Monday, April 26, 2010

Does your city belong on the 'thirstiest' list?

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) is the poster child for conserving its fresh water reserves. Since 1984 the city’s population grew 65% to more than 1.3 million people. Yet SAWS is holding the line on the amount of water it pumps from the Edwards Aquifer and other lesser sources to the 1984 level.

Because SAWS, which serves approximately 1 million people, including 326,000 water customers, expects continued growth and development for San Antonio, it aggressively pursues a variety of water conservation policies.

Karen Guz, director of conservation SAWS, spoke at the Rain Bird Intelligent Use of Water Summit State of the Union in Washington D.C. last week. She said that SAWS takes a 3-pronged approach to driving water conservation: 1.) financial incentives, including rebates, 2.) reasonable regulations and 3.) education and outreach. Much of the water system's efforts are aimed at landscape irrigation that, of course, is greatest when water supplies are most stressed.

She said that about 20% of property owners irrigate their landscapes and SAWS doesn't feel it's fair that the other 80% of water users must share in the cost of finding and developing new sources of water to meet peak demand caused by lawn watering.

I thought about Karen’s presentation at the IUOW Summit as I skimmed a recent Forbes piece, “America’s 10 Thirstiest Cities.” San Antonio appeared as the nation’s third thirstiest city.

Top 10 lists are usually entertaining if not particularly enlightening. This list of thirsty cities included a couple of surprises (Honolulu and Portland, OR), and left off at least two that probably should be on the list (Atlanta and Tampa?).

The 10 thirsty cities, in order: 1.) Los Angeles, 2.) San Diego, 3.) San Antonio, 4.) Honolulu, 5.) Bakersfield, CA, 6.) Phoenix, 7.) Portland, OR, 8.) Sacramento, 9.) Las Vegas, 10.) Tucson. — Ron Hall

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mirrorscapes cleans up mysterious prehistoric Indian site

Park Director David Fey, left, and Mirrorscapes owner Chuck Miller, right

Tucked on the edge of the tiny village of Tarlton in central Ohio is 29-acres of old-growth oak, beech, maple and ash. On this picture-perfect April 22 morning the tender greenery of the forest floor is dotted with irregular patches of phlox, wild geranium, and other pastel spring bloomers. Red buds in full lavender colorize the banks of rocky, rippling Salt Creek, which divides the park into two sections, the entrance, a flat grassy area with parking spaces and a nearby shelter house, and the woodlands. Salt Creek is spanned by a suspension foot bridge erected by the WPA in 1936.

This tiny patch of old-growth woodland is the site of one of the most curious manmade prehistoric features in the United States, and perhaps the only one of its kind in the world — an earthen “X”-shaped Indian mound. Nobody’s been able to determine just how old it is, with some experts pegging it from 1,000 BCE and others anywhere from 200 BCE — 400 AD.

What is certain though is that the Tarlton Cross Mound needs continuing tender loving care if it’s to survive for future generations to marvel at its purpose and its construction. In addition to its shape (If you drew a circle around it, it would be about the size of a Little League infield.) it contains a natural and undiscovered herbicide that, apparently since its construction, keeps it vegetation free in spite of being surrounded by mature trees and the spectrum of shade-loving plants common to eastern hardwood forests.

Today the Cross Mound and the parkland leading up to it got a measure of TLC thanks to Chuck Miller, owner of Mirrorscapes LLC, specifically its 6-man crew. Based in nearby Lancaster, OH, Mirrorscapes was one of several hundred landscape and lawn service companies nationwide participating in today's PLANET Day of Service.

Miller said his team has been going full blast since winter broke in late March, and he viewed the chance to improve the park as an opportunity to give his guys something different to do, which they took to with youthful exuberance. The morning essentially turned into a picnic thanks as much to the perfect weather as to the food and drink Miller laid out for his guys on picnic tables at the park's shelter house.

Mid-morning and at the height of the property cleanup, David J. Fey, director of Fairfield County Parks stopped by to thank Miller and his guys. Fey’s a fascinating man in his own right. A retired high school biology teacher, for the past 11 years he’s essentially been a one-man parks staff in a county loaded with historical sites and 29 acres of soccer fields. As he walked up the footpath along the ridge line approaching the Cross Mound he shared the fascinating history and the geologic significance of the site. It became obvious that Fey takes the condition of all of the county's parks very personnel, and in particular Cross Mound, which he has had to close to vehicular parking because of lack of funds and senseless vandalism, including site-damaging traffic from 4-wheelers.

I could easily continue this narrative, and perhaps I’ve gone on too long as it is. But I just wanted to use this blog to plug this and other great PLANET Day of Service projects that we will be featuring in the May issue of Landscape Management magazine. You’re going to read some good stuff.

