Friday, December 23, 2011

The H-2B seasonal guest worker program creates and protects jobs for professional and skilled American workers

*Editor's Note: Fred Haskett, Managing Partner – Operations, U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County, offers his thoughts on recent challenges to the H-2B seasonal worker program. Look for more commentary from Fred periodically on the Landscape Management Blog.

A few days ago we said goodbye to our H-2B team. This is always bittersweet – we are glad they are going home to be with their families, their sacrifice of not seeing their wives and children for eight to nine months at a time is something we are greatly aware of and admire them for.

However, most of them have been an integral part of our team / our family for the past 8 years, and we always miss them when they are gone. This year especially, when we have no idea – Thanks to our interference from our Government – if we will ever see them again.

As has been our custom the past few years, we had a dinner the night before they left. Our leadership team shared a few hours with them and talked about family, children, the Holidays and all manner of personnel issues that friends and co-workers share when they come together outside of the workplace.

The next morning Jason Winans our Operations Manager, Mike Harpole our Production Superintendent, and myself drove some of them to the airport and others to the bus station. We all shook hands, grabbed a hug, and told them to travel safe. There were excited smiles and a few tears as they went on their way home to their native land.

During the past seven years St. Louis has become their home away from home and the source of income that makes it possible for them to send their children to high school and university. To have luxuries that we take for granted: Indoor plumbing, telephones, windows, and basic appliances. To have a career that they can be proud of.

During the past seven years these individuals have given us a stable and predictable seasonal workforce and allowed us to grow our small business by 400% in that time period and to provide good, well-paying, seasonal jobs for them and good, well-paying year-round jobs with benefits to our professional / skilled U.S. workers.

My company is a family-owned landscape and lawn care company with a 41-person team. By way of comparison, in 2004, we had only nine team members, six of whom were seasonal.
Since the 2005 season, we have participated in the H-2B visa program to hire seasonal foreign workers to meet the company’s need for a reliable and stable seasonal workforce. Currently, of the 41-person staff, the management team is my-self, my wife, and six year-round landscape professionals.  There are also five other full-time, year-round salaried employees.  The seasonal workforce consists of 28 workers, of whom 25 are H-2B seasonal workers.

Without the H-2B program, none of this would have been possible.  Before we began using the H-2B program in 2005, our annualized turnover rate was well over 200%.  Our effort to recruit U.S. workers to fill seasonal jobs and remain in them through the entire season was largely unsuccessful.  Today, with the H-2B program, turnover is less than 10%. 

If turnover increased to the level we experienced before turning to the H-2B program, our company would suffer serious economic and non-economic injury.

  • It would divert resources away from customer service to hiring, training and replacing.
  • It would reduce the quality of our service and result in the loss of customers and good will.
  • It would reduce our operational efficiency and negatively affect our profitability 
  • Our worker safety would all suffer as large numbers of inexperienced or barely experienced people would be present on each crew.
  • Turnover at the 200% rate that we experienced before using the H-2B program would require that we hire and train two or three new workers every single week during a 36-week season; recruiting and hiring over 100 people just to maintain 28 positions. 
  • Since workers often leave without notice, we would be constantly short-handed. 

This would result in an enormous negative impact on company morale and client satisfaction. 

If these new rules proposed by the Department of Labor for the H-2B program go into effect it will leave companies like ours few choices in the short term. The only choices it seems to me are to close our doors or to shrink our company by 40% to 50% and try to deliver a viable service level with turnover rates of up to 200%.  Even under this second scenario up to 50% of our full time skilled workforce would lose their jobs, and worker safety and quality of service would suffer.

It will take, I estimate, two to three seasons of very hard focus develop the new training systems required and to go through enough seasonal workers to find a small group of reliable people who are willing to work in a seasonal environment.

If these new H-2B Rules are allowed to take effect, at BEST,” we will lose irreplaceable skilled professional employees and valued customers, and, at worst, we will lose a family business that we have worked to build and will put all of our U.S. employees out of work.

