Author Archives: iltvignocchi

Landscape Architects, Designers, Contractors – what’s the difference?

ILT Vignocchi, Inc. Landscape Architects and Contractors…it’s part of our name because it’s that important.   Landscape architects, landscape designers, landscape contractors, etc.; in case you were wondering what the difference is, read on…

While there may be a lot of overlap in these professions, the distinctions between them can make a world of difference in the planning, execution, and ultimate functionality of the outdoor spaces around your office building, campus, park, or HOA community.  To fully understand the distinctions between landscape architects, landscape designers, and landscape contractors you need to look at both the technical and the functional aspects of the job.

A Landscape Architect must have a professional license issued by the registration board in the state in which they are performing work. In order to become licensed, they must have a degree in Landscape Architecture from an accredited school, some years of experience working for a licensed Landscape Architecture firm, and pass a qualifying exam. Landscape architects must adhere to a code of professional standards, actively participate in continuing education, and be current with state-of-the-art developments and trends in the landscape design field.

A rendered landscape plan by ILT Vignocchi

Landscape Designers may have varying levels of knowledge and expertise; however, they are not required to be licensed or certified, and are not regulated by the state.  The “credential” for Landscape Designers has no legal bearing.  While many Landscape Designers do have some level of professional training, they can call themselves such without any formal educational or experience requirements.

Finally, the Landscape Contractor is the team that is responsible for physically building, installing and maintaining the landscape conceived by the architect or designer. They are not government regulated beyond typical local business licensing requirements, and their insurance and liability coverages vary widely. Dependent upon their levels of expertise, they may be able to furnish and install the plant materials and build the structures, hardscapes, and water features called for in a given design.

Licensed Landscape Architects use their technical and artistic talents to create drawings, construction documents, and specifications that dictate the allocation, arrangement, and construction of planting schemes, land elements, water resources, and integrated structures.  They usually work on larger scale projects such as commercial buildings, public parks, recreation facilities, institutional buildings, clubhouses, and multi-unit residential communities, and complex residential work. They are trained to document design concepts and plans on paper as a visual, graphic means of communicating their designs. This is especially important for complex projects that require permitting through city planning or building departments.

Because Landscape Architects have a responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of the public in the work they do, they need to be licensed and are required to have professional liability insurance.  By contrast Landscape Designers have no legal responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the public, are not required to carry liability insurance, and are generally only allowed to design simple, single-family residential gardens.

Thoughtful landscape architecture adds value to a commercial development, public spaces, or an HOA community by considering both the aesthetic and practical aspects of the landscape.  A landscape architect is conscious of the environmental issues with which today’s society is faced and has the expertise and training to plan around and manage the challenging issues on both commercial and residential sites, including:

  • Use of space, traffic volume, and human impact on the landscape
  • Appropriate plant selection and placement for long term impact
  • Elevation, grading, and land usage
  • Hardscape elements such as retaining walls and paving surfaces
  • Water movement, Irrigation and drainage systems
  • Outdoor structures
  • Placement of recreational features, utilities, service lines, entryways, driveways, parking, etc.

At ILT Vignocchi, we are licensed, certified landscape architects, proficient in the “big picture” planning, design, construction, and maintenance of both public and private landscaped environments. We can help you develop your project from the “ground up”; providing initial concepts, finished designs, construction plans and specifications.  Additionally, as contractors, we can build your outdoor environment to the exact specifications of the design, then maintain it to maximize your return on your investment.

Whether you are starting a project from the concept phase, interested in a large-scale renovation, or a simple redesign of a courtyard or monument sign, give us a call today and find out how ILT can help you.

