Friday, December 30, 2005

Symbiot says Adios to Erie operation

What's going on at Symbiot? Word comes that John Allen, who ran its landscape operations out of the Erie, PA, control central he built a couple of years ago, left Symbiot on Dec. 15. Then, a couple of weeks later, Matthew Glover, Symbiot's senior VP of national accounts, confirms that the Utah-based mega-service provider is closing down the Erie operation entirely. He reportedly told Jim Martin a reporter with Erie Times Newspaper that Symbiot is streamlining operations, reducing operations in the process. The Erie operation will be shut down sometime in the first quarter of '06

To find out how the move is being seen in Erie, PA, go to Type in "Snow-removal" in the search box. You will have to register (it's free) but, until we can get more info, this is a pretty good look at the situation. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

This is no holiday treat

The Capital One television Christmas "No Hassles" credit cards pitch was an inane assault upon consumers' intelligence. Almost makes me glad Christmas has passed. Where's the humor in snarky David Spade's "No" as in "no blackout dates" to his co-workers in a corporate cube farm? Sarcastic. Smug. Capital One, and Spade, reached a new slithering low with its Christmas 60-seconder that had that annoying punk tossing "bonuses" to subordinates, including the moron behind the reins of a sleigh who (cue the predictable climax that's apparently supposed to be humorous but is cruel) gets dragged, screaming and whimpering, behind a team of dogs. Enough, enough, puleeeese. — Ron Hall

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas parties, why just once a year?

Tis the season . . . for Christmas parties. We had ours this past Monday night. A nice little affair. Trays of those fancy tiny snack things. A lot of us wore Hawaiian shirts (I own a dozen) and leis in spite of an outside temperature of 100 below zero. Alas, I couldn't hang around long. Having a long trip home, I sucked down my two free drinks, got to know a couple of my colleagues a little bit better and headed west.

Then, on a city bus heading for a park and ride, I heard about a REAL Christmast party. Turns out the guy sitting in the seat behind me had a terminal case of cellphoneitis. By the time I stepped off the bus, a trip of about 20 minutes, I knew more about this guy than I did about some of my in-laws. In fact, everybody on the bus, which was about half full, found out more about this character than they really wanted to know.

But the good stuff involved his company's Christmas party, held that afternoon. As he told it, he and a group of co-workers chipped in a total of $210, which they offered to a colleague if he would eat a "a case" of chocolate, or as he described it, "about 90 little bottles of chocolate" that the office staff had received as a gift from a client.

It seems the chocolate lover got about two thirds through the case, or about 60 "little bottles of chocolate" before . . . well, you can guess the rest. It wasn't pretty, and I'm talking about the bus guy's description of the event.

What is it about Christmas parties that prompts us to do these things? — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Callback times: How long is too long?

I never realize how important friendly, helpful customer service is until I'm on the receiving end of the frustrating, not-so-helpful kind. And around this time of year, 'tis the season. It gets tough when we're trying to get so much done in order to take a day or two off and I'm guilty too — I'll ignore e-mails and not answer phone voicemail messages until I get my other work under control.

But as a magazine editor, I'm in the service business so I've got to return the e-mails and the messages. It's not like I'm a government employee who can just let everything go to voicemail, haha.

I thought about this last week when I was trying to secure a Christmas "gift" for my dad, who had serious surgery this year and really doesn't need to spend his whole winter shoveling the driveway. I got a referral for a local landscape and snow removal company and called. Several times. I understand that this is the busy season for snow removal services and that many companies have a voicemail system for their calls.

But I never got a call back. I called three times, leaving detailed information and I never heard a peep. Now it's been longer than a week, and I'm really soured by the company's lack of a callback. Yes, I got a great referral and have heard nothing but good things about the techs, the pricing, and so on.

But if they never call me back, I'm not going to take the time to chase them down anymore. Next!
— Stephanie Ricca

Friday, December 16, 2005

This is a problem? Let's lighten up folks

Having been ticketed myself for such heinous crimes as parking too far from the curb in front of my home, leaving my car parked on the street for more than 48 hours without moving it, partially blocking a sidewalk after pulling my car into my driveway, I symphatize with the TruGreen service guy in Brooksville, FL, who is breaking the law, technically, for parking his truck in the street to do lawn services.

Cops there say they generally don't enforce the law unless somebody complains. Complains?

Yea, that's the reason why I've gotten so many parking tickets over the years, a neighbor who doesn't have anything better to do than play traffic cop on our street. Hey pal, go play with your petunias.

What say we give these home service people a break. What else are they going to do with their trucks, drive them up into homeowners' yards?

Here's the link to the article. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Scotts tells smokers quit or hit the road

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. is getting tough on employees who smoke, reported the Associated Press on Monday, Dec. 12. They're giving them until this coming October to give up the cowboy killers or find another job. The company wants to reduce its health care costs. It reportedly pays 75% of employees' health insurance. Scotts employs about 6,000 people and recorded sales of $2.3 billion in its last fiscal year. The company says it can fire smokers legally in 21 states, the AP reported.

"Why would we admit someone into this environment when they're passing risk along to everyone else? Our view is we shouldn't and we won't," James Hagedorn, the company's chairman said in the AP news report. -- Ron Hall

Monday, December 12, 2005

The next generation

Last week, Ron Hall and I were fortunate to attend the Ohio Sports Turf Managers Association's (OSTMA) annual meeting held over lunch during the Ohio Turf Conference in Columbus. While we were standing around chatting before lunch, a gaggle of gangly young men in very new suits and ties clumped into the room together. It was a beautiful sight, these thin young men in their uncreased suits and carefully knotted ties. They were turf students who had each earned a scholarship or award from the OSTMA. To some, a $500 scholarship to help a 19-year-old attend the national Sports Turf Managers Association conference in Orlando next January might seem like small potatoes. But it isn't. A trip to the national show at just this stage of their training opens up a whole new world of opportunity for students. The OSTMA members, by their generosity and hard work, showed all of us the true meaning of professionalism. You see, it was a year of dynamic growth and reorganization for OSTMA, and thanks to the dedication of its members, the association has come through it stronger than ever. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to be involved with a class act regional or local professional organization like the OSTMA, seize the opportunity. By working together, Green Industry professionals can have fun, advance their own careers and contribute to the growth of the next generation. Congratulations to OSTMA and its honorees. -- Lynne Brakeman

Thinking beyond IPM

Want to see what the future of lawn care might look like? Check out this Web site.

This is the Web site of an ambitious project known as the Urban Landscape Ecology Program. It is the brainchild of Dr. Parwinder Grewal an entomologist and associate professor at The Ohio State University. He and a sizable number of colleagues (researchers, academics AND industry figures) are delving deeply into the role of lawn and landscape care in today's urban communities, and how it can be made sustainable. What you'll learn from this Web site will surprise you. — Ron Hall

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow, snow everywhere

I've never seen so many snow pushing people (or maybe I never paid much attention before), but this morning I saw trucks of every size, shape and color pushing snow after last night's storm. The snow swept up from the Ohio River Valley, starting about 7 p.m., dumped its load and scooted on out to the Northeast. We got about six inches in my small Lake Erie community. It was the third snow event of the season. Hey, It's not even winter yet, not by the calendar anyway!

Stopping in at my favorite local coffee stop before sunrise this morning, I asked the manager. a friendly young lady, if she was happy with the job her snowplow guy was doing. She says with a shrug: "Yea, he does a pretty good job." She says she gets to work just before 5 a.m. and he's usually there and pushing snow when she arrives.