Obviously, since our editorial staff couldn't visit every one of the great PLANET-sponsored projects taking place today, feel free to email me and share your story. Include some digital images and we’ll either blog about here or post it on — Ron Hall (

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You call that a 'green' house: Here's a 'GREEN' house

On a perfect May day in 2009 we spent an afternoon with Michaela Miller and Steve Sadler on their property located on the bank of the Arlington River with a great view of downtown Jacksonville, FL. It took imagination at the time to see what the couple had in mind in restoring their Villa Paraiso to become perhaps the “greenest” home in northeast Florida. Their former home on the location had been destroyed by a hurricane, and they had decided to rebuild in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

We’re glad to report that the couple is having a “grand opening” of their home on Earth Day, April 22. The home is one of the most energy efficient in the United States. Only four dumpsters went to the landfill during the deconstruction and rebuilding of the home. And, they expect Villa Paraiso to be the 1st Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) home in Northeast Florida.

Project Highlights:
* 68 photovoltaic roof panels
* Recycling rain water from roof into two 1,500 gallon tanks
* Geothermal for heating/cooling/hot water (involved drilling 14 wells 200 ft into the ground)
* Smart Home technology (more than 2 miles of cables prewired – will be able to operate lights, music, HVAC, security cameras, and gate via iPhones)
* Protective spray sprayed on roof to extend warranty 15 - 20 years (used on Space Station)
* Spray foam insulation on ceiling, exterior walls and underneath house gives R value of 22-30
* Virtually all materials recycled into new home - bricks, pavers, & timber
* Roof shingles and drywall used for landscaping and leveling the ground
* Living walls (between the pillars/stilts climbing vines)
* 1,000+ native and/or heritage plants
* Organic Garden

Recycling Statistics to date:
* 1.38 tons of glass
* 1920 lbs. of combined metal
* 1600 lbs. of aluminum
* 286 lbs. of insulated CU wire
* 132 lbs. of copper
* 36 lbs. of brass

To learn more about the home and see a slide show of the home during phases of its reconstruction, visit the couple’s Website,, then check out their Facebook page by clicking here.

You an also read what I wrote a year ago (Dream green landscape rises from disaster), which shows the couple, and gives some sense of the scale of their project. — Ron Hall

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day Climate Rally at the Mall will find (at least) one patch of nice turfgrass

Pity the National Park Service (NPS). One of its tasks (perhaps its most visible) is maintaining healthy attractive turfgrass on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The deck is stacked against the NPS from the start, we were reminded April 15 as we walked the Mall on a perfect spring afternoon.

Keeping the Mall (our nation’s “front yard”) grassed is a numbers game, and the NPS can’t help but come out on the short end of the score.

How can it be otherwise?

More than 25 million people each year walk, jog, play sports on or gather for massive events on its 112 acres. One of these massive events takes place Sunday, April 25. Nobody knows for sure how many people will be gathering there for the Earth Day Climate Rally. With the likes of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, film director James Cameron and entertainer Sting making appearances, you can bet they will number in the hundreds of thousands.

They’ll find at least one rectangular patch of turf verdure. Whether they’ll be able to enjoy it (enjoy it to death) is not known. On our visit the 45-by-75-yard section of healthy turfgrass was fenced in and off limits, obviously an attempt to restore a tiny part of the Mall to a semblance of a park. The remainder of the middle turfed section of the Mall sported just tufts or small sections of turfgrass. Much of the area was bare earth and as hard as concrete.

Several years ago, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care, began conducting a test at the Mall. It tilled sections of the existing lawn, cultivated them to relieve soil compaction and added solid plant material compost and other natural soil amendments before reseeding the sections.

Since there was no signage indicating how the sole rectangle of nice turfgrass on the Mall, left, had been established or maintained, it was unclear if this, in fact, was part of the original SafeLawns demonstration area.

Add to the equation Washington D.C.’s location in the turfgrass “transition zone,” a climatic zone with cold winters unfavorable to the growth and health of warm-season grasses such as Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass and with hot and humid summers that stress cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass and the NPS has one very tough (impossible?) challenge keeping our nation’s “front yard” covered in green.

Actually, given the incredible amount of foot traffic and the number of events taking place on the Mall each year, the fact that Washington D.C. is in the transition zone or that organic products are used probably doesn’t matter too much.

Floyd Perry, a longtime sports field manager and consultant, has a saying that fits the Mall’s situation exactly. “Turf grows by the inch and is killed by the foot,” he says. In this case, of course, turfgrass is killed by the feet of 25 million people.

To check out the NPS's detailed National Mall Plan, click here. — Ron Hall

Friday, April 16, 2010

This pink tractor has a special significance

Pink tractors?

OK, maybe not such a good idea in the landscape trade. Or maybe they are. Who can tell?

But Paige McClure loves hers and we think what her tractor symbolizes is cool.

Paige, who runs a 100-acre farm and orchard in Peru, IN, with her husband, Jerry, bought the 34-hp, KIOTI CK30HST model recently to do farm chores. Paige and Jerry had the tractor painted pink, which wasn’t as simple as taking it into a spray booth and hitting it with a case of spray cans.

