Monday, August 31, 2009

Fire and water in California

California’s on fire. Not all of California. Just the mountains in and around Los Angeles. Actually, during my recent visit there the entire region seemed primed for spontaneous combustion. By noon everyday of the trip, temperatures had cracked the century mark. Smoke rising from the parched, scrubby mountains and the haze it spread over the region contributed to the picture of a region badly in need of a steady 3-day drizzle.

Fittingly, I was visiting the Rain Bird Corp. headquarters to help judge the company’s Intelligent Use of Water Film Competition. Seven of us viewed more than 40 submissions. Each short film (the longest was 10 minutes) delivered a water conservation message. The films were vastly different in tone and voice — from the profound, to the cleverly creative to the “what were they thinking?” variety. The day flew by, and we picked the finalists who will be feted at a special ceremony by the international irrigation product supplier at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Sept. 23.

Rain Bird’s headquarters are in Azusa, a community of 45,000 at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. The first of the several recent wildfires started on the mountain just above the company’s headquarters. I didn't read it as a sign from Above or anything but the fire erupted the day following our IUOW judging.

The next several days I traveled the busy freeways and met with the owners and managers of landscape companies in the valley communities east of Los Angeles. To the person they predict yet-higher water/energy costs and, if the state’s withering 2-year drought doesn’t end soon, tighter landscape water use restrictions. The availability of water for landscape irrigation ranks only behind the state of the general economy as the biggest challenge facing the state’s Green Industry, they say.

Will water take on that same measure of significance for the Green Industry across the rest of the nation, as well?

Hey, California, for better or worse, is our nation's pacesetter state. What first happens there often migrates to the rest of the country. Read what water means for the Green Industry in California and possibly for your region in a special report in the October issue of Landscape Management. — Ron Hall

Friday, August 21, 2009

Garden or one of the most clever billboards you will ever see?

LOS ANGELES —"Harmony Floralscape," a roadside display made up of more than 20,000 live flowers, was unveiled Aug. 18 along the Pasadena Freeway (SR-110) in downtown Los Angeles by Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, officials from Caltrans, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., and Greenroad Media, Inc.

The Floralscape is one of nine oversized floral designs that will appear alongside California freeways in support of the ongoing launch of the 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle. Seven of the Floralscapes will be in the Los Angeles area and two in the San Francisco area. Developed by Greenroad Media, Inc., using the company's "Living Pixel" technology, design images are replicated using flowers of differing varieties and colors.

The 30-ft. by 60 ft. "Harmony Floralscapes" are comprised of living seasonal flowers - about 20,000 blooms in total - are grown by local businesses in special modular "Eco-crates" made from recycled plastic. Displays will be changed and updated several times during the next four months.

The Floralscapes are created from organic and reusable materials and are maintained using non-potable water, solar electricity and ecologically responsible insect and fungi control. California-based businesses are contracted to install and maintain the Floralscapes. The non-profit Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which provides training, education and work experience to at-risk young adults and school-aged youth, will maintain the areas surrounding the Floralscapes.

Since federal regulations require that the Floralscapes be non-commercial in nature, abstract images of the new Prius will appear in different settings, capturing the essence of its marketing campaign developed by Saatchi & Saatchi LA - "Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine." All of the images have been approved by California's department of transportation, Caltrans. — LM Staff

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In spite of it all, this sod farmer is a happy man

Times have gotten tough for sod farmers. Let's count the ways: The crash of the real estate market, stalled development, the crummy credit market and the oft-repeated (and increasingly annoying) practice by water agencies and headline writers in referring to turfgrass as “water-hogging turfgrass.”

These have combined to significantly dampen demand for sod in many parts of the country.

Ok, enough of the negativity. Here’s a spot of positive news, which we picked up from the Southwest Farm Press.

Fred Pittillo, the owner/operator of Turf Mountain Sod farm, Hendersonville, NC, was recently named North Carolina’s Sunbelt Farmer of the Year. Pittillo farms about 1,200 acres of fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and bentgrass in the western, mountainous part of the state.