Grateful for the restaurant's warmth and the hot black coffee in the bitterly cold predawn, I looked out over the empty lot, cleared of its snow, and count about 30 parking spaces. The restaurant sits on about a half acre of property, I'm guessing. The manager tells me her "snowplow guy" charges $50 every time he pushes out the lot.

On an adjacent property, another restaurant, I see a F-250 with a plow, but it's parked. What's surely a young lady dressed up like an Eskimo is pushing a broadcast spreader back and forth, lengthwise, across that lot. I suppose that she knows that she can attach a small spreader to the back of her pickup and save a lot of walking. But maybe she doesn't mind walking. And she doesn't seem to be in any hurry. It could be her last job of the morning, or her only job. Who knows? — Ron Hall

The flying lawnmower

This is sure to be a hit at next year's EXPO and GIE shows: the flying lawnmower.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Children and lawnmowers don't mix

Just in case you need a reminder why using child labor in the Green Industry is a bad idea: See story here. — Mike Seuffert

EAB coming to Cleveland?

Just as the editorial offices of Landscape Management have just completed a move to downtown Cleveland, it looks like we're being followed closely by the emerald ash borer. According to an article from the Associated Press: "The emerald ash borer beetle, which has destroyed millions of ash trees in Michigan and northwest Ohio, has been found in Lorain County, State Agriculture Department officials said.

That is the farthest east the voracious Asian insect had been found and puts it closer to Cleveland, where, like in many cities, ash trees are popular street trees."

Lorain County is just east of Cleveland's Cuyahoga County. Thousands of people commute between the counties every day. It wouldn't be difficult for the EAB to hitch a ride. Just when we were getting comfortable here, too. — Mike Seuffert

Monday, December 05, 2005

Calling planet earth

The Chapel Hill News in North Carolina reported recently that 34 people there signed a petition asking the city to quit using herbicides and to severely curtail the use of insecticides on city property. The leader of the petition drive said she would not let her daugher go to town parks anymore in spite of the "integrated pest management" program it instituted in 1999.

When the question arose as to whether it would be wise not to spray a wasp nest near a city park, a local official offered this alternative — take a watermelon about 50 feet away and smash it open. Then dump five pounds of sugar on it."

"The bugs'll come. You haven't killed a thing, but it solves your problem," he was quoted as saying in the news report. — Ron Hall

As the snow flies ...

I already have my pet peeve figured out for the winter. Does that make me sound like a Grinch? Anyway, we recently had our first significant snow events here in Cleveland and I noticed this. In fact, I've noticed it every year but this is the first time I'm saying anything.

People, if you're going to clear off your front and back windshield, then for pete's sake, clean off the whole car!

You've seen these cars, trucks and vans out there, I know you have. The driver, in his hurry to get on the road, hastily scraped a hole to see out the front and another to see out the back, leaving a good six or more inches of powdery white stuff on the hood, on the bumpers and on the roof, making his car look like a doughnut. Then when I'm driving behind him and a good wind kicks up, as it is wont to do in winter, all that powdered sugar blows off onto my windshield and I'm blinded. Does he think his defroster is that good that it's going to melt snow on the roof?

Is this a teenytiny problem in the wider world of problems? Oh, definitely. But if you live in a snowy part of the country (and if snow and ice management is part of your business, then 'tis the season for you), try this: keep a cheap broom in your trunk or trailer. That's usually a good way to clean off the roof in one fell swoop (or at least brush it onto the next guy's parked car!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Look who's teaching science these days

The controversy over the teaching of "intelligent design" is growing. A segment of the U.S. population feels it should be taught in our school science classes, along with the theory of evolution. This is not a good idea. In the home, fine. In the public schools, no way.

Let's leave the teaching of science people educated and knowledgeable about science, which brings me to another concern.

I can tick off about a dozen families (friends, neighbors and acquaintances) that are "homeschooling" their children. I'm not saying its a bad thing, not by a longshot. In fact, you've got to hand it to moms and dads (usually more moms than dads) so committed to their offspring. But, I'm convinced that some of these people are making the wrong call. They're not qualified to teach. They have very little knowledge of basic science and they're intolerant of any idea that goes against their ingrained beliefs. They won't even consider or investigate alternative ideas.

It seems to me that they're not teaching their youngsters as much as they're indoctrinating them to some very personal ideas about today's world, some of it admittedly, proudly and loudly anti-science. --- Ron Hall

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another proposed ban bites the dust

The city of London, in Ontario Province, Canada, voted down a ban on lawn care pesticides this week. Well, actually, it said "no" to a compromise bylaw that, from what reporter Joe Belander wrote in the London Free Press newspaper, nobody was real happy about. The anti-pesticide lobby saw the compromise as a cop-out. The lawn care industry said it had lots of flaws.

The compromise measure would have allowed spraying of pesticides up to a maximum of 20% of a property owner's lawn, with the amount reduced to 10% by 2010. It would have also required lawn application companies to register with the city, etc.

Cudos to council members in London. For once common sense rules.

Having spent the first third of my 30-plus years in journalism covering local, regional and state governments,I'm convinced that lawmakers(and most of them mean well, I'm sure)spend too much time telling homeowners and small business what they can and can't do within their respective jurisdictions.

Hey lawmakers, provide police and fire protection, make sure our roads are in good repair and that our water is safe and our sewage system is up to snuff. . .then let the free markets work. They will. --- Ron Hall

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sometimes you're a winner...

Did you hear about the landscaper out in Oregon who won a giant lottery last week? We're talking a national, multi-million dollar win here, and the man and his family appeared on "Good Morning America" last week to talk about it. They all had that glazed, "can't believe it's us!" look that all lottery winners seem to have. It's the attitude that comes after the super-excited state when they get photographed with a giant check, and before the panic stage sets in and all sorts of unknown "relatives" start calling looking for money.

Diane Sawyer asked the typical question: "Will you go to work tomorrow?" And you know what? He said yes. He talked about how much he liked his job, and how he wouldn't want to do anything else, and how he's really happy doing what he's doing.

How many of you would say the same thing? Sort of an interesting test, isn't it? Would you keep your job if you won the lottery? What would you do to make it better? Buy another company? Invest in the business you have?

I'll definitely keep my job when I win big money (note the "when," not the "if"). I like it even better now that Landscape Management has picked up and moved to downtown Cleveland from the suburbs. Change is exciting.
-- Stephanie Ricca

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thieves target landscapers

Thieves struck the landscape businesses of two friends this past week. They stole two trucks from one and one truck from the other. Both run operations just southwest of Cleveland. I found out about it at the Ohio Landscape Association annual dinner dance Saturday night.

One of the owners told us the incident taught him two lessons — he’ll fence in his company yard and he’ll install GPS systems on his trucks. Besides helping with routing, the GPS will make trucks easier to locate if they’re stolen, police told him.

The thieves drove a stolen van to the first location; it was still running when our landscape friend showed up just before daybreak. He wondered, “What in the heck is that van doing in our lot?” When he looked around he found two company pickups missing. The window of a third had been smashed.

It didn't take police long to recover one of the stolen trucks and arrest its driver. He was pulling a trailer with a backhoe on it, reportedly stolen from another site. The officer stopped the driver because the trailer lights weren’t working. When questioned by police, the driver claimed he “just found” the truck and backhoe.