 — Fredric R. Haskett   
Landscape Industry Certified Manager
Managing Partner – Operations
 U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ohio State Research Shows Dollar Value of Urban Trees

Thanks to the research of a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University and funding from Bayer Environmental Science, the city of Wooster, OH now knows the true value of the trees that line its streets.

By "value" we don't simply mean trees' contribution to the ecosystem or the fact that they beautify landscapes. Rather, we mean trees' true dollar value.

In mid-2010, the graduate student, Alejandro Chiriboga, recorded tree attributes such as trunk circumference and leaf condition among more than 3,000 of Wooster's city-owned trees. Using Forest Service software, he then totaled the dollar value of the environmental services trees provide, including reducing pollution and carbon in the atmosphere.

Chiriboga's research concluded that, annually, the trees generate $270,153 in community services, including aesthetic benefits, energy conservation, stormwater control and carbon and air pollution reduction. Chiriboga's study found that most of Wooster's street trees are young and healthy, which means they will contribute environmentally--and therefore economically--to the city well into the future.

Things in nature have always seemed priceless. So this study raises an interesting question: Can you really put a dollar amount on them? Apparently, you can. The question now is, will this experiment stop at trees? Or will it extend to lawns, shrubs and plants on the landscape?

Will mowing a lawn be deemed a loss in dollars? Will planting a flower bed boost the value of a landscape? It's hard to say. But at the very least, the OSU study has given us something new and interesting to ponder.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Owners — Are you in or out?

Randy's Take

Randy Newhard
Are you in or out? 

It’s a tough question to ask and honestly answer. I am both — in and out. I would think your answer depends on how long you have been in business. For me, it almost depends on the day, week or month — but mostly the week. I have been running my own business for 32 years. Sometimes I want out. Ok honestly, I want out most of the time. I have worked the 80-100 hour weeks for decades. Guess I am not smart enough, thinking I should have been done a while ago. Or am I?

Having this child (the business) and having over 200 grandkids (employees) and all their siblings — probably over a 1,000 — it’s very hard to let go. It sure is like parenting, you constantly have to teach, train, say no and also pat them on the back.  Grandkids (your employees ) need to know they are loved and cared for. That's where you have to be in. This caring for your child (company) really comes from the top.

You can hire the best management team in the world and they can be the best managers, but bottom line is: Employees want to know you care about them. Yes, money is in the top three things employees care about, but number one is that they want to be involved in the growth of the business and want to know what is going on. 

Secondly, they want to know their boss cares about them. Their bosses need to be trained in order to offer care and counseling. Be firm with consequences if they don't do their job. Sometimes, we’re not so good at this. It is a family business and family atmosphere, sometimes that can get in the way. But we are working on it.

While writing this blog entry, Newhard is definitely "out." Here's his photo
of a sunset while enjoying a meal with his family while vacationing in Maui.

I know I will probably never be out completely, as my exit strategy is my daughter, and working side by side with her has been a wonderful experience. Heck, she's taught this old man a lot of new tricks. She has been with our company for 15 years. Yep, right out of high school. Starting with answering the phones, to marketing, office manager, developing our databases and internal structures and processes, to corporate director-steering the ship, and now as president of the company, how can I be out completely? We make a great team!

I have the ultimate luxury, from wanting to be out — being out golfing with friends and clients, entertaining clients and taking off an extra day of the week to be with wife and my biological grandkids — Gabe and Olivia. And then being in — being at work, interacting with the other grandkids (employees), saying thanks and keeping an eye on the financials.

So are you in or out? Can you afford to be out? By afford I mean, how can you walk away from your child and the grandkids after 32 years?  I’m in... Well maybe not for now, I am out. I am in Maui celebrating my wife’s birthday, with my daughter, fiancé and our real grandkids. Aloha!

