Monthly Archives: January 2017

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

The Virtues of Compost

After reading a wonderful article in Lawn & Landscape Magazine about the value of soil amendments, I decided to spread the word.

We as landscape professionals tend to do and not teach.  Although constantly educating ourselves through articles, books and seminars, we don’t pass that information along to our customers as much as we should.

Many years ago we began using leaf compost for the following:

  • To amend beds where perennials, groundcovers or annuals were to be planted
  • Topdressing lawns before core aerating and/or overseeding
  • Topdressing of perennial and/or groundcover beds

These practices made notable differences in our customer’s landscapes overall heath.  For those customers with struggling lawns or lawns with a considerable amount of shade, we have found that performing core aeration, overseeding and topdressing with compost annually makes a huge difference in a lawn’s appearance.  Introducing that organic matter greatly improves turf root health.

At Virginia Tech University they are doing some very interesting testing comparing plots of turf.  One is treated only with synthetic fertilizers and lime, and the other is also amended with compost.  In the short term, the plot treated with simply synthetics thrived.  Over time however, it began to decline and the one treated with compost greatly surpassed it in quality and health.

In terms of perennials, annuals and groundcovers, they are tender in nature and our frigid Chicago winters and clay soils take a toll.  Utilizing compost as an amendment and topdressing those beds annually helps break up soils, introduces more nutrients, and gives those plants a happier medium to grow in.

Leaf Compost

Leaf compost

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.

Tis the Season…

Now that winter has taken its firm icy grip, we all tend to hunker down and hibernate.

While in hibernation, if you find yourself dreaming of that new patio, fireplace, or outdoor entertainment space…


This is the perfect time to get started on the design build process for landscape improvements, especially those that require landscape plans and possibly city permits.

Getting a head start means instead of waiting all summer to realize your dream, you can instead enjoy it before another Chicago winter comes bearing down on us!

For more information about our design build services visit our website…or better yet, give me a call at 847.613.5102.

I look forward to hearing from you today!

Donna Vignocchi Zych