Dealer Lyle Woods of Off Duty Ranch, working with the manufacturer, had the tractor disassembled, then custom painted and reassembled and re-tested before turning it over to Paige, who then strategically stenciled the words — Hope, Faith and Love on the sides of the tractor in loving memory of her mother, who passed away from breast cancer four years prior.

The McClure and the Woods families have taken their support of breast cancer research one step beyond the tractor and now sell t-shirts and other clothing items to support the cause at

While we’re on the subject of breast cancer research, we’ve posted several blogs on this site about Hope in Bloom, a non-profit based in Massachusetts that plants gardens free of charge at the homes of women and men undergoing treatment for breast cancer. This is a creative and kind effort and deserves the industry’s support.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Pierre adds the green spaces to this Habitat for Humanity project

((Image courtesy San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity)

Earlier this year Pierre Sprinkler & Landscape volunteers partnered with San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity in landscaping of a multi-unit complex in Monrovia, CA. Pierre Sprinkler & Landscape contributed estimating and installation services.

The complex involved more landscaping then most typical Habitat projects that have either an outdoor common area or several planters, but not private lawns. The personal outdoor space makes this project special.

“Initially, before the application, Pierre helped us look at the proposed system provided by public works and helped us ensure the system would work properly. They then helped us install on site” says Damien Allen, Director of Corporate and Community Sponsorships at SGV Habitat.

During construction, our construction manager, Rigo Sanchez, along with several field members worked with Habitat volunteers and Damien to landscape the project. The crew assisted volunteers in laying out the main and lateral lines as well as suggesting appropriate trench depths.

“We learned a lot of lessons from this project,” says Damien, “it’s a pretty large system and the only one we’ve done.”

The system involved 16 valves, four per unit that Pierre crews installed. They also built the manifolds for each zone, installed the backflow preventer and set up the boxes The Habitat homes were dedicated on March 6, 2010.

Each home features its own private lawn that is maintained by automatic irrigation controls.
“They were really able to help out with anything we had trouble with,” said Damien of working with Pierre. “This was our first install and having that technical supervision was really important to us.”

Friday, April 02, 2010

Hope in Bloom should inspire us to greater service

Roberta Hershon, founder of Hope in Bloom

It’s April 2, just 20 days before several thousand landscape and lawn workers and their families and friends, representing hundreds of landscape and lawn service companies participate in PLANET’s 2nd annual Day of Service.

Leading up to the April 22 event we’re going to be sharing some of the great things that our industry do for their communities — and society in general.

Today, we want to remind you of Hope in Bloom, a remarkable non-profit organization dedicated year-round to providing indoor and outdoor gardens (container, patio or in-ground) free of charge at the homes of women and men who are battling breast cancer. Healing gardens are therapeutic sanctuaries offering both comfort and hope to meet the emotional and psychological needs of patients and their families.

To date, the activities of the organization, founded by Roberta Hershon in memory of a lifelong friend who died of breast cancer in 2005 and aided by the support and volunteer efforts of a (so far) small cadre of Green Industry professionals, have been confined basically to Massachusetts.

We feel others within the Green Industry, recognizing the soothing and comforting power of gardens, will offer their support to Hope in Bloom, or be moved to emulate its example in their regions.

Email us and we'll let the rest of the industry know of the great things or community services that you or others in our industry are providing our society. Don't be bashful. We'll keep sharing the great things our industry is doing up to and beyond this year's Earth Day.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hey pal, you need a permit for that leaf blower

ARDSLEY, NY — This community of 4,900 on the southern edge of affluent Westchester County in the New York Metropolitan area likes things nice and quiet. Maybe too quiet. Take its leaf blower law for example. Posted prominently on the village’s Website is a regulation:

— that makes it unlawful to operate a leaf blower within the village without first obtaining a permit, a separate permit for every blower,

— states that every person intending to use a leaf or debris blower must apply to the village clerk and pay a fee and get a sticker for each unit. The fee for each blower operated by a landscaper is $25,

— mandates that every blower operated within the village must meet EPA Phase II exhaust emission standards,

— says that between May 15 and Sept. 30, only one blower can be operated at any one time on any one property. And only up to 30 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m,

The regulation, passed and amended by the village’s board of trustees late last summer also forbids the operation of radios, etc., including singing, at a volume that “disturbs the comfort or repose of persons in any dwelling or residence.”

Break any of these regulations — running your leaf blower without a permit, using more than one leaf blower on a property, using it for more than a half hour . . . or singing too loudly and you could be slapped with a $50 fine for a first offense and $100 thereafter.

So there you have it. If you ever get to visit this quaint, little community on the banks of the lower Hudson River be quiet — be very quiet. And don't forget to pay your fee and get a sticker to display on your leaf blower. (And no, this is not an April Fool's gag.)