Another favorite haunt of equipment thieves are regional landscape field days and trade shows. We’ve heard several discouraging stories about equipment, usually on trailers, being spirited away, sometimes in broad daylight. The thieves keep track of the events. They cruise the streets around a convention center or field day looking for trailers that they can hook onto their vehicles and drive away. Hotel and motel parking lots offer no security from these buzzards. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Moving day is upon us!

After months and months of seeming far far away, the dreaded day is finally here: Moving Day.

LM's parent company, Questex Media Group, is moving out of our ancestral home at the Middleburg Heights headquarters of Advanstar Communications. On Monday, we're moving to newly refurbished offices smack in the middle of downtown Cleveland.

<--- My boss, Ron Hall, still trying to be productive in his torn up cubicle.

I walked in the door of Advanstar Communications in September 1993. Ever since, I've worked in one editorial capacity or another for nearly a dozen different B2B magazines. And since 2001, I've been Web Editor for Landscape Management, which became part of the new Questex Media Group last May.

I hadn't realized how poignant this moment of parting would be. Certainly I'm excited about moving to our new offices in downtown Cleveland. But I also find myself flooded with memories of "les temps perdu" -- bygone times.
-- The crazy Italian chef that ran the cafeteria my first year here.
-- The yearly arrival in spring of those fluffy but messy Canadian goslings.
-- The fleeting glimpses of small herds of deer flitting through the woods behind our headquarters campus.
-- My favorite lunch haunts, especially Nam Wah, a humble Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with great food and bad decor.
-- The dozens and dozens of colleagues and dear friends with whom I've spent so many of my waking hours.

Even Ron's wife, Vicky, has been pressed into service sorting through bins we haven't looked into for years! ----->

This move wakes me up to how life is just racing by and how lucky I am to be alive — right here, right now.

Even the season seems to echo the message. After a long slow burndown this fall, the trees have shed nearly every leaf in preparation for tonight's predicted deep frost.

But spring, my friends, is right around the corner.

^ TEAMWORK! My buddies Michael Seuffert, Stephanie Ricca and Ron Hall load up the moving boxes. We're outta here!!

— Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Do Not Call list is bunk

If the telephone rings anytime between 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. at our home during the week or anytime between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays, we don't answer it. We let the answering machine do its work. You won't believe how many different organizations call us seeking donations — about half of them organizations that we've never heard of before.

Oh sure, we no longer get calls pitching us a new credit card, a different telephone provider or lawn care service (actually we got very few of those to begin with since our yard is mostly garden), but the number of requests from colleges, children's funds, police and fire benevolent societies — you name it — is incredible.

You know how we can tell? Once the answering machine starts its familiar message — "Sorry, we can't take your call now, but please leave your name and number" — there is silence or the call (probably automated) is terminated.

Occasionally, in a second of forgetfulness I will pick up the phone and the caller launches into a scripted plea for money.

Hey, we give a fair bit of our resources for things that we care about and that we understand, but somehow we've gotten on a list and have been targeted as fair game by just about every type of "charitable" organization known to man.

At least in our household, the number of telephone solicitations haven't decreased; they've actually increased. It almost makes me wish for the good old days before the Do Not Call list. At least the solicitations offered things that we understood. — Ron Hall

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ottawa shoots down ban

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. Wednesday, Nov. 9, lawmakers there defeated a bylaw aimed at banning the "cosmetic use" of pesticides on properties there. The vote was 12-9. This was the second time in less than a month that they voted on the measure. Several weeks ago they deadlocked on the issue in spite of a lot of backroom wrangling and political arm twisting. Efforts to come up with a compromise among the lawmakers created lots of discussion but no consensus. Although the idea of bringing the issue to the public in the form of a referendum was discussed, that too was narrowly defeated by the councilors. The pesticide debate in Ottawa has been so exhausting that even the lawn care companies there — the target of activist organizations — told us they were agreeable to a compromise measure. Looks like they have some time to catch their breaths, at least until the anti-pesticide drum beat begins. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The color of money is green; of labor brown

Brown is the color of the face of labor in southwest Florida. Behind the McDonald's register, stocking supermarket shelves, yanking soggy pink insulation from the ceilings of hurricane-damaged condos, blowing brittle dessicated leaves from parking lots, mowing properties, trimming shrubs — brown.

Almost two weeks ago the eye of Hurricane Wilma passed about 20 miles south of where I write this. This region is mostly cleanup and repair mode, and not rebuild or relocate like it is in places wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Had Wilma made landfall here or north of here, the story would have been different, the damage much greater. But it didn't.

Contracted labor is crawling all over the place. Nobody is leaning on a shovel. Everybody's working. Everybody's getting top dollar for their services, a good friend tells me. This is "gravy work," he says.

Signs posted along just about every off ramp of I-75 warn that providing contracted services without a state license is a felony. I can't speak to the other trades, such as roofers, etc., but I didn't see any landscape trucks or trailers that weren't local.

-- Ron Hall

Monday, November 07, 2005

Scattered to the winds

Our edit staff is scattered across this great big beautiful country. I'm at my son's tiny place on Marco Island, FL, Managing Editor Steph is in Phoenix with the irrigation folks and Associate Editor Michael and Web Editor Lynne are back in balmy Cleveland manning the fort.

Looking back at the Green Industry Expo (GIE) that finished up Saturday evening it's difficult for me to describe its success. Even after 21 years in the business it's tough for me to give these types of events a final grade; everybody shows up with different expectations and leaves with different experiences.

Judging by the numbers of attendees at the GIE at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, it was successful. The unofficial number I heard was 5800, including exhibitors.

Most of the buzz came from landscape contractors. One of the staffers told me that each of the three morning "Breakfast of Champions" drew 900 attendees. That sounds about right. Sprint with the herd into the huge breakfast room or you risked not getting a seat at a table that dealt with the topic you wanted to discuss.

Also, the educational sessions that I attended were lively and most of the seats were filled.

Every year it seems that fewer of the attendees use the GIE as an excuse to mix business with vacation. Most are there strictly for business and to network. Probably the biggest reason for that the GIE is so early in November that just about everybody is still working to finish as much work as they can by the end of the season. They know the revenue they can gather now until year's end will make a huge difference in next spring's cash flow picture or how much they can reinvest in their companies.

But there was the usual amount of whining, mostly about the distance between the PLANET headquarters hotel, the Renaissance, and the massive Orange County Convention Center. Some folks found it difficult to get back and forth. Some of the events were at the convention center, some at the Renaissance and some at the Rosen Centre Hotel.

The '05 GIE is over. I'm taking a few days off and seeing some of the damage done by Hurricane Wilma here in south Florida. Palm fronds and oak limbs, broken plastic lawn furniture, piles of pink ceiling insulation and a surprising number of destroyed barbeque grills litter the tree lawns.The steeple that graced the top of the church down the block is a big heap in the adjacent parking lot.

But compared to what Katrina did, the folks here consider themselves some of the luckiest people in the world. Walking the neighborhoods and seeing the size of the homes, the beautifully manicured landscapes and new luxury or sports cars in their driveways, I say amen to that.

— Ron Hall

Laughing through GIE

There was something funny going on in Orlando at the Green Industry Expo.

It started with the opening speaker, corporate comedian Greg Schwem, who poked fun at the industry, in a nice way of course, and reminded everyone to take a step back and laugh at yourselves and your jobs every once in a while.

