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Find a little peace in what nature provides

Recently I had an interesting experience…

It was a Sunday morning after a particularly stressful week and I decided to wake early and make our weekly grocery store run, by myself, for some piece and quiet.  I was seeking some room for my mind to wonder, relax, only contemplating freshness of produce and what to make for our family’s dinner.

The trip through the store was pleasant enough.  The store seemed to be populated with those of us trying to achieve the same thing.  Getting away from the chaos.

As I was leaving, feeling calm and refreshed, I noticed a couple that might intersect me at a walkway.  I proceeded because I thought I had plenty of room to turn before they reached the intersection.  After I turned I glanced in my side mirror to make certain that the couple had enough room.  It seemed as though they did not as the woman violently gestured to me, and as a result I gasped and held my mouth agape.  She must have seen me because she smiled wide and waved, as though immensely satisfied her blow had struck home.

I was devastated.

I could not comprehend in that moment how someone could have so much anger at 7 am on a Sunday morning on a relaxing stroll with their spouse.

But what is true today is that there are a lot of people with so much anger.  It is as if we have forgotten to see the best in situations, the best in each other and are reluctant to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  I was, and still am, greatly saddened by that situation.  So much so that I am writing this on our company’s blog in order to put something positive into a world that has become one I no longer want to recognize.

Those of us that have stress, have hardships, have pain…those of us that may not have the strength or support to get through it with positivity…consider this…

Start by finding beauty in the nature that surrounds you.  Take time to walk, sit and drink up the colors, textures and serenity of public parks and nature preserves.  Consider planting a garden, it is such a labor of love and provides such a feeling of accomplishment.  Seek a little peace in that which provides boundless beauty.

Each night I say to my family, “let’s go on a garden walk!”  Sometimes I get resistance of why or I’m too busy, but on the nights when we spend 20 minutes looking to see what is blooming, what is changing, what smells gorgeous, we find commonality and peace.

That is what we should all be looking for.

  • Donna Vignocchi Zych, President

There’s no business like snow business

They all look the same from a distance but show subtle differences when examined closely.
The same might be said of snow removal contractors.  We may all look the same at first glance, (trucks, tractors, plows, etc.), until you take the time to find out a little more about what we do and how we do what we do;
and you should take that time.
The subtle (or sometimes extensive) differences in capabilities, commitment, and conscientiousness will have a significant impact on the performance on your property; and that performance can make you, the property/facility manager, look like a hero to your residents, tenants, and employees…or not.
Here are five important lines of questioning to help you ensure that you are hiring the contractor best suited to make you look like a hero.
  • CONTRACTS:  What is your contract structure and how are fees applied?
Contract terms have many variations (per plow, per inch, lump sum, time & material, etc.).  You need to have clear terms that suit your specific needs, with reliable pricing, and no surprises. While cost is always a factor when making contractor choices, the less obvious consequences of using a lower priced but ultimately incapable snow removal contractor can cost you much more than money if that contractor fails to perform during one of Chicago’s challenging winters.  Additionally, if those less expensive contracts are peppered with “extra” charges, you can find yourself paying much more than you would have had you chosen a more comprehensive service provider.
  • CAPABILITIY:  What is your company’s policy in regard to the amount of snow removal business you will commit to in any given winter and where will my property fall in your list of priorities? How do you determine the maximum thresholds that you can manage?  How do you allocate your resources during a weather event?
Do you handle the snow removal work in-house with your own employees or do you need to rely on the help of outside subcontractors who may not offer the same level of commitment to the work?
Who are some of the customers you work with now that I can talk to about their experience with you?
  • PLANNING: What is your specific operational plan for my property?  Are you familiar with properties like mine and clear on our specific needs? What resources are you willing to commit to this property?
  • TECHNOLOGY:  Do you subscribe to a reliable weather forecasting service that will provide site specific forecasts on a real-time basis, daily operating forecasts, snow and ice warnings that are geographically targeted to our service area, and snow accumulation reports to assist us in the management of your force?
How are your crews dispatched and monitored throughout an event?
Do you rely on media broadcasts, airport reports, your own production yard, or will you send a representative out to my property to assess conditions on the site prior to mobilization?
  • ACCOUNTABILITY:  How do you measure and document snowfall to determine commencement triggers, billing parameters, and mobilization?
What is your reporting process to ensure that I will be kept informed of progress and problems throughout a weather event?
Who will be available to me for communication regarding issues and special needs?
What is your policy for repairing or resolving damage that occurs as a result of the snow removal efforts?
Taking the time now to find out a little more about the differences between contractors by asking these important questions will help to ensure that you are using the company best suited to satisfy your needs.
At ILT Vignocchi, we welcome your scrutiny; and if you become a customer, we will make you look like a hero.
Call or email us today and find out more about the ILT difference.

Benefits of Fall Planting

Most of us love fall, but plants love it even MORE!
 

Most people think of fall as the end of the growing season and the beginning glimpse of another Chicago winter.  Well try to look at it as an ideal time to plant!

Fall is a perfect time for planting shrubs, trees, grass seed, and even perennials if they have a developed root system. Fall planting gives plants time to develop roots before winter’s blustery conditions.  The conditions are also less stressful and there may be more reliable precipitation.

What happens during fall conditions is a plant’s leaf and flower production is usually slowing down and approaching dormancy. Therefore, a plant can focus on root production.  Roots continue to grow when other parts of the plant are not. Generally speaking, root systems will keep growing as long as the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees.

