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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.

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

 

 

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

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.

Chicago may break 134 year old record for snowfall

In Case You Were Wondering…if this current snow drought that we are in sets a record for longest period between snow events of 1” or more, read on.

Chicago’s official snowfall records began with the winter of 1884-85. Over these 134 years, Chicago’s longest spell without a snowfall of at least 1 inch occurred twice: 64 days from Dec. 3-Feb. 4, 1905-06, and Dec. 23-Feb. 24, 1953-54.  On Dec. 17, Chicago recorded 1.7 inches of snow, the city’s most recent snowfall of at least 1 inch. As of Feb. 16, that would be 61 days ago.  Our streak must persist for at least one more week to have a chance at setting the record.

Lest you think that my interest in snow seems self-serving (after all I am one of the managers of the best snow removal company in Illinois), there are important benefits from regular winter snowfall that we all share.

The most obvious is the moisture.  The following equation varies based on the density of the snow which is determined by the temperature, but generally, every ten inches of snowfall melts into the equivalent of one inch of rain.  Chicago has received, on average, about 36” of snow annually over the last three decades, which translates into 3.6 inches of equivalent rainfall or about 10% of our annual rainfall total.  Granted, much of our snow melts and runs off in the spring, but the snow cover prevents evaporation during the winter, conserving soil moisture.  Plus not all the snow melt runs off, further adding to soil moisture for the upcoming growing season.

Another major benefit of a good snow cover is that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs.  The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and other shallow rooted plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.

And, lastly, snow is aesthetically pleasing.  A snow-less winter in Chicagoland is drab, dreary, and gray.  Snow brightens everything, bringing out the colors and textures of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and tree and shrub bark.  Snow cover just makes a Chicago winter more complete.

Chicago may break 134 year old record!

In Case You Were Wondering…if this current snow drought that we are in sets a record for longest period between snow events of 1” or more, read on.

Chicago’s official snowfall records began with the winter of 1884-85. Over these 134 years, Chicago’s longest spell without a snowfall of at least 1 inch occurred twice: 64 days from Dec. 3-Feb. 4, 1905-06, and Dec. 23-Feb. 24, 1953-54.  On Dec. 17, Chicago recorded 1.7 inches of snow, the city’s most recent snowfall of at least 1 inch. As of Feb. 16, that would be 61 days ago.  Our streak must persist for at least one more week to have a chance at setting the record.

Lest you think that my interest in snow seems self-serving (after all I am one of the managers of the best snow removal company in Illinois), there are important benefits from regular winter snowfall that we all share.

The most obvious is the moisture.  The following equation varies based on the density of the snow which is determined by the temperature, but generally, every ten inches of snowfall melts into the equivalent of one inch of rain.  Chicago has received, on average, about 36” of snow annually over the last three decades, which translates into 3.6 inches of equivalent rainfall or about 10% of our annual rainfall total.  Granted, much of our snow melts and runs off in the spring, but the snow cover prevents evaporation during the winter, conserving soil moisture.  Plus not all the snow melt runs off, further adding to soil moisture for the upcoming growing season.

Another major benefit of a good snow cover is that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs.  The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and other shallow rooted plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.

And, lastly, snow is aesthetically pleasing.  A snow-less winter in Chicagoland is drab, dreary, and gray.  Snow brightens everything, bringing out the colors and textures of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and tree and shrub bark.  Snow cover just makes a Chicago winter more complete.

Long Grove Bluestone Patio and Fire Pit

One of the advantages of doing great work for nice people is that they share the excitement of their new landscapes, with their families and friends…and with us through photos and videos.

These are not professionally staged photos by acclaimed photographers.  These are real photos that depict daily life, taken after they finished their cup of tea while enjoying a seat by a fire on an Autumn evening.

I love it when our customers send me these moments, because there is great satisfaction in helping them have a more enjoyable and hopefully more serene, relaxing interaction with the outdoors.

Here are two photos of a bluestone patio and custom fit pit sent to us from a customer in Long Grove, Illinois.  The landscape architects on the project were our very own Harry Vignocchi and Ken Horinko.

A great thank you to our customer for sharing them.

-Donna Vignocchi Zych

Full range ashler pattern bluestone

Granite Boulder Fire Pit embedded in bluestone patio

Booming economic prediction results in more blooms

Economic forecasters are predicting positive news for the commercial and multi-family residential real estate markets.  Multi-family residential construction is booming; vacancies will drop and rents will rise in office buildings, shopping centers, factories and warehouses; and as job growth continues, activity in the retail and office sectors is expected to rise.
Commercial landscaping activity (which includes multi-family residential communities) should experience a resurgence over the next several years. This growth is expected to motivate those property owners/managers who were holding off on landscaping improvements to make those enhancements to remain competitive.
A recent issue of Turf Magazine identified the Top 5 Commercial Landscape Trends for the next decade and beyond.  Here’s a summary of where Turf says owners and property managers will be spending their landscape improvement dollars.
More Time is Being Spent and More Work is Getting Done Outdoors
Building owners, property managers, and multi-family associations today want to do everything they can to attract tenants/visitors/residents and that includes providing spaces with more meeting/gathering areas.
Consequently, outdoor meeting areas are growing, giving properties a differentiation factor from nearby competition. And providing wireless internet at outdoor sitting and gathering areas expands the work space, taking employees from their desks to the outdoors for work, as well as play.
LEEDing the Way
Green practices and energy efficiency will become even more of a priority in the 21st century and the focus on new green building design will shift to greening existing buildings. LEED is a consideration in landscape maintenance practices as well. As cost becomes less of a deciding factor in the decision-making process for owners/managers, landscape maintenance companies with a greener approach to their operations will be a more attractive alternative.
Efficient Water Use
Water conservation continues to be a major issue, and responsible water use has become a hot topic for commercial properties.  One easy way to conserve is to incorporate more drought resistant, native plantings into an overall design.  Container planting is another way to provide colorful, vibrant plant displays that minimize water usage.
Closer monitoring of automated irrigation will be important to maximize water usage on a large property.  Installation of rain sensors that limit the frequency of operation, conversion of spray head systems to drip lines, and regular irrigation system checkups to look for broken sprinkler heads, clogged lines or other irrigation problems all contribute to a more responsible use of water and a greater return on the investment in an automated irrigation system.
Multifamily Properties Are Booming
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the National Association of Home Builders, construction of multifamily residences, specifically structures with five or more units, has been growing faster than construction of single-family homes.  Millennials who show a preference for living in walkable, urban areas continue to feed this demand because a majority of today’s millennials rent vs. buy.  Baby boomers are also selling their homes to rent apartments within walking distance of downtown areas or moving into areas for active older adults.
Because of this growth, the multifamily market is becoming even more competitive. Besides a great location, people are looking strongly at the amenities each site offers as a major driving factor in their final decision.  Curb appeal, landscaping, and usable outdoor spaces have an even greater impact on that decision-making today.
Investment in the Design Process
As a result of the popularity of interactive social media and sites like Pinterest and Houzz, commercial property managers and building owners are exposed to trends, concepts, and design ideas that they can share with their landscape architects to more specifically communicate their preferences.  This is making the design process even more of a team effort between architect and owner resulting in outdoor spaces that are even more creative, customized, and reflective of the trends in any specific marketplace.
A positive economic forecast is generally good news for everybody, particularly in the real estate business.  It will allow owners and managers who have been extremely budget conscious during the recession to once again look to contractors who provide higher quality maintenance and more creative property enhancements to help them separate their properties from their competition.

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

baldcypress_chicago

Bald cypress in the landscape

Up close of the leaf

Written by Ken Horinko, ASLA
Landscape Architect