The humor continued in one of the educational sessions I attended. The presentation by Rick Segel of Rick Segel Associates was called “How to Differentiate Your Business…Techniques to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace.” I just knew there was something funny about this Rick Segel character. He looked and sounded like a gruff, tough, no-nonsense New Yorker. So it was funny to find out that he makes his living running a dress shop. (He’s also written several books, including "Laugh and Get Rich" and the "Retail Business Kit for Dummies.") Segel said the most important thing in business is to make your customer feel important, and one of the best ways to do that is through humor. (For example, he listed some of his favorite titles he has seen on business cards including Head Honcho, Brains of the Operation, Bone Counter (it was for a dog biscuit manufacturer) and VP of Non-Productive Services. These are titles that people remember, and help customers remember you.)

And finally, though we were all there to do business, there was plenty of laughing on the show floor as new relationships were forged, and old friendships rekindled, showing once again that the greatest asset of these shows are the people.

Still, I didn’t find it that funny when the fire alarm went off in my hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and ended up standing outside for an hour on Thursday when I had to get up for a 7 a.m. breakfast, but maybe in a few weeks when I look back on it, I may laugh.

— Mike Seuffert

Friday, November 04, 2005

GIE ... DO try this at home

As Ron mentioned yesterday, the Landscape Management team is busy here in Orlando at Green Industry Expo. We're testing equipment, meeting readers and looking out for new products and business ideas. First on my list yesterday was a popular event called the Breakfast of Champions. No Wheaties, but lots of ideas. The way this event works is that conference attendees show up at the crack of dawn for a chance to share breakfast at any one of nearly 50 tables. Each table is led by a "champion," who leads the discussion on a specialty topic.

People told me to arrive by 6:30 if I wanted to get a good table for the 7 a.m. breakfast. Huh? So I was a little late at 6:45 and by then it was a zoo.

And now I know why. This was a fantastic opportunity for participants to knock ideas around, ask questions and even commiserate. My table focused on strategic planning and we had participants from landscape, design/build, construction and lawn care companies big and small chatting about how to make a plan, when to make it, who to put in charge of the plan, etc. etc. Nobody held back.

Sure, it's easy to share ideas with people from across the country who you'll never compete with, but why not put this planning idea to work within your company? Set up a time to meet over a meal with a set topic in mind (could be strategic planning, could be route management, could be purchasing, anything) and just throw ideas around. I'd like to try it at our company too, so watch out Ron and Mike!

— Stephanie Ricca

GIE . . . It feels well, kinda different

Nothing stays the same and industries, like people, change. The same goes for trade shows. The Green Industry Expo is underway in Orlando this week. The first GIE took place 15 years ago when three Green Industry associations partnered to hold a single "national" trade show each fall. Each of the three association partners — the PLCAA, PGMS and ALCA — tied annual business meetings to the trade show, and each offered separate educational programs for members and prospects.

The first GIE was in downtown Nashville, TN. It had a decidedly "lawn care" flavor as PLCAA, the former Professional Lawn Care Association of America, had expanded rapidly in the 1980s and had established a trade show that, for all practical purposes, became the precursor to the GIE.

But PLCAA is gone (having merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, ALCA, to form a new organization known as PLANET this year) and the personality of the GIE has changed. Each year "iron" becomes a bigger part of the GIE because of the growth of contract mowing and landscape installs and builds these past 10-15 years.

The leadership of PLANET is making every effort to recognize and serve its professional applicator company members, and has several lawn care pros on its board. But only time will tell how well this is accomplished. PLANET is not even a year old, after all, and is in the process of building a new identity.

What PLANET's new identity will be may be short-lived if it eventually merges with The American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA). It's a possibility although both groups are still in the "due diligance" phase and the PLANET folks insist that, at best, it couldn't happen prior to 2007.

Change, change, change.

For me anyway, it felt kind of weird not kicking off the GIE with the annual PLCAA Business Meeting and Awards Dinner. Sometimes it got a little bit raucous and a wee bit out of hand . . . but that's what made it so fun.

— Ron Hall

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A dangerous seasonal hazard

If you're expecting to read about some issue related to landscape or grounds care in this blog, you can stop. If you want to read something that might save you from serious injury or even death read on.

About 9 p.m. last night, driving north on Ohio-4 after helping my daughter, Amy, and her husband, Ryan, move into their first home, I almost bought the farm, meaning it was almost the end of Renaldo (me). Fortunately I was driving the speed limit, 55 mph, on the two-lane road, Because there was no approaching traffic, I had my brights on. And I thank my lucky stars that I was paying attention to the road.

Out of the corner of my eye, ahead and on the east side of the road, I thought I saw something move. Instinctively I slowed my Chevy Blazer. Then I saw it, a huge buck with a big rack on his head. As I came fishtailing to what I hoped would be a stop I kept my eyes locked on him. Would he jump in front of me or not? My mind was clicking like an old IBM computer — hit the horn, stand on the brakes, brace myself for the collision.

Yep, he didn't disappoint. He bounded across the road literally over the front bumper of my Blazer. If I hadn't been paying attention me and Mr. Buck would have had a nasty, nasty meeting.

Folks, there are an estimated 500,000 car-deer collisions annually. They claim more than 100 lives each year. Most occur from October to December when deer are mating.

Friends, keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road; whether you're driving your car or a service vehicle. Deer are most active at dawn and at twilight during October, November and early December.

Driving is the most dangerous thing you do every day and deer jumping onto highways makes it even more dangerous.

— Ron Hall

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Canada lawn care — a world of hurt

Lawmakers in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, were supposed to vote on a bylaw to ban the use of lawn care chemicals. There are more than 1 million people in metro Ottawa. I couldn't find the results of the vote online tonight but the lawn care folks that do business in and around the city (and just about everywhere else in Canada) can't be very happy with what's going on there. The latest tally shows more than 70 town and cities in Canada that have passed regulations that prohibit or severely restrict the use of lawn care chemicals, mostly aimed at professional applicators. These include some of Canada's biggest cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax. Now I hear that Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is getting on the anti-lawn care band wagon.

The people that have been attacking the Canadian lawn care industry are well funded, organized and motivated. You can bet they'll be beating the anti-pesticide drum loader and loader. U.S. lawn care, get ready. Agriculture, get ready. Here they come. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

So what's not to envy?

We got a news release the other day about a guy by the name of Steve Sandalis. Not only has his face and/or chiseled body appeared on more than 700 romance novels (and everyone thought Fabio was a big deal), but he also happens to be the lead designer and CEO of Mystic Water Gardens, a company based in Beverly Hills, CA, that builds fantastic water features. Talk about having it all. If this guy can't sell landscaping to the lady of the house, nobody can. First, do a google search of Steve Sandalis, then go to the Web site to see what I mean. — Ron Hall

Monday, October 24, 2005

Tango dancing, why not?

Can an aging editor, one with a scarcity of hair but still somewhat lively of step, learn the tango?

That's the question.

When David Zerfoss of Husqvarna told a group of editors at an OPEI EXPO event that they could get what they wanted if they wrote it down and posted it in a location that they would see every day, my first thoughts were of world peace, a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl victory . . . then I realized that it should be a dream that, in theory anyway, is attainable — tango dancing.

As a result of that fateful press conference hosted by Zerfoss, my wife, Vicky, and I, enrolled in a dancing class. So far, so good. David's one of those guys that lifts your spirits. Who doesn't want be around a guy like that? — Ron Hall

Friday, October 21, 2005

I've become a cell phone pariah

The job requires that I stay close to my computer and the Web, which means I spend a fair amount of time in libraries and coffee shops that have wireless connections. And, like just everybody else, I have a cell phone that's also a part of my work-a-day life. What I find amusing is cell phone etiquette (or lack of it). For example, whenever my cell phone goes off I immediately rush outside of wherever I am (coffee shop, library, etc.) because I don't want to annoy everybody else with my conversation. Besides, it's none of their business.