“Water, water, everywhere, | Nor any drop to drink” – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Considering all of the rain Mother Nature has blessed us with over the last few months, automated irrigation systems are hardly first and foremost on most of our minds right now.  However, summer heat and dry weather will be upon us soon and keeping landscapes lush and green will once again be the focus of commercial landscaping contractors and property owners.  But that lush greenery comes at a price; hand watering takes time, costs money, and maybe most importantly, wastes a lot of water.  In case you were wondering how you can save money this season through more efficient watering methods, read on:

Water conservation is not simply a “green” issue promoted by environmentalists, made even more prominent in the wake of recent severe droughts in the United States and abroad.  Fresh water conservation is an obligation shared by everyone on the planet.  Installing and maintaining an automated sprinkler system will help to avoid wasteful over-watering, ensuring a safe and healthy water supply for future generations; and by the way, will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Water conservation, through the use of automated mechanical systems, will save significant amounts of time, money, water; while still keeping your grass green, your flowers bright, and your ornamental plant material healthy and hearty.  Hand watering can waste more than 50 per cent of the water used due to over-watering, runoff, and evaporation.  An automated system can be programmed to water during the cool, dark overnight hours thus minimizing evaporation.  The system components will direct water to specific areas and, when timed properly, high efficiency nozzles will disperse only as much water as the plant can absorb in any one watering.  Saving money, doing the right thing environmentally, while still protecting the investment you make in your landscaping are all solid reasons to consider installing an automated irrigation system.

The irrigation industry has made tremendous advances in the way of technology over the last several years.  Manufacturers now provide more cost-effective, efficient, and reliable materials and designs than ever before, making it a great time to reconsider installing a system around your business or homeowner’s association grounds.  Even if budget constraints force you to restrict your system to flower beds, monument sign plantings, and high visibility turf areas at first, the technology is such that add on revisions later are simple and relatively inexpensive once the main water lines are in place and controllers with multi-zone potential have been installed.

With the advent of smart controller technology and wi-fi capability, water management can be monitored and managed from virtually any location, giving you and your service contractor greater flexibility to adjust your system from virtually anywhere at any time.  All landscapes are different and therefore the irrigation needs of your specific landscape must be assessed and evaluated to ensure that your system is designed and installed according to those specific needs.  The key is to get a professional design that appropriately combines the basic components of a modern automated system (high efficiency nozzles, drip lines, rain sensors, etc.) with the available smart controller technology.

Once you have made the commitment and installed your system, it will only be an effective water conservation and money saving tool if it is managed properly.  A mismanaged system can still result in enormous amounts of wasted water.  Broken heads can lose thousands of gallons of water unnecessarily; timers without rain sensors can still kick on in the rain; and broken lines underground leach out water into the soil with no benefit to your plant material.  Modern technology allows you and your contractor to monitor your system remotely and be alerted to these issues immediately, allowing for timely repairs with minimal lost water/money.

If you haven’t considered installing an automated irrigation system or thought it was too expensive the last time you looked at it, now would be a great time to reconsider.  With today’s modern materials and more efficient means of installation, it may be much more affordable than you once thought.  And the money you save over the long run can be put towards improvements and upgrades in your landscaping or elsewhere around your business or HOA grounds.

Contact ILT today and find out how you may benefit from automating your watering efforts.