Randy Newhard, CEO
New Way Landscape & Tree Services
2nd Generation Local Family Owned Business
Multi Local & State Landscape Beautification Award Winner

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cleaning up after the Occupy Toronto protest

   We got the following email from our friend Tom Delaney, Director of Government Affairs for the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET):

   "The Occupy Toronto movement trashed one of Toronto's inner city Parks. When the City issued a plea for financial support to help restore the park, one of our members came up with the idea that we as an industry should just restore the park ourselves. One email and two days of hard but very satisfying work later, 150 volunteers aerated the entire park, spread 1 inch of topsoil and sodded all 3 acres. It was an amazing experience. Everything was donated."

The park following the day of volunteer work.
Here's what the park looked like following
the Occupy Toronto protesters vacated the site.

   Apparently about $60,000 in product and services was donated by members of Landscape Ontario.  It's yet another example of the extraordinary people we have in our industry. 

   There are a couple of videos about the work at St. James Park. In one, someone put a stop-motion camera in place and with the addition of a background track ("Flight of the Bumblebees" if I'm not mistaken) created this highly entertaining YouTube video

   The good deed also got coverage from a Toronto television station. See that here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Don't lose sight of how to win, close, motivate and rally in 2012

Randy Newhard

Editor's Note: Randy Newhard, CEO of New Way Landscape & Tree Services will begin contributing to Landscape Management's blog on a regular basis. Here is his first submission.

Randy's Take

As I write my first blog, I am watching my struggling Chargers on Monday Night Football vs. the Jaguars. The Bolts have lost six straight. Their main goal this year was to start strong. Is your company’s goal to start the new year strong? Most companies do start the year strong, set goals, monitor them for a few months and then lose sight of them.

Companies can be just like our Chargers who started 4-1 and then lost sight of how to win, how to close, how to motivate and how to rally a team.

Yeah, I do have to give the Chargers some slack. The quarterback Philip Rivers lost a lot of his receivers to injuries early. They could not practice together during the week as the players healed. His linemen also got hurt, some out for year, some out for many games.

Does your quarterback, your owner, your general manager or your operational person have healthy personnel on your team? Are they hurt or injured- feeling down from down economy? Are they motivated? Do they practice together — have quality meetings in the office and in the field?

How about your sales team — do they have goals for the month, quarter and year? Do they have the tools they need? Are they motivated and by whom? Are they motivated by salary, incentives, commissions?

There are lots of things to do this time of the year. Whether you are back East or on the West coast or in the Midwest, the new year brings many challenges. There is a lot of planning to do for the new year and a great deal of equipment to get cleanup and ready for spring.

As a business owner, it's time for us to cleanup 2011 and plan for 2012. It's time to budget and set realistic expectations for our team to be empowered to make proper decisions to make our companies profitable. Yep, profitable. Some clients don't think we should make one. That's a topic for future blogs.

Have a wonderful holiday season and yes I will say it — Merry Christmas and wishing you and yours a very  prosperous and Happy New Year!

— Randy Newhard, New Way Landscape & Tree Services, is CEO of this 2nd generation local family owned business. The San Diego-based company is a multi local and state Landscape Beautification Award Winner.

Friday, December 02, 2011

You can't buy this kind of coverage

If it's true — what goes around, comes around, then Glen Rock, NJ-based R&S Landscaping is in for some good karma this holiday season (and maybe it's already happening in the coverage they got from the New Jersey Media Group).

It seems R&S Landscaping decided to help celebrate one of the company's long-time customer's 70th birthday by giving her a holiday lighting package. "The Hoefler family is one of our first customers so we're excited to be able to offer them the gift of this complimentary service," said Robert Schucker, president, R&S Landscaping in the Glen Rock Gatzette, part of the New Jersey Media Group. Read the full story here.

You simply can't buy that kind of good will coverage. And the grateful recipient is quoted in the article saying she makes sure every one of her neighbors knows who is responsible for the beautiful display. What is it they say about word-of-mouth referrals?

