This morning one of my two favorite moments happened simultaneously…laying in bed while it is still dark out listening to the rain and hearing the distant sound of a train’s horn. It might seem like a simple thing, but simple things can transport us back to simpler times.
The sound of a train blowing it’s horn in the early moments before daybreak bring me back to time spent at my mother’s family farm in Indiana. It conjures a picture in my mind of crisp red and white, an apple orchard, and my grandfather sitting alone in the kitchen before dawn with a cup of coffee, his profile illuminated by the small light on the kitchenstove.
My family is very proud of our small farm and their father, mother, brothers and sisters, who worked so hard to provide the necessities. You see, they were tied to the land. Growing to feed their families. They were prey to the same things we are prey to in our business…the weather, pests, disease, and ah yes…little critters.
I remember my grandfather had a book that outlined how and what he would plant each year, and how he intended to rotate those crops annually to get a better yield. Thinking back I wished I had had more interest, asked more questions. Maybe he had some secrets I could have used, not scientific research like we have abound today, but something he knew in his gut.
I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents come from a place and time that held enormous respect for the land’s ability to provide beauty and sustenance. They only bought what they could not grow and they worked painstakingly hard for what they had to buy.
When my husband and I started a family, one of the first things we did was create a vegetable garden. I would constantly seek my mother and my grandmother’s advice. I would create a book, like my grandfather and make certain to rotate my crops. I made certain it was pretty as well. We also battled bunnies, pests, weather and disease. Although that garden fills me with immense satisfaction, joy and pride, it pales in comparison to the gardens of both of my grandparents and my mother’s.
But I do it, not just because it makes me think of my family, but because it reminds me and teaches my daughter…or as my mother says, “the land will always provide.”
Donna Vignocchi Zych
In case you were wondering…
Every autumn in Illinois brings with it a breathtaking change of color in the leaves of our trees, but although it’s late September, temperatures have been steadily topping out in the nineties every day. Not a traditional sign of Fall, yet the trees are changing color and dropping leaves as if they were not aware of the hot and humid weather.
Aren’t the leaves supposed to change when it gets cooler and we see some frosts overnight?
Do the trees know what time of year it is despite the unusually warm temperatures?
One explanation, according to Native American myth, is that the hunters in the Heavens killed the Great Bear in autumn and its blood dripped over Earth’s forests coloring some of the leaves red. As the hunters cooked the meat, fat dripped from the Heavens and colored some of the leaves yellow.
Not scientific enough for you? Need a more botanical answer?
In case you were wondering what actually initiates the changing color of the leaves and their eventual fall to the ground, read on…
Most people think that cool weather or frost causes the leaves to change color. It is true that there is usually a correlation between the cooler air and the onset of the autumn show. However, while temperature may impact the color intensity, it has less impact on the timing of the color transitions we see in the Fall than do other factors.
A quick trip back to high school Botany 101. During the spring and summer most of the foods necessary for the tree’s growth are manufactured in the leaves. This food-making process takes place in the numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs the energy from sunlight that is used in photosynthesis, the transformation of carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.
In late summer or early autumn, the days begin to get shorter, and consequently, the nights are longer. Like most plants, deciduous trees and shrubs are rather sensitive to the length of the dark period each 24-hour cycle. When nights get long enough, the cells of the leaves begin to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. They also block the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves. Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal.
The fact is, the vivid yellow and orange colors have actually been there throughout the spring and summer, but we haven’t been able to see them. The deep green color of the chlorophyll, which helps plants absorb life-giving sunlight, hides the other colors. In the fall, fewer hours and less intense daylight prompt the leaves to stop the food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow and orange colors already in the leaf become visible again to the human eye. As the trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves they are shuttled into the roots for reuse in the spring.
Along with the green pigment of chlorophyll are carotenoids, yellow to orange pigments, which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. At the same time other chemical changes may occur which produce red anthocyanin pigments resulting in even more variation in the Fall color scheme. Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange. For most of the growing season these colors are masked by the great amounts of green coloring.
The variations in Fall color are due to the mixing of varying amounts of chlorophyll residue and the other pigments in the leaf combined with a varied response to weather conditions. For instance, as the nights become cooler, the sugars trapped in the leaves of some oaks and maples will often form a red pigment. The degree of color will also vary from tree to tree. Leaves directly exposed to the sun may turn red, while those on the shady side of the same tree or other trees may be yellow.
As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar. Most of the broad-leaved trees in Illinois shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring.
In general, autumn weather conditions favoring the most brilliant colors are warm sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights. When there is mainly warm, cloudy and rainy weather in the fall, the leaves may have less red coloration. A few hard frosts can cause the leaves to wither more quickly and drop to the ground.
So, in case you were wondering, with all due respect to the Native American myths, it is a combination of temperature, light, and water supply that have an influence on the onset, the degree, and the duration of fall color.
Enjoy it while you can, because it doesn’t last long!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
What really sets them apart though is how charming cheerful they are.
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.
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.
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
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.
A 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.