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“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.

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

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

 

Nothing like a walk in the park

For all intents and purposes, the winter that came in like a lion is going out like a lamb.  It is time to start thinking about using the landscaping around you again.  Yes, I said “using” the landscaping.

In case you were wondering how you can personally benefit from using the landscape around you today, read on…

Stress and stress-related illnesses, as reflected in medical records, have increased dramatically among adults and children in Western societies. We have probably all heard of one study or another linking exposure to nature to reduced stress, lower anxiety levels, and help with symptoms of depression.  The studies all underscore what we already intuitively know.  We can relax in quiet, natural settings much more than we ever could in our offices or typical urban settings. Consequently, in addition to being a huge contributor to the overall value of your commercial property and providing significant marketing appeal, well designed and accessible landscaping can provide a valuable oasis for your employees and residents.

The simple fact is that our fast paced, plugged in, always “on” lifestyles give us brain fatigue.  It makes our brains tired of constantly being alert and aware (how many times did you check your smart phone since you began reading this piece?).  A “walk in the park” can go a long way to clear up the resulting brain clouds. 

While natural settings do still engage our brain, the engagement is effortless.  You don’t even necessarily have to enjoy nature or walking to get the benefit.  Exposing oneself to nature, even during the winter, or even looking at images of nature engages our so-called involuntary attention, which comes into play when our minds are inadvertently drawn to something interesting that doesn’t require intense focus, like a pleasing picture or a pleasant landscape feature. We can still talk and think while our brains are noticing and appreciating the element, but it holds our attention while it induces reflection.

AS THE SAYING GOES – YOU DESERVE A BREAK TODAY!

The science behind this theory is real, and probably nothing new to you so allow this to serve as a reminder.   Go for a walk in a green space around your building or in your community, or find a window where you can just sit and gaze out at some greenery.  This is not unproductive lollygagging.  On the contrary, it is likely to have a restorative effect on your brain, recharge your mental batteries, calm your nerves, and make you more productive.  If nothing else, a walk in the park will give you the ability to stop “doing” all the time and start “being” some of the time.

“Take a walk outside, it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.”

–Rasheed Ogunlaru

NALP announces ILT Vignocchi’s scholarship recipient

We are pleased to announce ILT Vignocchi’s National Association of Landscape Professionals Foundation scholarship, will be awarded to Shirlee Berman of College of DuPage. A reception will be held on March 15, 2017 at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, in conjunction with NALP’s 41th Annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition.

ILT Vignocchi was one of the first companies to create a $25,000 fund that awards an annual scholarship for those passionate about our industry. We are very proud to support future talent!

AIA 2016 annual trends report

Published annually by The American Institute of Architects, the AIA home design trends survey gives insight into how the market is performing, but what customers are interested in.

This 2016 report sheds some light on the landscape industry as well.

We learn that the trend for larger homes is still on the uptick.  The trend challenges landscape architects to combat municipality’s permeable surface limitations with permeable paving or vertical gardening when creating outdoor spaces.  

Another popular trend fueled by an increase in median age is being mindful of accessibility issues.  This effects outdoor spaces as well and must be thought of ahead when creating walkways, gates, and outdoor entertainment spaces.

One of the most interesting and most pressing trends is not the increase in those interested in high end landscapes, but those that also seek ones that require low irrigation.  It is something that we hear frequently from our customers.  “I want something low maintenance.”  It is heartening to see that a sense of responsibility to environmental preservation is continuing to creep into design fields.

As design professionals it is important that we don’t design inside a box.  We try to keep abreast of all sorts of industry trends so we can deliver the most thought out products for our customers.

ILT Vignocchi wins coveted ILCA Gold Award

It was a joyous night last Thursday as our team popped the bubbly while waiting to accept a ILCA (Illinois Landscape Contractors Association) Gold Award.  ILT has won numerous awards both local and national over the years, but this project is special and has been a labor of love for my dad, Harry Vignocchi.

Bunker Hill Farms has evolved over the years from a get away for the owner’s family to a multi-faceted facility with a large charitable component.  There is an enormous pond with a private beach, a clubhouse, a golf course, and a ski hill all situated in a native habitat.

It truly is a place of wonder and we are proud to be associated with it.