Tag Archives: landscapers

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?

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.

Natural Environments and Mental Health

Spiritual and emotional health are a huge part of succeeding in business and in life in general.  Much has been written about the potential benefits of incorporating specifically designated meditative environments, or mental health rooms, into the landscaping surrounding commercial office buildings or in the common areas throughout multi-family communities.  There is growing evidence to suggest that exposure to and use of these natural environments can be associated with mental health benefits that include lower levels of tension, increased potential for attention restoration, and reduced anxiety.  Additional evidence suggests that interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and helps individuals coping with depression.

Meditation in the workplace can help lower a company’s health-care costs by reducing chronic stress, a major risk factor for illness.  A company can improve employee morale, mental focus and sense of well-being. This can reduce the number of sick days and workplace injuries while increasing productivity.  Offering a natural space for employees to meditate, relax, reflect, unwind, ponder new ideas, or even just think, helps companies empower employees to manage their own stress and well-being.  By providing a space for these practices, the company sends a message that the well-being of its workforce is a priority, which enhances its image; aiding in the recruitment and retention of high quality talent.

By offering natural outdoor meditative rooms, a residential multi-family community can improve their marketing appeal and increase their property values, separating their association from their competition.  These separated spaces are designed to encourage restorative reflection in which a person or family can escape from the stressful demands of daily life.  Potential owners and tenants will see a benefit from having access to calm and peaceful spaces in which they can get away from the pressure of the office or home environment; to recharge and refocus.

Today’s modern work force and residential communities include people with a wide diversity of beliefs, cultures, and traditions so it is important to consider whether your outdoor “mental health” space should be tied to a specific religion or culture.  Meditation spaces can be constructed to replicate a specific cultural model or they can incorporate and combine various aspects of any number of ancient or modern cultural derivations.  While they can reflect many different themes, they usually include the use of plant selections and hard elements of varying colors, textures, and aromas.  Zen gardens use rock formations, statuary, koi ponds, and sand/gravel arrangements, or sometimes with no growing plants or water features at all.  Planted labyrinths or mazes are meditative tools serving as a metaphor for the inner maze that leads to the authentic self.  The ancient Asian philosophical practices of Feng Shui are often incorporated into the arrangement of plants, rocks, water features, benches, etc. to promote the harmony between individuals and the surrounding environment.

Whatever thematic elements you decide upon, the space needs to create a sense of separation from the rest of the landscape.  The meditative room doesn’t have to provide actual privacy so much as to feel secluded; distinctly apart to provide that feeling of “getting away”.  A different surface can accomplish that, or some form of a structural enclosure.  Running water can separate a space and its sound is a soothing way to cover up traffic or background noise.  Understated plantings around surface changes can be designed and positioned in a way to lead the visitor to a sense of arrival that psychologically isolates without necessarily creating a distinct physical separation.  A well thought out combination of these elements can often provide the most effective and enduring results.

If you like the idea of incorporating outdoor meditative spaces into the landscaping around your building or in your community, or if you simply want to start with re-creating a calming view from a conference room or lunchroom window, give ILT a call today.  You can start with a simple conversation to discuss the concept and its possibilities.  One of our experienced landscape architects will work with you through every phase of your project, from its conception to the design and construction of your meditation space, to the sound maintenance practices and periodic updating that will keep your space current, relevant, and attractive to your employees, tenants, residents, and visitors.

Call or email ILT today and let’s get you thinking about thinking!

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

In case you were wondering…

Last week we offered some interpretation of the terms of a typical ILT snow removal contract as they relate to the service provided to your facility or community.

But in case you were wondering about the mobilization process that takes place prior to a snow event, read on…

PART 2 of 3: The mobilization process: from forecast to flakes.

It starts with our people; dedicated, capable, accountable people who care about the work they do and take ownership over the properties for which they are responsible.

While snow removal is an occasional topic of conversation at ILT throughout the landscaping season, the conversation starts to get serious as early as August into September. At that point, the Sales Manager, Snow Commander, and Zone Leaders finalize contractual arrangements, take inventory of equipment, confirm staffing, and review property needs. By October, our assessment of the workload and the assignment of our resources is all but complete. Crews are confirmed and assigned their properties (repeating from year to year wherever possible) and equipment is allocated.