Often there will be several other people standing outside gabbing with phones to their ears, too. Strangers, we don't converse. The sun can be shining or we can be standing in the rain or snow; doesn't matter. It's like we're addicted our tiny phones.

It always reminds me of those folks standing and smoking singly or in small groups in designated areas outside of buildings. When visitors or co-workers come out and pass them by, they give them a look like — poor thing.

I'm starting to draw the same kinds of looks standing out in the rain with my cell phone to my ear. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

EXPO — wow!

Those of you who have been to big trade shows like EXPO and GIE know what it's all about: The maze of booths inside, mowers and power equipment cranking up dirt and dust outside. This year was my first EXPO and yes, it was cool. It's a well-organized show. Informational sessions for us press people filled up a good part of the days, but I did get some good chances to hang around outside.

That's where the real fun was. Echo sponsored a carving competition, the final leg of its series pitting champion carvers against one another. This was something I had never seen before. These guys, some young, some not-so-young, do this full time, traveling around and creating masterpieces out of single blocks of wood. They don't know what kind of wood it will be, what imperfections it might have, and heck--they don't even sketch their designs out beforehand! Forty-eight hours after they started, they had works of art ready for auction.

And let me take just a moment here to bow down humbly before my editor, Ron Hall. Why, you ask? Ron was the fearless leader of Team Landscape Management, the raggedy bunch of us at EXPO who agreed to participate in the Ferris Run With the Winners 5K to benefit a local children's charity. Needless to say, Ron left the rest of us in the dust. We're considering a re-match at GIE.
— Stephanie Ricca

Monday, October 17, 2005

Do this to delight special residential clients

Thanks Mr. Fred Haskett, who along with his lovely wife Kelly, operate a U.S. Lawns franchise in St. Louis. He was the speaker we (Landscape Management magazine) sponsored at this year's OPEI Expo in Louisville, He told about 90 landscape owners why it's important to build an annual budget and what it can do for them . . .make them more money. You did a great job Fred.

After Fred's presentation, as we were chatting, he told me something that his company does that you guys/gals can do and do it yet this fall, and you'll keep these residential customers for as long as you want them.

This is something that most customers seem to love.

If they have planting beds, give your crew guys a bag full of colorful early spring blooming bulbs and instruct them to find a nice little corner tucked away in the bed and, without the customer knowing it, plant the bulbs.

On the next invoice tell the client that they can expect a colorful surprise this coming spring — a secret bulb garden.

Hey, I know we're all busting our humps with production . . . but do customers care how hard or fast you're working? Heck no. All they care about is what you're doing for them. Do a little bit more. Be a little bit different. Join the profit club. And, think about it, wouldn't that be different from a lot of your competitors, too?

Hasta luego.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

One giganto fall trade show?

The buzz at this year's OPEI EXPO in Louisville centers around the possibility of combining it with the Green Industry Expo (GIE), the trade show put on by the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) and the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS). In other words, there would be one fall trade show for the landscape/grounds industry instead of two.

Hey, why not? A couple of things are coming together to make that a possibility.

This year the GIE falls just two weeks after the Outdoor Power Equipment Insitutute's EXPO, meaning that a lot of the same suppliers who were exhibiting in Louisville, famous for its huge 2 1/2-day outdoor demo, have to pack up and hightail it to another major trade show, which this year is in Orlando. Obviously, they would love just going to one bigger show.

Also, the GIE has, for all practical purposes, outgrown some of its traditional venues. It requires too much exhibitor space to return to, say, Baltimore or Nashville. This year, for the first time, it will be at the huge Orange County Convention Center near Mickey Mouseland, next year in Columbus, OH, then in 2007 in Indianapolis. PLANET does not have a location, nor has it signed a contract for 2008, we've been told.

This is the 23rd year for the EXPO and the 15th for the GIE. The EXPO is rooted (no pun intended) at the rennovated Louisville Convention Center, the outdoor demo area just outside its doors. Its outdoor demo is much larger than the one at GIE. It has hundreds of mowers, utility vehicles, diggers, pusher, trimmers — you name it. The Louisville convention folks will do just about anything to keep the EXPO there.

The GIE has, historically, circled around five or six cities, in all but one occassion, east of the Mississippi River. So the question arises — assuming EXPO and GIE agree to merge, would the show stay in Kentucky or move to other locations? Remember, you would need a time and location that would continue to allow outdoor demos.

Keeping track of what's going on with PLANET is one fulltime job. It was formed from the merger of the Associated Landscape Contractors Association and the Professional Lawn Care Association of America just one year ago, and is also in discussions with the American Nursery and Landscape Association about a possible merger. The ANLA, of course, represents the "green side" of the business, the plant side, and has a very strong presence in Washington D.C.

Hold on folks, all kinds of things are happening and changing so fast you almost need a program. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The real killers

There's a new "smoke shop" on the main street of of our town. I walk or drive by it every day. It's a busy place. People are popping in and out of it at all hours of the day and night. As a former smoker I know the addictive power of cigarettes; I know it real well. But I realize that it's a terrible thing. I know that it kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Everybody knows that. Even so, people accept the "smoke shop" as just another business. How often do you see a letter to the local newspaper complaining of a business who sells a product that's a proven killer? How often has your local newspaper written about the real and documented human suffering resulting from cigarettes?

I wonder about this everytime I read another newspaper article about some family's dog getting sick after supposedly ingesting lawn chemicals. Heck, my son's beagle, Sparky, which I often have to watch, will eat anything — I mean anything! In fact I'm amazed at some of the things he will eat. In any event, accounts of dogs getting sick after a lawn is fertilized are almost always anecdotal as was the case is a recent article in a particular New York community. The families blamed lawn fertilizer, but not even the veterinarians were willing to make that claim. Even so, the event made big news.

Why is it that the public gives little thought to businesses that sell products that kill more than 40,000 Americans and cause billions of dollars in health care costs each year but gets bent out of shape about of lawn care products?

— Ron Hall

Monday, October 10, 2005

The news? Hey, I'm still numb from before

The headlines today trumpet the catastrophic and potentially catastrophic, the effect of it is to:

a) remind of us of that terrible things happen and often happen in a hurry ("Earthquake rocks Pakistan, 30,000 feared dead") and/or

b) terrify us into a semi-perpetual catatonic state ("Experts fear bird flu pandemic")?

Most of us are still so shocked by the images and screwups surrounding Katrina that our human empathy meters are waggling somewhere below where they should be, not to mention are charity. And the bird flu? That's still on the horizon; we'll wait and see what happens, although I'm not so sure that's a good idea.

What matters to most of us in the U.S. of A. (and this is where we get to the landscape angle) is our day-to-day well-being, i. e. our livlihoods. The announcement this past week that Delphi, the biggest automotive supplier in the world, filed for bankruptcy hit my neighborhood real hard. Our local Delphi plant is the third largest employer in the tri-county area. The plant opened in 1947 and for all the years since has paid its hourly workforce pretty nice wages and benefits. I know; I worked there for 10 months after my undergrad days and Delphi, in effect, paid for our first child, Amy. Had I stayed there instead of bolting for a $90-a-week job as a police beat reporter, I would be retired and drawing a generous GM pension (at least until Delphia can beat the UAW into submission) as are some of my friends. But, back to the main point of this post.