Designing for Security

Spring is often the time when building owners and HOA boards consider re-designing or refreshing their landscaping with some new plantings. At ILT Vignocchi we understand that aesthetics are always a big factor in plant selection, along with exposure, growth habits, site consistency, and even personal taste.
One frequently overlooked factor when making plant selections and choosing locations is security. Although the ideal time to consider landscaping for security around multi-family or commercial buildings is during the design phase; either at the onset of a new construction project or when a landscaping renovation is being contemplated, security should always be a major factor in your landscaping scheme.  In any case, it is important for a designer or landscape architect to “think like a thief” as he/she begins to consider the types of plants that will be used and their specific placement around the property.
In case you were wondering how to use landscaping as a simple, yet effective security feature, read on
One of the more common security considerations we make is to place low growing shrubs and ground covers under windows and around other entry points to keep sight lines open from street to structure and from inside a building outward.  These considerations, along with the use of plants with thorns, spines, or other prickly growth can discourage intruders from crawling along walls and windows.  The latter can also be useful around utility structures and other unsightly elements on a property as aesthetic screens which also deter vandalism.  However, remember to always take care not to block access for service workers.
A common misstep made by inexperienced landscapers is to plant young trees too close to buildings and other structures in an effort to create instant impact; not anticipating for their growth, and the eventual problems that the close proximity may cause to roofs, gutters, foundations, siding, windows, etc.; not to mention the potential security issues.  We place trees so that they will offer subtle screening and aesthetic interest from the street and out from windows; but we are careful to place them far enough away from building faces to avoid structural damage and so that the branches don’t offer easy access to the upper story windows and balcony/deck doors which homeowners may leave unlocked.
Landscape lighting can be a very useful tool against crime both around the outside perimeter of a building or in parking lot medians, courtyards, and loading areas.  Low voltage landscape lighting is an especially effective and beautiful addition to the landscape that will also serve to expose potential predators sneaking around the entry points of your building.  Illuminating the trees and planting beds around your property will likely discourage thieves from even attempting to gain access to your building.
When you are trying to evaluate a particular landscape design from a security standpoint, view the landscaping around your property as if you were looking for a way to break into the building.  Think like a thief. Check your entrances to see if there are any dense shrub masses, tall groupings, or low hanging tree branches that an intruder would be able to hide in or climb on as he/she attempts to gain entry into your building.  Heavily planted areas adjacent to parking islands can create safety issues for drivers accessing their cars late at night.  The same with service entrances or dock/garage doors where dense plantings make particularly attractive hiding places for someone looking to slip into your building through an open door as you pull in a car, carry out garbage, or unload a truck.
Remember, aesthetics and curb appeal can go a long way to marketing and your property but security and practicality should be of equal consideration when planning any planting job.  Intruders tend to seek the path of least risk and resistance. By carefully considering your design choices, lighting the perimeters and entrances of your property, planting trees or pruning tree branches away from structures, planting shrubs with some forethought and trimming shrubs and other brush away from access points such as windows and doorways, you can make your property a far less attractive target for criminals.

Perfect Pansies

I have a deep love of pansies.  I adore that they come in every color of the rainbow, which is unusual for an annual flower.  It is wonderful that they can be pure, or blotched or multicolored all on the same plant.  Have you ever looked at pansies when it is about to storm?  Try it, they absolutely glow.

Pansy Delta Premium Pure Lemon

What really sets them apart though is how charming cheerful they are.

Pansy Matrix Clear Mix

What can be seen as a drawback?  They are a cool season plant and in the Midwest we only get to enjoy them in spring and fall.  Oh I’ve done the experiments…transplanting them to the coolest shadiest parts of my yard to no avail.  They just peter out.  I actually like that they only shine twice a year.  It makes them all the more special.

It is thought that pansies are a close cousins to the viola, which has roots in Greece in the 4th century B.C.  However, they believe the first pansies were first found in France, because the word pansy is traced back to the French word pensee, meaning thought or remembrance.

Pansy Delta Lavender Blue

In the early 1800’s an inquisitive Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson began experimenting with crossing different varieties of pansies.  It is William Thompson who is accredited with removing long lines and created large blocks of color on the lower petals, created what is now known as “the face.”

Today popularity booms and most innovations are being made in Germany, Japan and the United States.

Pansy Matrix Midnight Glow

What is interesting is the amount of passion to innovate in this area.  It isn’t to create a drought free plant, or even one that is resistant to diseases or animals (which they are NOT).  The innovation, is to take something that was beautiful to begin with and make it even more so.

I for one am glad they are.

Donna Vignocchi Zych

President

Old Concepts, New Technology, Sustainable Results

Growing plants on rooftops is not a new concept. Centuries ago northern Scandinavians harvested sod from their surrounding landscape and placed it upon structures to create effective insulating and water resistant roof systems.  The Vikings who explored the upper Atlantic built grass-covered homes where they settled and in Iceland sod roofs and walls have been used for hundreds of years.