We don't know if R&S has received any direct new business from the publicity, and we're not suggesting you go out and provide free services every year, but when the right opportunity comes along, it might be worth the investment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to head back to the grocery store

There's a local talk show host here in Northeast Ohio who likes to use the phrase "I'm living in a world I don't understand." I'm beginning to agree with him.

A few weeks back we heard about the incident of a family that was busted by a Safeway security guard when they forgot to pay for a sandwich their famished daughter ate while they were shopping. Read the details of that incident here. Well, Safeway is at it again.

This time, at store in Northwest Washington, a girl was threatened with arrest and forced to sign a paper acknowledging she is no longer welcome in Safeway stores for eating some apricots and then putting the bag back on the shelf. That might seem a reasonable solution if not for the fact that the hardened criminal in this case only 4 years old and hadn't yet learned to read or write.

The company has apologized and relieved the security guard of his duties,  and the store's divisional president offered to take the girl around the story (including a visit to the bakery) to show her the grocery store is not a scary place. While the hire ups were quick to react and ultimately did the right thing (read about the story here) it shows that common sense isn't as common as we might like.

I'm not sure how you teach common sense or instill it in your employees, but if those on the front lines of your business don't have it, you could be in trouble. These incidents certainly aren't going to close the food chain's doors, but it's not really doing them any favors. I can only imagine if my kids were still that young, I'd hesitate to walk through those doors. And that can't be the kind of feeling any business wants to provide its customers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A little dirt under his fingernails

VP of Sales Pat Roberts helped free the mower
from the bog-like conditions in which it was mired.

   Those of us in the publishing industry generally sit behind a desk. Sure we make it into the field once in awhile and hop on a mower or a skid steer, but the bulk of our time is at our desk with a nose near the computer screen and fingers flying over the keyboard. And even when we do make it out into the field, rarely do we suffer the usual trappings of outdoor work — dirt and mud.

   That all changed one morning for one of our fearless executives. Pat Roberts, our VP of Sales, was waiting for his morning train (which was late as usual) when he heard the strained roar of an engine and the mumblings of a very frustrated landscaper. It seems the eager city contractor found himself stuck in some mud after an all-night rain. Pat watched for a moment as the worker valiantly tried to free himself from the slimy morass. Pat knew what he had to do.

   Pat assessed the situation, and without any thought to his own safety leapt into action. With Pat's help, the contractor was able to free the machine from the muck's gooey clutches, and left our fearless hero with a little dirt under his fingernails, on his shoes, pants and shirt.

   Somewhere out there is a contractor who breathes a little easier (and so can we all) knowing there are people like Pat willing to risk a pair of freshly polished Bruno Magli's to help his fellow man. (Really, I have no idea what brand of shoe Pat wears). But the city of Shaker Heights, OH owes Pat a debt of gratitude and at least a shine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shining a light on customer service

Just had a really nice meeting with Maria Burke from Kichler Lighting. We were ushered into the company's conference room to give our presentation and to talk about our ongoing relationship, but before we got started, there something that caught my eye.

Like many companies, their conference contains the ubiquitous large table and matching chairs. Only in this case, one of the chairs was a little different.

This seat was upholstered with a different fabric and had a sign hanging over it that read: "Reserved for our customer's point of view."

A lot of companies talk about staying customer-centric, but clearly Kichler is shining a light on the concept. Of course just having a chair with a sign doesn't mean the company automatically focuses on customers. That still takes conscious effort and persistence, but I suspect having that visual cue serves as a regular reminder to at least try to think about issues from the customer perspective.

And maybe that's why Kichler is able to report record breaking sales in 2011.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Intelligent Use of Water Awards

Sitting less than a mile from one of the Great Lakes (Erie) it's sometimes hard to remember there are places in the world — places in this country — where water is much more scarce. Professional landscapers are stewards of the environment. There's no question our industry plays a huge role in the protecting this most precious resource.

