organized specifically to address the characteristics of each storm by considering the following information.

o What type of precipitation is expected?
o When is the precipitation expected to start and stop?
o How much accumulation is expected over that period of time?
o What are the temperatures going to be like throughout the event?
o Will there be freeze/thaw conditions; high winds, drifting, etc.?
o What are any customer specific or event specific needs for this storm?

The plan is in place, men and equipment are ready, and the storm hits at the exact time as was forecasted and behaves in exactly the manner that was expected. RIGHT??? The only thing we can really be sure of when it comes to Chicago weather is that you can be sure of nothing and you better be ready for anything.

Coming next time, PART 3: The operational process from flakes to finished.

In case you were wondering…

You rely on your snow removal vendor to make sure your roads, driveways, and parking lots are plowed; your sidewalks and entrances are clear; and your property is always safe and passable for your residents, guests, employees, and tenants. But in case you were wondering about the process that leads to making all of that happen, read on: PART 1 of 3: Understanding the snow removal contract. It all begins with the contractual agreement between the vendor and you, or your property management company, building owners, or HOA board members. Snow removal contracts are usually customized to meet the needs/specifications of the employees, tenants, or residents of the subject property, according to established budgetary considerations. (The financial parameters of the snow contract is a subject for a future post). But all snow removal contracts do have certain common elements. • The tolerance level (or trigger) determines the minimal amount of snow that must accumulate before plowing operations are to be initiated. The most typical is 2”, but 1” is not uncommon. Less common is a zero tolerance contract by which clearing is to be initiated after any snowfall. • The vendor’s arrival on site will usually depend on the timing of the storm. Daytime storms can create a need to keep main aisles, arteries, and entrances clear throughout the day until a more thorough clean up can be performed overnight. Evening storms offer a bit more flexibility on start time provided operations commence in time to have everything clean and passable by early morning, whenever possible. It is important to understand that plowing operations do not necessarily begin as soon as the trigger amount is on the ground. The start time for the clearing operation will depend on the expected total accumulation of the storm. If a given storm is forecasted to drop 3” – 4” of snow, ILT will likely wait for the storm to end before we commence our operations, then clear all of it in one push. However, if a storm is expected to drop more than that, we will likely do a clearing at 3”- 4” and repeat as often as needed to leave the property clean at the end of the event. • Deicing operations are not necessarily performed automatically after a plow event or an ice storm. Most of our customers put this decision in our hands, i.e. we are to use our discretion as to when and how much material should be applied to keep conditions safe. Others customers prefer to notify the vendor on a case by case basis when they would like them to apply deicing materials. • Operations such as return visits to clear drifting, checking for ice issues, cleaning up after Village plows, etc. are addressed specifically in the contract but are generally customized to the needs and budget of the property owner(s). Understanding ahead of time, the expectations set forth in the snow removal agreement between your property manager/building owner and your vendor can save lots of anxiety if you find yourself asking questions like: “Why are the snow removal crews not here yet?” “Why was no salt put down?” “The Village plowed my driveway/parking lot entrance closed, when will that be cleared?” Feel free to contact me directly with questions about your specific contract terms or contact our property manager/building owner. Kevin Block, Sales Manager @ ILT Coming next time, PART 2: The process of mobilization; from forecast to flakes to finished.