Although the living roof or green roof has been in use for a long time, modern green roof technology has helped to elevate this building method from a crudely effective construction element to an aesthetically pleasing, ecologically responsible building solution for age-old building problems and current environmental concerns.

green roof or living roof is a roof of a building or other structure that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. It may also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems.

Green roofs can be very basic, known as extensive green roofs that incorporate drought-tolerant, self-seeding native ground covers such as sedums, grasses, mosses and prairie flowers that require little or no irrigation, fertilization or maintenance. These green roofs are lightweight, inexpensive, and can be retrofitted onto existing buildings, often without significant alterations or additional structural support.

Intensive green roofs are more elaborate roof gardens designed for human interaction. They generally have a relatively flat roof surface or mild slope and allow for a larger selection of plants, including shrubs and trees and require specific engineering to be able to conform to the weight load requirements.

Today, the green roof is gaining in popularity as an environmentally conscious architectural expression that is a viable element of any sustainable landscape management plan; and here is why:

  • Storm-water runoff will be greatly decreased with the utilization of a living roof. The growing medium and the vegetation of a green roof retain large amounts of storm water and release it back into the environment. A typical green roof can absorb 30% of the rainwater that falls on it, reducing the amount of water that goes through our waste water systems.
  • It is a common misassumption that a green roof system will have a deleterious effect on the integrity of the roof system. Quite the opposite.  A well designed, correctly installed green roof will protect the waterproof membrane that lies beneath it and, in turn, will extend the overall life of a roof.  Recent studies indicate an increase in life span of almost double.
  • Green roofs absorb carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming; and the slow transpiration of water back into the air creates a cooling effect that helps reduce the heat retention and emanation in and around your building.
  • In addition to the energy saving features described above, the actual mass and density of a living roof will provide excellent sound insulation for a building as well.
  • And let’s not forget the aesthetic benefits of the rooftop garden. The roof garden intermingles the pre-construction environment with the built environment creating a sustainable cooperation between development and nature.  People love to interact in the relative secluded natural setting created by the intensive garden on a rooftop space.  Additionally, they benefit emotionally and psychologically from the ability to even look upon the greenery of an intensive or an extensive roof top garden.

Green roof technology was re-invented in Germany in the mid-20th century and quickly spread throughout Europe mainly due to its restorative environmental impact.

Today, Chicago has been a leader in green roof installations with up to 7 million square feet on approximately 500 rooftops; the most of any city in the United States.  The benefits of the green roof have not been ignored by suburban businesses and multi-family residential buildings either.

Green roofs add beauty, sustainability and longevity to buildings

Corporations, commercial building owners, and homeowners associations are looking for solutions to increase employee well-being, decrease their carbon footprints, increase their LEEDS scores, and differentiate their properties from their competition.  The rooftop garden has proven to be just such a solution.

Reach out to ILT Vignocchi today to inquire about the potential for your headquarters, office building, clubhouse, or other structure to benefit from a green roof installation.

Scholarship Thank You Letter

As an founding ambassador in NALP’s Education Foundation (National Association of Landscape Professionals), a scholarship in our name is given to a qualified candidate who is enthusiastic about learning and contributing to our industry.

Most years we receive a kind not of gratitude tell us a little bit more about the student who receives the funds.  This year was no exception as you can see below.

Thank you letter

Spring Orientation and Training

We have been holding spring orientation and training for years.  It is a time not only to make certain our staff understands our expectations and our standard operating procedures, but also a time to get their feedback and say thank you.

This season, due to extensive self reflection and customer feedback, we are overhauling our training and quality monitoring system.  Our quality coordinator, Aaron Zych, along with the aid of our sales and supervisory staff has created a comprehensive system of checks and balances.

Our new quality monitoring board

We are excited to start our season and are reminded that it is invigorating to constantly challenge yourselves to learn, improve, have FUN, and most importantly be the best.

Below are some photos from our event!

Bed edge training

Small Equipment Training by Juan Nunez

Classroom orientation by Aaron Zych

New pad for rack deliveries by Juan Miquel Ortiz, Miquel Ortiz, and Juan Morales

 

 

Rain Gardens

In Case You Were Wondering…how to get rid of the soggy areas around your property that never seem to dry out and create a muddy nuisance where grass won’t grow, read on.