The folks at Rain Bird understand that, too. That's why Landscape Management and our sister publication Golfdom supported Rain Bird's Intelligent Use of Water film competition earlier this year and we plan to do the same with a new program, the Intelligent Use of Water Awards.

Rain Bird will award a total of more than $50,000 to projects that "uses water efficiently, promotes green spaces and is an example of sustainability." Individual projects can earn $1,500, $5,000 or $10,000. Simply put the contest is open to, "anyone with a water conservation project in need of funding."

Entrants submit their projects to the contest website where the public votes on the projects it thinks are most important. As of this writing their are only six projects available to vote on, but since the contest just started, we don't think there will be so few projects to consider in the near future. You can vote on projects or submit your own here. Voting ends March 15, 2012.

According to the contest website: "Once a project is submitted it is made available for public voting, meaning anyone can anonymously cast their vote for their favorite project. All projects can be anonymously voted on by visitors (one vote a day per project, per individual user), and the projects with the most votes in each funding category will be awarded a combined $51,000 in grants to be used towards the completion of their winning project. Winners will be announced on World Water Day – March 22, 2011."

We'll do our best to check in on the contest during the next several months. So check back here periodically for updates. Let us know if you've entered the competition. We'd love to hear about the water project you think is worthy of some prize money.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Going that extra mile?

Diane, a former boss of mine, posted the following question on her Facebook page (comments follow and the names have been truncated to protect the innocent):

Do you think it would be too brazen of me to call the piano tuner and ask him to stop at Winn Dixie and bring me a small carton of 2% milk on his way over here? I would pay him back:
2 people like this.

Jane LOL Go for it.
Ben Not at all! How about some "tune-a-fish" too?
Tim Um. Yes?
Diane Ha ha ha ha ha, so funny! But seriously, how well do you know him? This might start a trend with service people!
Joe You'd have to leave him a" note"
Diane Badaboom - cchh! Ladies and gentlemen, Joe and Ben will be here all week!
Jayne hahahahahahahah!!!! hahahahahaahahah!!
Mary Go for it. I'll bet you have a 50-50 chance of getting the milk! Make sure you have some cookies to give him while he is there!

My question is: How would you feel if one of your regular customers called the office and asked the crew to pick up an item or two on the way to the job (assuming there was a store along the way)? Is this something you'd consider a reasonable request for a good customer? Is it something you'd be willing to do once or on rare occasions?

What have you done to go that extra mile for a customer? Feel free to leave your comments below or send them to me at:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Whee for the Wii

Joe Auteri, owner of Joseph Auteri Hardscape Consulting
took home a new iPad 2 courtesy of LM by posting the
low score in a 3-way, five-hole shoot out.
   As much as I'd like to think it was folks stopping by to pick up a copy of the October issue, I suspect the increased traffic at Landscape Management's booth had more to do with our Wii Golf challenge and the chance to win an iPad 2.

   Contestants earned their scores by playing three holes of Wii Golf on the beginner setting. Scores ranged from 2 under (three contestants earned that score sending them to a playoff) to 9 over (much closer to how I play in real life).

   The three finalists played a five-hole contest on the expert setting. The winner was Joe Auteri, owner of Joseph Auteri Hardscape Consulting located in Rohnert Park, CA. Joe took home the iPad 2, which was "the highlight of the trip," he said.

Of course, maybe after he reads the October issue, he'll change his mind and declare that the highlight of his trip, right? No, I didn't think so. But it is a darn good issue if we do say so ourselves. If you like, you can check out the digital version of the issue here.

A few thoughts from the show

The calm before the storm. A shot down
an empty aisle shortly before the show opens.
   GIE+EXPO is wrapped up for another year. The final numbers on attendance have yet to be released, but my suspicion is they'll be up some from last year. I generally spend a lot of time walking the floor,  and while it's entirely unscientific, I think there were more folks wandering through the aisles (at least I seemed to get stopped a lot more and had to make a few more detours around crowds admiring the latest piece of machinery.)

