Friday, August 27, 2010

A neat app to serve (and impress) your livescape clients

I would hardly refer to myself as a technophile, but I’m far from being a Luddite. The evidence: I've been an eager participant in the incredible technological revolution transforming publishing — starting as I did with manual typewriters, lead editing pencils, copy paper and glue pots and now sharing information in this brave new digital era.

That said, I’m not a first adopter and careful with my dollars so I’m waiting until the price of the new ereaders comes down before writing a check. But I will be getting an iPad. Indeed it's almost certain we’ll all be carrying an iPad or similar highly portable, multi-functional digital tool with us and here's why — yet another handy app.

If you're in the business of selling and installing livescapes you need to check out the modestly priced Landscaper’s Companion app for an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch by Stevenson Software, LLC.

It’s a neat reference guide to trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and all sorts of other plants. Landscaper’s Companion features over 1400 plants listed by their common and scientific names. Over 5700 high quality images from around the web. 16 categories of plants: Annuals, Bulbs, Cacti, Conifers, Flowering and Fruit Trees, Ground Covers, Herbs, House Plants, Ornamental Grasses, Palms, Perennials, Roses, Shade Trees, Shrubs, Vegetables Fruits Berries and Water Plants. The app is updated periodically with additional plants and images for free.

What client wouldn’t be impressed when you say (with an air of smugness and great confidence), “excuse me while I whip this out,” and start zipping through the colorful images, showing the prospect exactly what they’ll be getting in terms of greenery and seasonal color?

If you get Landscaper's Companion or any other app that you feel others would like to know about, share with us and the audience on this blog. — Ron Hall

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will this visionary landscaper/urban planner be Florida's next governor? Fat chance

Michael E. Arth wants to be governor of Florida. Fat chance. Visionaries rarely become governors, and especially in Florida. The Sunshine state chooses its chief leader from that small group of insiders firmly entrenched in party politics, possessing absurdly fat war chests and predictably bereft of vision. The lack of vision is an unspoken qualification. The latest polls have the candidate from the Democratic Party with a small but significant lead over the Republican. Arth has no party affiliation.

(In light of what we’ve been experiencing this past generation in terms of political leadership at both the state and federal levels is it any wonder the tone of this post? My guess is you feel the same way. But I digress.)

I want to acquaint you to Arth for several reasons but mostly because of his vision of urban landscapes. About 10 years ago Arth (an artist, author and landscape/urban planner) founded a movement known as “New Pedestrianism.” Essentially, Arth envisions clusters of small communities with our urban centers, neighborhoods with trees, walkways and bikeways in front of homes, and tree-lined automobile streets behind homes. The centers of these "villages" would be populated with stores and other amenities, all within easy walking or biking distance within these neighborhoods.

I'm sure other urban planners have promoted and, to one degree or another, executed similar plans. But none of them (to my knowledge anyway) has run for governor in a major state and then bicycled its length and breadth promoting his candidacy and his progressive ideas. But, not beholding to any particular special interest (Florida politicos have historically been joined at the hip to powerful moneyed interests, be they developers or sugar growers), Arth doesn’t have the finances to buy the name recognition necessary to be taken as a serious threat in the race. . .But he has the imagination and drive to get things done. Impressive things.

A decade ago, while writing a book, “The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems,” he bought 32 homes in the worst part of DeLand, FL, a neighborhood known as “Crack Town.” Arth rebuilt the dilapidated neighborhood into a pleasantly landscaped, award-winning community within a community, DeLand’s Historic Garden District.

While I’ve never met Arth and only know of him and his political ambitions through newspaper and online accounts, I do know DeLand. I know it quite well from frequent visits to my brother's home there. He and his then-young family, seeking a small, quiet city with "old Florida" charm moved there decades ago. His two daughters, my nieces, both earned degrees at Stetson University, which is in DeLand, located just west of Daytona.

Arth is a fascinating person and my guess is that we will hear more about him even after this November’s election. His ideas about urban planning and safe, sustainable neighborhoods are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his vision for a safer and cleaner society.

Google his name and check him out. You might find him to be kindred spirit — in a political and environmental sense. Or maybe not. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Having a Ball

On a beautiful and sultry West Chicago afternoon, scores of landscape contractors and growers wandered the 9 acres of Ball Horticulture Co.'s well-manicured grounds. They were there as part of the company's Landscape Day, a chance to see what new varieties will be available in the coming years.
“We tend to talk about the pretty" when it comes to flowers, says Marvin Miller, Ball’s market research manager, but we often neglect the economic benefits — improving property values, drawing tourists and creating jobs.
Attendees also got the rare treat to hear Ball President and CEO talk about the history of the Ball trial gardens. To hear what she had to say about the site, click on the video.
While there was certainly lots of "pretty" to talk about, contractors got a chance to hear Ball employees explain everything from the latest varieties to the latest way to grow them. They also got to hear from a panel of experts about how growers and contractors can work together to make their operations more profitable.
The panel included: Steve Zylstra, Zylstra Greenhouses, Kalamazoo, MI; Bob Jones, SpringCreek Growers, Magnolia, TX; Ed Mrozinski, Acres Landscape, Wauconda, IL; and Bruce Hellerick, Senior Horticulturist (and LM columnist), Brickman.
According to Jones, clients have been trying to save money by reducing the number of color change-outs -- maybe skipping a spring or winter. The other big trend, Hellerick says, is the move away from annuals. Whether it's because of the U.S. Building Council's LEED program or just an attempt to save some money, people are moving away from annual installations, he explains. "I like annuals," Hellerick says. "I'm very nervous for the industry right now."
Zylstra responded by saying, "There's a lot of market out there. We need to do a better job of selling."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Take a peek into the Marianis' incredible landscape