Rain Garden Diagram

Most commercial buildings and multi-family communities have storm drains and retention/detention ponds to accommodate the water that is trapped when the natural landscape is replaced with buildings and impervious surfaces such as asphalt parking lots, streets, and sidewalks; and rain can no longer be absorbed by the ground.

These solutions work well to divert or capture large volume runoff, provided the drainage systems are designed effectively to carry the water to the drains and/or holding areas.

But what about the areas around your property that never seem to drain off?  When water is diverted into a low area that has no outlet or is not suitable for drainage, water will begin to pond, and over time the weight of the water will compact the soil and create a deeper pool, allowing more water to sit.  A rain garden can be a very practical and effective means of addressing these drainage issues; particularly where downspouts are not placed appropriately or do not run off properly; settled ground has created depressions that trap water; or the ground has become so compacted that water simply no longer infiltrates the soil.  Grass, ornamental plants, and trees eventually die off from the excess moisture leaving you with wet, unusable areas around your property that never dry out.

A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures rain water and holds it for a short time until it is absorbed into the ground, evaporates, or is taken up by plants.  The rain garden is an innovative and eco-friendly landscaping solution that’s gaining in popularity, particularly in office parks and multi-family communities. An increasing number of property managers and commercial property owners are discovering how a rain garden can be an inexpensive and effective solution to these unsightly, unusable areas; while at the same time help to decrease erosion, improve water quality, create wildlife habitat, and provide aesthetic benefits.

Rain gardens were originally developed to slow down the flow of storm water runoff created when buildings and pavement cover the ground and prevent water absorption as soil becomes compacted and the natural landscape changes from diverse native vegetation to mowed and manicured lawns. These factors decrease the amount of water that soaks into the landscape after a rain and increases the volume of water that flows across the terrain and into storm drains that empty into local streams.  This increased water flow (both in terms of volume and velocity) leads to more erosion, more flooding and

more pollutants being washed into streams and reservoirs. Rain gardens provide a solution to these problems by helping to slow the flow.

Additionally, rain gardens provide a practical and effective solution to the smaller scale drainage issues described above.  A well-functioning rain garden traps and cleans storm water and reduces its volume (through rapid absorption) once it enters the garden.  Properly designed and maintained, rain gardens are also attractive landscaping elements that function like native ecosystems and can look as naturalistic or as formal as you like.  The plants in the gardens absorb excess water and provide important habitat for pollinating insects, birds and other wildlife while also adding visual appeal to the land around your community or your business.

But you’re not merely building a catch-basin that’s going to turn into a pond every time it rains. Far from it. With sound design, (the appropriate soil/gravel, knowledgeable plant selection, and correct installation), water is absorbed quickly – usually within a few hours.

And, in case you think your rain garden will provide a new breeding area for mosquitoes – think again. A rain garden doesn’t retain water long enough to make it a viable area for mosquito development. Depending on temperature, it takes 24-48 hours for mosquito eggs to hatch. After the eggs hatch, the larva must live in water for several days.  A properly installed and maintained rain garden does not hold water long enough to accommodate the development of mosquito larvae.

Contact ILT today and find out how the installation of rain gardens can help you solve some of the drainage issues around your community or business.  By creating a rain garden(s) you can eliminate those problem areas of your landscape while helping to keep some of the rain that falls on your site contained on site, the way nature intended.  And in addition, you can help improve water quality in local streams/rivers, save water, reduce pollution, and help wildlife.