Actually, Pittillo sounds like an interesting guy for a lot of reasons, starting with his introduction to the world of work as a young boy when his job was to hand milk one of the family’s four or five cows on its western Carolina spread, which relied upon two horses, Pug and Pearl, to work the fields and help the family to put food on the table.

From that day to this — including stints in the construction business and growing carrots for Campbell Soup — Pittillo has relied upon a strong work ethic and charging a fair price for a quality product to keep the family enterprises going. Maybe that's enough, right?

“My family is still close and I am a happy man,” says Pittillo in the article.

Oh, and just a final note about turfgrass — Let's all stop for a minute and envision in our minds what our neighborhoods, parks and school grounds would look like without turfgrass. I don't think many of us would like what we would see. — Ron Hall

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Who's right on this one, The Scotts Co. or the fired young smoker?

The Scotts Co. says if you’re a smoker and don’t have any intentions of quitting, don’t bother to ask for a job. Apparently, the giant Green Industry company, based in Marysville, OH, means it as a young Massachusetts man by the name of Scott Rodrigues found out. He was hired in 2006 by Scotts Lawn Care but was only on the job for a couple of weeks when a supervisor noticed a pack of cigarettes on the dashboard of his vehicle. When nicotine turned up during a urinalysis he was terminated.

Rodrigues responded by filing suit, claiming, among other things, that the company violated his right to privacy.

On July 23, more than two years after he initiated the action, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of The Scotts Co., opining that, in effect, Rodrigues had been hired contingent on his passing the urinalysis.

A Scotts Co. spokesperson told the Boston Globe in a recent article that it implemented the smoking ban (apparently applying only to new hires) Oct. 1, 2006, to reduce medical costs and promote the good health of its employees. To that end, the company had built a fitness center at its Ohio headquarters and had paid for employees and family members to attend smoking cessation programs, he told the newspaper.

What do you think? Is a company within its rights to forbid smoking by employees — not just on the job, but in their vehicles, at their homes, at the local hangout, anywhere? —Ron Hall

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Here's a new one on us — goldenscaping

How many ‘scapings can you name?

Hmm — landscaping, interiorscaping, greenscaping, hardscaping, skyscaping (LM’s admittedly imaginative term for green roofs) and why not waterscaping? Did we miss any?

How about golden landscaping, which we’ll shorten to goldenscaping.

We ran across the term in a newspaper article appearing in The Northern Light, serving the communities of Blaine and Birch Bay, WA.

What in tarnations is goldenscaping, you ask?

Very simple, it’s allowing the turfgrass on your property to turn from green to golden brown during summer’s dog days. Dormancy is grasses’ response to surviving periods of inadequate water or drought.

If you want your turfgrass to revive to green when the fall rains return, we advise you check with your regional turfgrass extension person or a turfgrass expert at the closest land grant university to see just how brown and crispy you can allow your turfgrass to become before it gives up the ghost entirely.

Brown is good; dead is not so good. — LM Staff

Monday, August 03, 2009

Green walls the next big thing?

The concept of green roofs is well established in the United States, indeed internationally. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) offered its first accreditation exams for Green Roof Professionals (GRP) in June 09 during its 7th Annual International Conference in Atlanta.

Steven Peck, who founded the organization in 1999, said he expects about 250 registered GRPs by the end of 2009. More than 100 have earned the designation of this writing. Check out the GRHC website for details on how to become certified. Exams will be offered in Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago and New York this fall.

“A roof isn’t just a roof anymore,” said Peck, who spoke at the May meeting of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants. “The real estate is just too valuable.”

Can the same thing be said about a building’s wall? You bet.

A second related trend in urban green building is the green (living) wall. Peck said that GRHC is working closely with green wall manufacturers, has established a Green Wall Research Fund to support investigation into the benefits of green walls for buildings and is now offering a Green Wall Award of Excellence to celebrate innovative projects.

“Right now green walls are about five years behind green roofs,” said Peck, predicting strong adoption of green walls as more professionals get up to speed on their design, installation and maintenance.

A good place to learn about green walls and see some exciting projects is the website for a company called GreenScreen. Lots of great info there. Click here. — Ron Hall