STIHL's lumberjack competition always
brings out a crowd —even if it was a bit chilly.
   Speaking of machinery, there were quite a few updates and introductions of new equipment. You'll learn more about all that in upcoming issues of Landscape Management and in our various newsletters. Most shows seem to develop a focus (for lack of a better word). And while I must admit it was a bit more of a challenge to discern this year's overriding sentiment, I think there were a couple of recurring themes:
  • First the economy. There was a lot of talk about the recession and how to best deal with it. 
  • Second, social media. It's finding new ways to make its way into our lives and businesses. 
  • Third, technology. Machines are becoming ever more sophisticated. They're improving our efficiency and productivity, driving our businesses to greater profitability.
   I think my favorite reason for going to the show, however, is to see some of the folks we spend all year talking to on the phone, and of course, to meet a few new ones. This is an extraordinary industry in which we all work. And that is solely because of the people who comprise it. I'm already looking to head back to Louisville in 2012 (Oct. 24-26 in case you want to put it on you calendar). See you there.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Another opening, another show

GIE+EXPO begins next week.

There's always a mix of excitement and dread before the big Green Industry show. Excitement because it's an opportunity to see some old friends and touch base with new ones (and perhaps raise a glass or two in their honor).

It's an opportunity to see the latest products that make our lives easier and help us do our jobs better. There are myriad educational opportunities (many of LM's columnists are presenting at the educational portion of the show). You can download the full list of conference's events including the educational programs in PDF format here here.

In addition, there's always some time to eat a few good meals and maybe, just maybe, visit one of Louisville's interesting attractions (Louisville Slugger Museum, Muhammad Ali Museum, Fourth Street Live, etc.)

The dread comes because it usually means long nights, early days and lots and lots of walking. My advice to new attendees is where comfortable shoes. But even with that, it's a good tired, because you come away feeling like you've done and learned a great deal.

This is a big show with more than 17,000 participants expected arriving from more than 20 countries. They and the more than 750 exhibits will fill the 425,700 sq. ft. exhibit hall and the 19-acre outdoor demo area. In other words it's big. GIE+EXPO always seems to be growing, last year incorporating the Hardscape North America show. There are press conferences and demonstrations of all sorts throughout the show.

Feel free to stop by Landscape Management's booth #3018 if you get a free moment. Let us know what you think of the magazine, suggest a story idea or just to say hello. Of course, you might have to leave a card. There's a pretty good chance we'll be out on the show floor wearing out that pair of comfortable shoes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How would you handle this?

Got an interesting question from a reader earlier today, and we thought you might be able to provide some feedback. First a little background.

The company has been using Sprint/Nextel for about 10 years. Most of the units are direct connect and a small number of them have phone service. The company also uses the Nextel GPS in the units to track technicians. The question is primarily one of cost. Should the company continue with the Sprint/Nextel approach or use another method.

1. Since all of the employees have their own phones, should the company pay for the Sprint/Nextel service?
2. What are your thoughts on using the GPS (Commettracker) on the phones versus installing GPS on the vehicles themselves?

A couple of issues come to mind: Is there a problem if you're using employees' personal phones for work related purposes. Are you going to pay for all or part of their service. Are you now liable to replace the phone if something happens to it.

Is there an ethical issue of tracking employees through a personal cell phone. They're not on the clock 24 hours a day.

We'd like your feedback. How are do you handle these issues. Your insight is much appreciated. Feel free to leave a comment here or send an email to

Thursday, October 06, 2011

An icon passes

Burton Sperber, FASLA, founder and chairman of the board of directors of The ValleyCrest Landscape Cos., passed away a few days ago, just a few days before another business icon, Apple's Steve Jobs.