If Delphi is successful in getting the UAW to drastically rachet back workers' salaries and retirees' health care costs or, worse yet, close the local plant, it's going to hurt real bad. Gone will be about 1,100 local jobs that pay great salaries. That means that a lot of my friends and family are going to be cutting back big time. Meaning, I don't see a lot of growth or new opportunity for the landscape and lawn care companies in my neighborhood.

On a scale of human misery, this ranks way way below earthquakes, hurricanes and flu pandemics, but it's the news and, in this case, it's local.

— Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So many illegals, so few options

How many people are living and working in the United States without authorization, so-called illegals? I've heard somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 million. How'd this ever happen?

Simple, explains, Bob Dolibois of the American Nursery & Landscape Association. In effect, they've become trapped here, he says. For decades there has been a huge flow of illegals crossing back and forth across the U.S./Mexican border. They sneak into the United States for work, then go back home, then sneak back again. Back and forth, back and forth. Now that the border has been buttoned up tighter than Anna Nicole Smith's sweater, they're fearful of going back to Mexico because they realize that it would be much harder to return to work here. Well, that's one explanation for what's going on, and it's sounds as likely as any others I've heard so far.

Some people argue that illegals are keeping wages artificially low and are soaking up social services that should go to our country's neediest; others argue that our economy must have them to keep expanding and that they're paying taxes and pumping money in Social Security, a benefit they'll never see.

From what I can see, without them we'd all be paying a lot more for a lot of the things we take for granted — things like the food we put on our tables.

I guess you could argue that if business owners offered higher wages they could attract more U.S. citizens to do the work that the illegals are doing. And even the work that the documented foreign workers do, for that matter. But if if employers are forced to pay higher wages (assuming they can find the U.S. workers to fill these jobs), I think it's reasonable to expect them to raise the prices of their products or services, too.

How many of us want to pay more for anything?

That's the bind that President George W. Bush finds himself in. He knows that the U.S. economy needs these workers, whether they're documented or not, to drive its consumer economy. But, the issue has become so politicized that, unlike President Ronald Reagan who pushed through what amounted to an anmesty for illegal workers in 1986, Bush is boxed into a corner.

— Ron Hall

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Gas at $3 a gallon . . . who cares?

A beautiful weekend here along the south shore of the great big pond we call Lake Erie and everybody is movin' and groovin'. The roads are full of traffic and the lake is full of boats — sailboats (it's the weekend of the local annual Snow Flurries Regatta) and power boats of all sizes and shapes. Hey, the yellow perch are biting like crazy and the bars are still open at Put-in-Bay. Gasoline at $2.94 a gallon and marine fuel at $3.40 a gallon. Who cares? I can't see that anybody has cut back on their driving or their recreation. People are still cranking down the road in their Navigators and F250s, and enjoying life. Makes me wonder what price fuel will have to climb to before we change our fuel use habits. We're spoiled. We've always had cheap energy but those days appear to be over. It makes me think back a decade or so ago when Dr. Jim Beard was on the speaking circuit and predicting that the two biggest economic challenges we'd face in the future would be energy and water. The goodly Dr. Beard, as usual, was one step ahead of the rest of us.

— Ron Hall

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Terminator could be mowing a lawn near you

I’ve always been slightly disappointed in the lack of technological progress in the world. Sure, we now have portable telephones that also take pictures, record videos, play music, light fires, open cans and change flat tires. Essentially, we have Swiss Army Phones. But what I really wanted and expected by the year 2000, let alone 2005, is the flying car, or individual jet packs, or robot servants who cater to our every whim.

Given how high gas prices are I doubt we’re going to see flying cars anytime soon. And engineers are still working out the kinks on the jet packs. But the latest in robot technology is here to make all of our lives easier. It’s the Electrolux Automower.

According to an article by the Bucks Free Press in the United Kingdom, “the Electrolux Automower which Electrolux says is a robotic lawnmower that fertilizes as it grazes. The Automower is designed to save time and make life easier. Once the boundaries of a lawn are set with a perimeter wire system, Automower can wander off on its own continuously munching away, rain or shine, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, recharging itself as needed. The short clippings from the Automower drop back into the lawn, helping to return moisture and nutrients to the grass.”

Still I can’t help but worry. Technology running amuck is a constant theme in many of my favorite Hollywood movies. The Terminator. The Matrix. I, Robot. (Well, I, Robot was OK, but not really a favorite.) In each of these movies, man’s downfall is caused by technology going too far, giving machines too much power, and allowing them to take over the world.

I can see it now. The robot lawnmowers conspiring against us. First your lawn. Then the world.

So until we also have flying cars and jet packs, I’ll just hold off on the robot lawnmowers too, and leave the job up to the talented, human professionals in the Green Industry.

— Mike Seuffert

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A $10,000 government fine for not treating weeds

The Hungarian government is serious about weed control. Serious in a way opposite from many North American regional and local governments. Hungary recently introduced a $10,000 fine for failure to eradicate ragweed from your property.
(Image: Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Source: Weed Science Society of America).


According to the Society for a Ragweed-Free Hungary (it really exists!), ragweed covers about 12% of the country. About one million Hungarians (a quarter of the population) are allergic to ragweed and the country spends about $170 million a year in pharmaceuticals and hospital visits to treat ragweed allergies.

Ragweed is a North American native, and invaded Central Europe during the first World War. In the late 1990s, as land was privatized, ragweed took off as an invasive weed and now the most infested countries are Hungary, Croatia and parts of France and Italy.

Although Hungary even invested in a satellite imaging system to locate contaminated areas, some Hungarians say the new regulations will be ineffective because there will not be enough police around to provide enforcement during peak ragweed season. That's the traditional European vacation season.

According to a report published by Bloomberg, Budapest resident, Janos Soltesz, bought a goat in 1988 because the authorities were, even then, bugging him about the ragweed on his property. Now he has 48 goats -- who, nevertheless, still have plenty of ragweed to eat.

Apparently goats produce a biological antidote to the allergen that affects so many people. One witty Budapest observer observed that perhaps the government ought to look into ways to cross-breed immune goats with people.

Related links:

"Sneezing Hungarians Battle Ragweed Plants With Mowers, Goats,", Aug. 19, 2005.

Virginia Tech's Weed ID Guide for Common Ragweed: Ambrosia artemisiifolia

"Ambrosia (Ragweed) in Europe," by Ondrej Rybncek, Siegfried Jäger, Allergy & Clinical Immunology International - Journal of the World Allergy Organization, March 2001.

— Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Watch out for you and yours

Watching news reports of Congress skewering ex-FEMA chief Michael Brown over the Katrina response debacle reinforces, for me anyway, the ever-growing conviction that governments, all governments, are by their nature ill prepared to respond to any sizable disaster, be it a major hurricane or, heaven forbid, another 11 September. Brave and dedicated individuals, some just happening to work in government service, provide whatever relief there is to be had. Once these charitable souls have organized and begun to put things right again, it's time for governments to get down to their real work — assigning blame. Yes, let the committees that inevitably blossom post disaster begin their self-appointed, self-righteous task of finger pointing. If I'm fortunate enough to see disaster heading my way, you better believe I'm not going to patiently wait for some governmental agency to wade through the debris to lead me and mine to safety.

—Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hard to imagine the job ahead

When Hurricane Andrew roared through south Florida in 1992 it flattened somewhere between 25,000 - 28,000 homes (depending upon whose numbers you take) and damaged another 100,000 plus. In terms of financial loss, it was the most expensive natural disaster ever suffered by the United States. It took 11 years to rebuild all the homes that were destroyed. By contrast Hurricane Katrina destroyed 275,000 homes and damaged 200,000. What, 10 times more homes destroyed!!?? That's what the American Red Cross is saying. The scope of the devastation is staggering.

Monday, Sept. 19, Jerry Howard, CEO and Executive VP of the National Home Builders Association, and Dave Seiders, Chief Economist, discussed Katrina's effect on their members. It was enlightening.

In a nutshell, here are a few of the points they made:

1. Not only was a good portion of the Gulf Coast's housing stock destroyed in the storm, so was the region's homebuilding infrastructure. Most homebuilders in the affected region have been temporarily put out of business by Katrina.

2. Cement for rebuilding will be in tight supply, even tighter than before because the Port of New Orleans was the main port for imported cement.

3. Softwood-timber, a large portion of which is grown in the affected areas, will be abundant as damaged forests are cleared, but the long-term supply is uncertain since it will take growers years to replant and harvest again.

4. Plywood prices nationwide jumped dramatically on the heels of the disaster.

5. The NAHB will ask Congress to relax tariffs on Mexican cement, Brazilian plywood and Canadian-grown softwood.

6. If rebuilding follows the same path that other Hurricane-ravaged areas took it will happen in a slow, steady progression; it will take years and years; there will be no huge construction spike.

What's in store for the U.S. housing market nationawide post-Katrina? Seiders predicts a slight slowing of new home construction, at least through the remainder of 2005, but 2006 continues to look strong.

"I think the economy has enough forward momentum to get through this (Katrina) in fairly good shape," he said.

— Ron Hall

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fuel surcharges — everybody's doing 'em

I spent Thursday and half of Friday with a dozen folks from the Ohio Landscape Association ( They invited me to participate in their strategic planning. Sure, we did a fair share of planning but we also did a fair share of trading info as far as each of our perceptions of the market, customer expectations, rising costs, etc. What I found out was that just about every one of the six contractors at the planning meeting s had either added a fuel service to their services or where about to add one. The reason, apart from the high price of gasoline and diesel, was that their suppliers were charging them fuel surcharges . . .even when they were traveling to suppliers' sites to pick up and load material. How much are they adding to their clients' bills? One percent was the most common response. — Ron Hall

Friday, September 16, 2005

Baseball fever, lawn striping and Rex Sox blunders

Who would have guessed it after an awful April and early May, but the Cleveland Indians are playing great baseball and look like they may make it into the post-season. Right now, they are 1/2 game up in the wild card race over the Yankees, and only 4 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the division.

I was at a game the other night and around me people were asking, “How do they make those designs in the grass?” Designs range from checkerboards and stripes to an American Flag at Fenway Stadium and starburst at Comerica Park at this year's All Star game.

Those in the landscape business may already know all about lawn striping. But what interested me is how striping is catching on, not just at MLB ballparks, but at regular homes. I recently saw an article from a local paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, about it.

(I was also looking for a picture from the 2004 World Series with the intricately-designed Red Sox logo striped in the outfield. I actually couldn’t find a picture, but did find an article about the Red Sox field being completely renovated last off-season. It looks like the Sox wanted to cut down on their errors, and were blaming the field for their poor defense. Last year, they made 105 errors: 66 at home in Fenway Park and 39 on the road. Seems pretty convincing. But this season, with their new and improved field conditions, they have already made 103, the fifth worst in the majors. I’ll have to wait for the off-season and the Bill James Handbook to see how their errors broke down home vs. away. The point of this all is that it’s a poor player who blames his equipment, or in this case, the field. But I suppose there’s just no accounting for SS Edgar Renteria, who personally have committed 27, or about 1/4 of the team’s errors.)

In any case, I can’t wait until the playoffs. I just hope that I get to go down to Jacobs Field and see a big Chief Wahoo logo in the outfield grass come October.

— Mike Seuffert

Friday, September 09, 2005

A remedy for the Friday late-afternoon droop

It's Friday afternoon at 4:30 pm and boy am I draggin'! Three newsletter deadlines in four days. Whew!! Glad that's over.

But now I owe the company one more half hour (at least) of some kind of productivity and my mind is kind of like yesterday's wadded up newspaper.

When I get like this, there's one surefire way I know to reenergize my brain cells: looking at pansies. Preferably live pansies. But pictures of pansies will do in a pinch.

Pansies. I love 'em!

They're so simple, so plucky, so resilient. Here it is nearly mid-September and there's a couple of survivors from last March's planting still hanging on in my annual bed. They come in a practically infinite palette of colors. Most of them have got great names.

Here's my very favorite pansy: Imperial Antique (image courtesy David at Stecks Nursery and Landscaping; check out their beautiful Web site).

I know these antique guys are hard to over winter up here in northern Ohio. But this weekend I will probably go out searching for a greenhouse that will sell me some anyway.

One site I like to keep an eye on is the Ohio State University Extension's Floriculture OnLine. They regularly post the results of their pansy and viola cultivar trials. The 2004/2005 results are up there right now. The ranking tables include links to images of the cultivars they tested. Check out "Icy Blue Sorbet." I gotta get me somma these!!

So I hope you are encouraging your customers to spring for some pansies this fall. You'll be doing them a big big favor by fixing them up with these humble, cheerful companions.

— Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

RISE-ing in Las Vegas

Flew into Las Vegas this afternoon for the RISE Annual Conference.
The temperature was 97 F. when we got off the plane — hey, it's a "dry heat" right? Even so, I don't have enough hair on the top of my head to keep my brain from boiling if I'm foolish enough to stand out in the sun.
The RISE Conference (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) is filled with all kinds of committee meetings and there looks like there might be a couple of interesting sessions, including one entitled "The Rachel Carson Syndrome" with guest speaker Alex Avery, director of research and education for the Center for Global Food Issues.
There's going to be some serious discussion about the environmental benefits of lawn care, too. This is timely in light of the anti-pesticide movement that seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I'll let you know what they say about that after the conference ends. (Sept. 9 update: "Silent Spring haunts the Green Industry").
Finally, some of the folks here are going golfing Thursday afternoon. There are many things that I don't do when the air temperature approaches 100 F. Golfing is just one of them.

— Ron Hall

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Things you learn at a yard sale

The wife and I went to some yard sales this morning. We rode our bikes and stayed in the neighborhood.
The neat part of yard sales, at least for me, is the socializing. Everybody has a story and most people are open and friendly at yard sales.
This morning I met Jim. He's 65. He mows lawns in his retirement but he calls himself a "handyman." Anyway, he's a nice guy and he says he charges $18 an hour. If the mowing doesn't take an hour, he does something else for the client, like washing a window or cleaning a gutter. He says he's so busy he has to turn away work. He says he keeps working to make enough money to pay the lot rent for his mobile home in Ft. Myers, FL, where he retreats in the winter.
There are a lot of "handymen" in our community. They do all kinds of services for their customers — from light construction to mowing to landscaping of one sort or another.