Landscape Bracketology

It is time for the March Madness to begin and whether you are an avid college basketball fan or you don’t know a Blue Devil from a Boilermaker, chances are you are going to be filling out a bracket and making your picks for the winners.  But what kind of strategy are you using?  Do you study the records, pore over the difficulty of the team’s schedule, analyze the star player stats, listen to the hours of prognostication on the TV and internet?  Or do you pick by your favorite uniform color or the most endearing team nicknames.  No one can tell you that your strategy won’t be effective and even having no strategy (random selection) is actually a strategy in and of itself and can sometimes produce winning results.
However, more often than not putting some thought into your choices and actually reasoning through your decisions will produce the greatest chance of being alive in your pool when the Final Four teams face off.  The same holds true for the selection process for your landscaping and snow removal vendors.  Selecting the right firm for your building or your community is a big decision that will have a direct impact on the value and marketability of your property to residents, potential buyers, customers, employees, visitors, etc. To ensure that your landscape maintenance/snow removal team has the right level of expertise, resources, and experience for your property, make sure you conduct a thorough review process. The more quality information you can consider, the more informed your choices will be when making these extremely important decisions.
Know who you are hiring and how long have they been in business?  Don’t just look for longevity.  Many mediocre companies have survived a long time by churning and burning through customers.  Look for the ones that have long standing relationships with similar customers to tell you who is providing the best level of comprehensive, responsive service over the long run.
Know their professional affiliations and certifications.  Members of established and respected trade organizations are more likely to promote honest and ethical business practices.  They are also more inclined to be current in their licensing and certifications, and more aware of industry standards and technological advances to be able to handle all of your ancillary needs safely, legally, and cost effectively.
Bigger is not always better.  National and even large regional companies can talk about their size and status, but how much “hands on” interaction are you going to have with one of them?  How many layers of phone calls will it take to reach your contact, and how long will it take to get a call back?  How important will your single contract be in the scheme of a multi-million, or now with recent mergers, billion-dollar company?  A local company will more likely provide the personal contact most clients are looking for so ask for their references and find out if they answer their phones.  Will they available to you when you need them?  Is there a decision maker accessible to you when you have issues?  Will they value your business or are you just another number on a spreadsheet?
And of course, cheaper is not always better either: Landscape maintenance and snow removal contracts are by and large service based and the chief part of that service is labor.  A contractor’s hourly labor rates are a factor of how much they are they paying their people; and the overall cost of the service contract is based on much time those people will be spending on your property.  Consequently, lower priced contracts usually mean lower priced labor (less experienced/less talented) spending less time servicing your property at each visit.
Be sure you have shared expectations.  Some contractors will do whatever is in the best interest of your property while others will look to charge you for every “extra” item they can.  Many contractors offer low prices up front then make back their money by flooding you with bills for extra work that they say was not included in the contract.  Contracts are more than words on a piece of paper.  They are an extension of a relationship that must be built on trust.  If you do not trust that your contractor is treating you fairly and giving you the best value for your money, why would you be doing business with them?

Montale Gardens

About 20 years ago we sold our facility in Prairie View, IL and relocated to two new facilities, one in Wauconda and one in Island Lake.  Our facility in Island Lake is home to our production teams, mechanics and outside material storage.  Our facility in Wauconda started as a corporate headquarters and evolved, thanks to our very entrepreneurial founder, into an impressive shrub, perennial and groundcover wholesale nurseryMontale Gardens.

To those in the industry, the evolution from landscape professional to nurseryman is a natural one.  Most of the companies I know who have done it do so for a myriad of reasons…cutting cost, controlling quality, and revenue growth.

My father and I are very proud of our little sister nursery…she has the same culture and values as her big brother landscape company.  Those of service, fun, integrity and quality.

This winter, under the new leadership of Melisa Bell, Montale got a brand facelift.  When it comes to our image (we are Italian so the vanity runs quite deep) we are emotional and opinionated.  So the process was argumentative yet fun, painful yet invigorating.

When all was said and done, we are all so proud of the end result.  Here is a peak at the evolution, starting with my father’s original ILT logo, it’s next incarnation, Montale’s new logo, and their new look on display at the very popular industry trade show, ilandscape.

Harry Vignocchi’s original tree logo as seen to the left.

We call it the “V” tree which is our logo atop our original logo

Montale’s new logo

Melisa Bell talks to a customer at our ilandscape booth