While more people around the world will remember Jobs for his technology innovations, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who had as wide an influence on the Green Industry as Burt Sperber.

I only had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Sperber a few times over the years, but his affable nature was clear. He was friendly and generous with his compliments. And after talking with others in the industry — those whose lives he influenced — it's not too much a stretch to say the world of landscaping would be vastly different had he not been a part of it.

Look for more on the life of Burton Sperber in the October issue of Landscape Management.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bugging out

Most of Landscape Management's forays into pest management are related to grubs, armyworms and billbugs. It's not often we get to venture into the world of larger insects. Of course when one shows up right outside our window (an 11th floor mind you), we tend to take notice.

We had a little trouble identifying this little visitor in the photo above.

With a little help from our sister publication Pest Management Professional and one of the publication's contributors, Gerry Wegner, we got this description of the creepy crawly.

"This is a leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus oppositus, looking for a way to get into the building in preparation of overwintering. It is a fall invader."

Wegner is the Technical Director, Staff Entomologist for Varment Guard Environmental Services Inc./ProGuard Commercial Pest Solutions.

So this little bug is really bumming the office out -- not so much because it's unpleasant to look at, but more because it's a harbinger of the season to come.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rock on

One Portland, OR landscaper got a surprise recently when he spotted a semi truck that had dragged an enormous boulder down the highway.

According to a report in the Oregon Salem-News, the landscaper noticed that a boulder was missing from a turnaround near a local IKEA store. The man then followed scrape marks the boulder had left in its wake all the way to one of Portland's interstates.

On the freeway (we presume the landscaper was driving), the landscaper reportedly saw the truck with the boulder underneath it and notified police. Officers suspected that the truck driver drove the wrong way around the IKEA turnaround, catching the landscape boulder in his rear axle.

Hearing the news harkened me back to my mom's 60th birthday celebration, a National Lampoon's-like family trip to Door County, WI. My nephews were 2 years old at the time, and my mom thought it would be fun for them if we drove to Wisconsin in an RV. Why, I don't know.

When my dad and I showed up to pick up the small RV he'd reserved just outside Chicago, we found that the company had mistakenly reserved a 35-footer for us. In case you're trying to picture it, it was the size of a yacht. When we met up with the rest of my family downtown, my mom was so worried about the RV's size that she forbade anyone to drive in it.

That would have been fine, except that it's illegal to park an RV in Chicago. So my dad had to drive the RV to Wisconsin--by himself. The rest of us followed in two separate cars--my mom and I in one car and my brother and his family in the other. Every time we turned a corner, we had to wait for my dad to follow; the RV was so huge, he could never make the turn the first time.

And so it went throughout the 9-hour drive down highways and one-lane roads. Our drive began in daylight and ended at 1 a.m. And it ended with a flourish--with my dad driving the RV right over a decorative boulder at the resort's entrance.

He dragged the boulder up the long drive and across the parking lot, where the boulder became wedged so tightly beneath the RV that the camper came to a halt. I awoke at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of a jackhammer pummeling rock.

The best part about the whole thing was that my mom's car broke down the last day of our trip.

She rode in the RV with my dad on the way home. The kids rode with my brother.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Every tree tells a story

There's something special about those hulking old trees with their gnarled limbs snaking outward and upward. They just begged to be climbed. And few of us (at least when we were younger) could resist the appeal of wending our way through branches, a thick canopy of leaves protecting us from the harsh summer sun.

Mothers everywhere cringed at the very thought, their minds filled with worry about broken arms, but the allure was too much. Even as adults we might encourage our children to remain earthbound, but we struggle with the thought ... because we know. We know what it's like to dangle our legs from high above, to sit with a cool breeze gently rocking us on our perch, to relax without a care.

That's why it's nice to see a celebration of those trees. The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has put together a traveling photography exhibit — 2010 Landslide: Every Tree Tells a Story. The exhibition features 26 images of 12 different locations in the US and Puerto Rico, opens Sept. 16 at 21c Museum, Louisville, Ky., and runs through Jan. 8, 2012.