The Sales Manager and Snow Commander then discuss our capacity to accept additional snow customers. Unlike landscape maintenance, snow removal requires a very concentrated effort over a relatively short period of time. Therefore, we believe we should limit the number of customers to whom we offer snow service so as to never be over extended. We make a commitment to our customers to only accept as much snow business as we can manage under the most adverse of conditions, ensuring that all of our customers will be serviced in a timely manner during the absolute worst of circumstances. That said, now it’s November and we are ready.

The key to making sure we are always equipped with the data we need to make informed, effective decisions lies in accurate, proactive forecasting. General media outlets can provide a good overview, but they do not offer much specific information. ILT hires a private forecasting firm to provide us with periodic and highly refined updates on every impending winter weather event, often 24 – 72 hours in advance, and then as frequently as conditions warrant. Specific information is sent to us for (90) different villages in the geographic area we service, containing data on precipitation, accumulation, icing conditions, freeze/thaw cycles, etc.

When a weather event becomes imminent, our Snow Commander talks with this forecasting service to open a dialogue about the details of that event. She contacts our zone leaders to inform them of the forecasted conditions in each of their specific geographic areas. Additionally, every zone has an individual who is responsible to physically inspect and measure accumulations on each of our properties and report back on conditions. Once it becomes clear that service will be necessary, they agree on a mobilization plan which includes property specific start times, unusual manpower needs, special equipment status, material usage, etc. Snow personnel are then notified of the plan and of what will be expected of them. The information is also relayed to the Sales Manager to handle customer inquiries.

No two snowstorms are exactly alike so each event must be analyzed independently. Our mobilization response must be organized specifically to address the characteristics of each storm by considering the following information.

o What type of precipitation is expected?
o When is the precipitation expected to start and stop?
o How much accumulation is expected over that period of time?
o What are the temperatures going to be like throughout the event?
o Will there be freeze/thaw conditions; high winds, drifting, etc.?
o What are any customer specific or event specific needs for this storm?

The plan is in place, men and equipment are ready, and the storm hits at the exact time as was forecasted and behaves in exactly the manner that was expected. RIGHT??? The only thing we can really be sure of when it comes to Chicago weather is that you can be sure of nothing and you better be ready for anything.

Coming next time, PART 3: The operational process from flakes to finished.

In case you were wondering…

You rely on your snow removal vendor to make sure your roads, driveways, and parking lots are plowed; your sidewalks and entrances are clear; and your property is always safe and passable for your residents, guests, employees, and tenants. But in case you were wondering about the process that leads to making all of that happen, read on: PART 1 of 3: Understanding the snow removal contract. It all begins with the contractual agreement between the vendor and you, or your property management company, building owners, or HOA board members. Snow removal contracts are usually customized to meet the needs/specifications of the employees, tenants, or residents of the subject property, according to established budgetary considerations. (The financial parameters of the snow contract is a subject for a future post). But all snow removal contracts do have certain common elements. • The tolerance level (or trigger) determines the minimal amount of snow that must accumulate before plowing operations are to be initiated. The most typical is 2”, but 1” is not uncommon. Less common is a zero tolerance contract by which clearing is to be initiated after any snowfall. • The vendor’s arrival on site will usually depend on the timing of the storm. Daytime storms can create a need to keep main aisles, arteries, and entrances clear throughout the day until a more thorough clean up can be performed overnight. Evening storms offer a bit more flexibility on start time provided operations commence in time to have everything clean and passable by early morning, whenever possible. It is important to understand that plowing operations do not necessarily begin as soon as the trigger amount is on the ground. The start time for the clearing operation will depend on the expected total accumulation of the storm. If a given storm is forecasted to drop 3” – 4” of snow, ILT will likely wait for the storm to end before we commence our operations, then clear all of it in one push. However, if a storm is expected to drop more than that, we will likely do a clearing at 3”- 4” and repeat as often as needed to leave the property clean at the end of the event. • Deicing operations are not necessarily performed automatically after a plow event or an ice storm. Most of our customers put this decision in our hands, i.e. we are to use our discretion as to when and how much material should be applied to keep conditions safe. Others customers prefer to notify the vendor on a case by case basis when they would like them to apply deicing materials. • Operations such as return visits to clear drifting, checking for ice issues, cleaning up after Village plows, etc. are addressed specifically in the contract but are generally customized to the needs and budget of the property owner(s). Understanding ahead of time, the expectations set forth in the snow removal agreement between your property manager/building owner and your vendor can save lots of anxiety if you find yourself asking questions like: “Why are the snow removal crews not here yet?” “Why was no salt put down?” “The Village plowed my driveway/parking lot entrance closed, when will that be cleared?” Feel free to contact me directly with questions about your specific contract terms or contact our property manager/building owner. Kevin Block, Sales Manager @ ILT kblock@iltvignocchi.com Coming next time, PART 2: The process of mobilization; from forecast to flakes to finished.