Check out the landscape of one of the best-known landscapers in the Chicago region by accessing the recent article in the Daily Herald describing Frank and Sherri Mariani’s spread in Lake Forest, IL. Frank Mariani, of course, is the founder of Mariani Landscape, a 400-employee operation that specializes in designing, installing and maintaining landscapes. It's 17-acre headquarters are located in Lake Forest, just north of Chicago.

The article written by Deborah Donovan provides a peek into the 10-acre property that the Mariani’s purchased in 1986. The Mariani property with its Tudor-style home was once part of a dairy and cattle farm. It contains a butterfly garden, vegetable garden, woodland garden, orchard and a 2-acre prairie backing up to public preserve. Gone is much of the bluegrass that once dominated the property.

The click here to access the article, which contains more than a dozen images of the Mariani property. — Ron Hall

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A shrinking Cooperative Extension not good news for our industry

Cooperative Extension is our bridge between research and what’s practical “down on the farm.” Or in the case of the Green Industry, what works for our growing, living landscapes.

Many of us have gotten to know and rely upon the experience and advice of extension specialists. We value the helpful and impartial service they provide.

An article today on (available here) warns that Georgia could be losing yet more extension personnel due to mandated budget cuts at the University of Georgia. The University is being forced to chop 4% ($16.3 million) from its fiscal 2011 budget that began this past July 1.

Agriculture dean Scott Angle is protesting the cuts to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He says the state’s ag research stations and the Cooperative Extension Service already have absorbed budget cuts of 20% in the last two years. The number of county extension agents in the state has dropped from 400 to 300 since 2008.

Other states, looking to save money, have been chopping away at Cooperative Extension these past several years, as well. This is not good. Extension specialists make a big difference in keeping our environment productive in terms of food and fiber, and advising our Green Industry on best practices and greener ways of providing our services.

Those of you in Georgia may want to contact the Georgia Green Industry Association (GGIA) to see what you can do to save your Cooperative Extension from shrinking anymore.

The rest of us must continue to support our extension personnel and the work they do. — Ron Hall

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sharpen your irrigation skills as the era of cheap water approaches

The significance of the results of a recent survey by Black & Veatch should be obvious to anyone in the business of installing or maintaining irrigation systems. The price of water is going go up, up, up so the need for irrigation that doesn’t waste water (i.e. money) is growing, growing, growing.

In other words, the era of cheap water may be coming to an abrupt end.

Black & Veatch’s 50 Largest Cities Water and Wastewater Rate Survey indicates the average annual increase in typical residential water bills is approximately 5.3% from 2001 through 2009, while the increase in typical residential sewer bills is approximately 5.5%.

“This survey is a tool for managers of water infrastructure to see how their rates compare with national trends,” said John Kersten, Associate Vice President and Water Industry Lead in Black & Veatch’s management consulting division. “The primary source of income for these utilities to pay for operating, maintaining, expanding and updating their infrastructure is through water and sewer rate collections, which must be continuously adjusted to address rising costs.”

A key finding of the survey is that water and wastewater bills for residential use across the country have increased at a steady rate since 2001 – when Black & Veatch began producing the survey.

This trend correlates with findings from The 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), showing approximately $2.2 trillion of investment is needed to improve vital infrastructure over the next five years. Overall, America’s grade is a cumulative “D” as noted by the ASCE.

Black & Veatch’s analysis cites five key issues that influence rates and sheds more detail around the value of water and wastewater services and the solutions needed to address these two areas of vital infrastructure:

— Commodity price increases. Primarily in electricity, chemicals and natural gas costs. A leading contributor to operating and maintenance costs of water and wastewater facilities - highlighting the important inter-relationship or nexus of water and energy.

— Lower consumption and high fixed cost. In general, demand or a consumer’s usage is declining while many utility costs, such as debt service, are fixed. Since most pricing structures include volume-based charges, revenues are declining while costs are not.

— Benefits. Pension obligations and health care benefits are prompting an increase in labor costs.

— Influence of wastewater legal action. Significant capital programs are being implemented in most major cities to comply with legal; action related to system performance.

— Aging infrastructure. Updating and replacing aging infrastructure are significant costs for most water and sewer utilities, as noted in the ASCE report available at:

Black & Veatch Corporation is a leading global engineering, consulting and construction company specializing in infrastructure development in energy, water, telecommunications, federal, management consulting and environmental markets.