— Ron Hall

Friday, September 02, 2005

Give me the ball, coach

Tonight was escape night.
Like a junkie this past week, I've been addicted to every aspect of Hurricane Katrina's destruction. It seemed like I couldn't suck up enough of it, maybe because it seems so unreal. The human misery. The trash. Filthy water. Fire. All of it televised like some grossly out-of-control reality program. Each espisode seems more bizarre than the one before.
Enough already.
I hop on my ancient bicycle and thread my way through side streets to the local high school football field. Taking my place behind the sideline fence like one of the proud fathers there, I breath in the aroma of popcorn and icy hot and just let the colors and sounds surround me.
Stars fill the sky and the players, energized by the cool night air, compete with a ferocity that surprises me.
What a beautiful sight, that neatly lined grass playing field, and all my neighbors and friends filling the stands and enjoying themselves.

— Ron Hall

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina takes out the Superdome

After getting mauled by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' Superdome, the last refuge for more than 20,000 residents, now needs to be evacuated because of the unchecked flooding in the city (see "Governor: Everyone must leave New Orleans."). Check out this aerial view of the Superdome roof damage courtesy The Seattle Times and Getty Images.

While officials with the NFL and the New Orleans Saints fret about whether or not the damage will affect the teams' regular season home-opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 18, I can't help but think about the thousands of high school and college fields that may have been ruined by the hurricane. There's no way to quantify the value of safe and playable athletic fields to kids, parents, schools and communities. For one thing, kids who are playing in organized sports are not getting in trouble.

Right now, the federal and state emergency authorities are battling to take care of the people who are stranded in the emergency. So there's not much the rest of us can do except pray for the safety of the emergency workers and the residents.

But perhaps those of us who have dodged the natural disaster bullet this time can take thought now for what we might be able to offer after the emergency is over.

Do you belong to a state or regional landscaping or sports turf association that might organize a volunteer work day to help restore athletic fields? Can your company donate products or services to such an effort? If you hear of a project like this in the coming months, be sure and contact us so we can give it coverage in our e-mail newsletters, LM Week in Review and Athletic Turf News.

—Lynne Brakeman

Monday, August 29, 2005

Energy picture not pretty

When I handed the pizza delivery guy a buck for a $10 pizza, he made an expression like I had tried to slip a week-old cow pie into his hand. Then I looked out and I saw what he was driving — looked like a '78 Buick. A big hunk of a car. In a flash it dawned on me what was going on. It probably cost him more than a buck's worth of gas to get that pizza to my front door. And he knew it. He was losing money delivering pizzas!

OK, I guess I'm the serious one on this editorial staff. Maybe that's because I think I've seen this scenario play out before. What I'm talking about is the cost of energy. My memory isn't so bad that I don't remember the '70s oil squeeze and the long lines at the gas pumps. We followed up that lovely few months with a stretch of some pretty horrific inflation. Folks, I don't want to sound like the voice of doom but the rising cost of energy (everything from the fuel that runs our cars and machinery to home heating oil and natural gas) is suggesting to me that we better keep our financial houses in order and our eyes open. When energy costs more, just about everything else is going to cost more.

— Ron Hall

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lawnmower heaven

My lawnmower died on me.

It was a slow and painful death for the old boy. Though reliable for many years, this summer he started to fall apart. Black, acrid smoke billowed from the engine, the wheels treads came apart, and the drive belt would pop off frequently. And once he got started, I couldn’t stop, because the engine would flood and I wasn’t sure when he would get back going again.

This became a problem because my dog likes to chase around the lawnmower, and though she never really gets that close (she just barks and growls at it from a distance) I’d occasionally have to stop before she put herself in front of my path.

This week, I gave the starter cord a yank and the engine gave a final wheeze before proclaiming, in lawnmower speak, “I give up. I’m done.” I tried to resuscitate him with a few more yanks of the starting cord, but it was clear he was gone. A small black cloud of smoke dissipating in the air symbolized his soul going to lawnmower heaven.

So now, just about one month after starting here at Landscape Management, I’m faced with a difficult decision, one that will put everything I’ve learned so far to the test. What lawnmower to buy?

Well, it’s not really that big of a deal. I have a pretty tiny yard. But what this decision makes me realize is how difficult it is for professionals in the mowing industry to pick which mower is right for them. I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes per week with the mower I buy, even less often in dry, hot summers like this one. But for professionals, they will spend 8-12 hours per day, 6-7 days per week on their mowers. The mowers they pick could help make or break their business.

Fortunately, in the September issue of Landscape Management, we will be looking at buying the right mower for your property. So in case anyone out there is facing a similar question to mine, although probably on a larger scale, this article should answer your questions. Keep an eye out for it.

As for me, I think I’ve figured out the best way to pick my mower. I’m going to bring my dog to the store with me. The one she barks at the most is the one I’ll buy.

— Mike Seuffert

Thursday, August 25, 2005

No more annoying ring tones!!

OK! Here's some real "news you can use."

Researchers at MIT have come up with The Cellular Squirrel (left). This cuddly looking squirrel is actually an Autonomous Interactive Intermediary (AII). It uses artificial intelligence to analyze your cell phone calls and alerts you by waving its arms, wagging its head and blinking its eyes. You can whisper to it to take a message, or you can talk to the caller by talking right to the squirrel.

No more embarrassing ringtones during client meetings! The squirrel is both cute and high-tech! Clients will see you as both warm and fuzzy and "wired."

The Cellular Squirrel was built by MIT researcher Stefan Marti for his dissertation. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can buy one on ... yet!

Check out The Cellular Squirrel Web site for pictures of its insides and videos of the cellullar squirrel in action. There's also a BBC article: "Squirrel helps with mobile calls."

—Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In cities all around us ...

I was on a plane recently (big surprise there) and in one of the in-flight magazines I came across an article profiling a Texas- and California-based landscape architect named James Burnett. He recently designed an urban landscape for a new residential building development in Chicago called The Park at Lakeshore East. It's got dog parks, walking paths, water gardens, you name it. Urban landscaping intrigues me. At first I think about all the creative apartment dwellers in big cities like NYC that have developed ways to "landscape" their balconies and fire escapes, rigging together all sorts of pots to hang off the railing. Now all the major cities have caught on and come up with amazingly cool urban landscape plans for shopping avenues, public parks and new housing. The processes involved in truly progressive urban planning are interesting and it's great to see landscaping as part of those plans. I wonder how long it will take before urban landscaping is a necessity in every city, even the not-so-nice ones? I know it would make a big difference.

— Stephanie Ricca

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cell phones and traffic don't mix

I do a lot of driving and I also (like just about every other human on the planet) use a cell phone. Yep, I sometimes make or take calls on my cell phone when I'm driving . . . but not when I'm in traffic. It's dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. I know; I've had a couple of close calls and I've learned my lesson. Yet, every day I get some moron tailgating me on a busy highway and when he or she finally whizzes by me at 10 mph over the posted speed limit, as often as not they're yakking on a cell phone. Who can do two things well at the same time? The operative word here is "well". So when we're driving let's drive. And when we want to talk on the phone, and especially when we're in traffic, let's pull over and concentrate on that.

— Ron Hall

Friday, August 19, 2005

Crazy fuel prices

I keep wondering how high fuel prices will have to go before people really start to change their driving and fuel-use habits. Does gasoline and diesel have to get to $3 or maybe $4 a gallon before we get serious about eliminating unnecessary travel and say adios to jobs that don’t pay? Here’s my small contribution: I mow my tiny mid-town lawn with human power, an 18-inch reel mower that I bought from a vendor at EXPO a couple of years ago. I don’t think it’ll work for many of you commercial cutters; at least I hope it doesn’t come to that. If you can stand some depressing news about fuel prices.

— Ron Hall