Best of Houzz Award winner!

ILT Vignocchi Receives
Best Of Houzz 2015 Award

Over 25 Million Monthly Unique Users Rated Top-Rated Home Building, 
Remodeling and Design Professionals in the United States and Around the World

Wauconda, IL January 13, 2015 – ILT Vignocchi has been awarded “Best Of Houzz” for Customer Satisfaction by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. The 46 year old landscape architecture and contracting firm was chosen by the more than 25 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than 500,000 active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Design and Customer Satisfaction. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 25 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers.” Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2014. Winners will receive a “Best Of Houzz 2015” badge on their profiles, helping Houzz users around the world who discover and love a professional’s work to learn even more about that business’ popularity and satisfaction rating among their peers in the Houzz community.

Houzz – check us out

Personally I love Houzz.  I should say that my husband loves it even more!  He is constantly browsing their easy to navigate site for high quality, stylish ideas for both his customers and our own home improvement ideas. It is not only a must for people considering home renovations, additions or new construction.

It is FUN experience for those of us who love design and love to ponder “dream” situations in our own homes. ILT Vignocchi is pleased to contribute photos and content so consumers can tap into our ideas and use them in their Ideabooks.  We are also grateful to have customers who are fans enough of our services that they rave about us on Houzz.

If you haven’t played around with this super exciting website…the largest home renovation website in the WORLD, get to it!  Like I said.  It is FUN.  And don’t we all need a little more fun?

Horticulture Magazine celebrates 100 years

I am a lover of magazines.  Not online publications, the real deal.  When that shiny cover graces my mailbox at home or my desk at work the possibilities what is inside is endless.  Going through a magazine with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) is a leisurely activity that I think few people take time for these days.

A new publication to me, but a standard in our industry and avid home gardeners, is Horticulture Magazine.  The magazine is celebrating 100 years in publication.  A milestone.  In this month’s publication they highlight the covers over the years, and it is a delight.

What began as almost a classified format, has evolved into a booklet of stunning nature photography bursting with colors.  My favorite is an advertisement featuring roses “New Roses for 1920.  We shall offer for 1920 the three new roses:–Pilgram, Crusader and Mrs. John Cook.  We want you to know them.  May we send you full descriptions? Your request will bring it.”

It is a lovely magazine whose information packs a wallop.  Check out their website and subscribe today and be delighted by information ranging from late season vegetable gardening, how to choose a house plant, and advances in science that are staggering.

Congrats Horticulture Magazine.  Keep it up!

 

 

Preparing for fall – next year

I find it interesting how many sites have so little fall interest.  It’s probably because we all kind of forget about our yards starting in September.  With the change of seasons comes the change in routine…getting kids back to school, weekends spent watching football, and shorter days mean we spend less time outside.

What I do at this time of year, every year, is spend a lot of thoughtful time watching my garden so that I can plan for next year.  I’ve spent all summer watching it evolve, grow and now wane.  I want to make sure it is just as beautiful now as it was at its height.

I rely on some old standbys for fall color of course, Viette’s Little Suzy (a new improved version of a black eyed Susan), grasses with their beautiful plumes, fall mums, and Burning Bush and Sumac for that fantastic red color.

But there are some other interesting picks that you might not expect that can give you interest and add to the fundamentals.

Anemone ‘September Charm’

Sedum kamtschaticum

 

Hydrangea ‘Tardiva’

 

 

Geranium ‘Karmina’

For more information about Anemone, or the Japanese Wind Flower, read this great article by the Chicago Botanic Garden.