Although we generally get more rain in fall, the good news is that plants use less water then.  Because days are increasingly shorter and cooler in the fall, plants are going to be photosynthesizing less and using less water.

Fall is also when depleted nurseries can begin to dig plants again, so varieties that were either unavailable or just downright unsightly in July and August, may become available.

Finally, don’t forget about BULBS!  Its often surprising why more people don’t take advantage of this relatively inexpensive way to welcome in Spring.  To achieve a gorgeous Spring show bulbs are planted in late fall.

Spring Tulips

If you’d like to start planning a fall project, it is right around the corner, so call us now and we will be happy to assist you!

Water and why you have to plan for it

After an uncharacteristically hot and dry June, Mother Nature just sent us a harsh reminder of her ability to restore rainfall statistics rapidly.

Unfortunately for many homeowners and businesses, this reminder came in the form of a seven-inch downpour over a 24-hour period that is still causing overflow and flooding around local rivers, lakes, and retention ponds.

Gurnee, IL experiences massive flooding

While it is difficult to predict and prevent the kind of flooding issues that are created by such catastrophic weather events, these events serve as a reminder to property owners, both commercial and residential, to be more aware of the impact that water flow has around your property.  Having a well-conceived and expertly executed drainage system around your buildings and grounds can mean the difference between staying high and dry through any weather event, or dealing with flooded yards, basements, parking lots, and roadways.

Generally, rainfall is the catalyst for creating drainage issues but ground water, specifically the location of the water table, can also play a role in the ability of water to move by design.  Where land is flat, soils are dense (clay), or the water table is high, a well-designed drainage system is a priority.  Consideration of grading, water flow, and proper drainage is essential to prevent minor issues during normal weather and to minimize major damage during catastrophic events like the one we experienced here in northern Illinois last week.  Without proper drainage systems in place, water can enter and undermine structures, damage drives and roadways, cause erosion issues, and drown expensive plant material.

It is not always enough to rely on the original drainage plans that were created for your property when it was first developed and constructed.  Typically, the more recent the development took place, the better the chances are that the drainage systems were designed and constructed to effectively move water around the property.  Older properties may have experienced settling, ground shifts, changes in water tables, neighboring development, or many other factors that can influence the effectiveness of these systems.  New or old, it is a good idea to observe and review the water flow issues on your property before a major problem occurs.

SURFACE WATER is one of the more common problems associated with improper or inadequate drainage systems.  Sites with clay soils will likely have issues with lingering surface water. By design, developed land should be graded to drain so that water flows through swales or sheet drains across turf or pavement to the curb or storm drain. The reality is that builders don’t always get their grades right and water becomes trapped, causing puddles on pavement, backflow against foundations, soggy zones in lawns, and muddy planting beds.

Downspout/sump pump discharge is a huge contributor to surface water issues.  Enormous amounts of water can come off a building’s roof or be channeled into a sump pit during a typical rainfall.  This water is often just re-directed back along the foundation of a building where it can go right back into the sump pit or collect on the surface of the ground around the structure.

SUB-SURFACE WATER collects underground, and becomes trapped when there’s poor drainage due to the existing soil structure or high water tables.  When it freezes and expands, the potential for damage increases. The frozen water pushes against your foundation and paved surfaces, causing heaving, cracking, and structural damage.

Solutions to improper site drainage can range from the very simple to much more complex depending on the nature of the issue and its underlying cause.  Conceptually, solutions fall into two basic categories.

  1. Capture the runoff and store it for reuse or allow it to percolate back into the soil.  Rain barrels and cisterns are used for storage of runoff water for use later as manual watering sources. Dry wells, French drains, rain gardens, and specific soil amendments can be used to collect and redistribute water back into the surrounding soil.These solutions have many environmental benefits such as reducing runoff from your property, filtering runoff, watering your yard, and recharging groundwater.
  2. Intercepting and redirecting runoff provides an opportunity to safely discharge high volumes of water to a place away from the problem area(s). This can be done using swales, French drains, catch basins, underground pipe assemblies, or downspout/sump pump extensions with splash blocks. These methods of rerouting water can also be combined with other capture and storage elements to provide even more benefit.

Please make note that whenever you are redirecting runoff, you must send it to a suitable outlet. Discharging runoff to an unsuitable area will just move the problems downhill. Be aware that redirecting runoff without collecting it or allowing it to percolate into the soil can negatively impact neighboring properties.

The first step in solving drainage issues on any property is discovering that they exist.  Problems like foundation seepage and erosion might not be obvious until a major issue develops at which point resolution can be expensive and complicated.  To become aware of potential trouble spots, walk your grounds after a rainfall event and look for places where water has collected.

Does it take more than an hour or two to dissipate after a heavy downpour?

Are there signs of erosion around the downspouts or sump pump discharge points?

Are you finding soft, wet spots in the common turf areas that do not dry out readily?

Are you seeing a decline in the health and appearance of plant material located in the collection areas?

These are just a few of the signs that water is not percolating or moving appropriately around the grounds of your development or commercial property.  Time to consider having an expert come out and assess the problems.  ILT can do simple visual inspections or accurately read existing grades by laser transit to establish the exact topography no matter how flat the site may seem.and determine precisely where and why water is moving the way it is on your property.  From that information, we can evaluate and present potential solutions for your consideration.

While last week’s flooding can serve as a reminder of the devastating impact heavy rainfall can have, it does not take a seven-inch downpour of water to cause damage around your property.  Finding and resolving water flow issues before they become expensive problems is always a better solution.

Call ILT Vignocchi today and we can start a conversation about resolving water flow issues at your HOA or commercial building.

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.