Landslide: Every Tree Tells a Story is an exhibit that travels around the country and will be open to those visiting Louisville, KY during the GIE+EXPO. The Davey Tree Expert Co. is the presenting sponsor.

Here's what the website says about the Louisville exhibit at the 21c Museum:
Olmsted Parks and Parkways ‐Louisville, Ky.
This system consists of three flagship parks (Cherokee, Shawnee, and Iroquois) and the six parkways that connect them, all designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and his sons. For more than three decades, the Olmsted firm shaped the city — 18 parks and 14.5 miles of boulevards in all — each designed in deference to natural topographic attributes. Today some 6,000 trees from the Olmsted design era provide the city its mature tree canopy. Photography by Bob Hower.

For more information about the exhibition, click here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vote for your favorite movie

A film wins, the environment wins and you win.

The Intelligent Use of Water™ Film Competition invites filmmakers from around the world to promote the urgent need for water conservation. Now that we've narrowed our almost 150 entries down to the final six, we need help from Green Industry professionals like you.

Vote now for your favorite film. The finalist with the most votes will earn the 2011 Green Industry Award of $6,000. For each of the first 2,000 votes received, Rain Bird will donate $1 to the Ground Water Foundation. As a thank you, the first 2,000 voters will also receive a FREE Rain Bird hat. Click here to view our six finalists and cast your ballot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Intelligent Use of Water film competition

It would be hard to overstate the importance of water to our industry. And in many parts of the country that valuable resource is a scarce commodity. In an effort to promote the value of conserving water, Rain Bird is once again hosting its "Intelligent Use of Water" film competition.

There are six films vying for top honors ($6,000) in The Green Industry division. Voting is taking place now and your input is welcome.

Vote for your favorite here.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Youth in landscaping

You've got to like headlines that have the words "landscaping" and "win-win" together.

An article in the Seaway (Cornwall, Ontario Canada) News newsletter highlighted a program designed to put youth (here defined as between the ages of 15 and 30) into the landscaping trade. It's a program called "Youth in Landscaping," which is part of the Canadian government's Individual Skills Enhancement program, which is all part of Service Canada.

In this case the youth spend three days a week in the field and two in the classroom learning everything from CPR and resume writing to the finer points of hardscaping.
For more on the program, read the full article here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Landscaping the nation's most extraordinary landmark

Even as hundreds of landscapers from around the country descended upon Arlington National Cemetery, the place seemed quiet and still.

Even as they dug, hammered, limed, aerated and cabled, the cemetery resounded with an uncanny peaceful hush, as if the cemetery itself is as resilient as those it holds once were.

Perhaps it was the row upon row of white gravestones, situated in symmetrical straight lines.

Or the grass, so well kept it’s still green in this sweltering summer.

Or the stately towering old trees that show no signs of withering.

Or the striking contrast of green and white everywhere you look.

For whatever reasons, the scene’s all very picaresque, even when you come to the shocking realization that those graves all hold the bodies of people who once were very much alive, people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

The landscapers were at the cemetery as part of the Professional Landcare Networks’ (PLANET’s) day of Renewal & Remembrance, in which landscapers from across the country flock to D.C. once a year to landscape Arlington National Cemetery.

The Renewal & Remembrance effort embodies the very traits of Arlington National Cemetery itself: duty, honor and strength. Every cemetery is sacred. But there’s something about Arlington that feels just a little more powerful, a little more historic, a little more majestic than the others.

Few tears were shed. There was no laughter, either. Just reverence. For the 15th annual year, landscapers paid their respects in the best way they know how: through their work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hack job

Chopping down a tree, even the spindliest of them all, is no easy task for yours truly. Persistence paid off, though! I enjoyed trying my hand at arboriculture ever so briefly (with a little guidance), but I'm sticking with my day job.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Notes from NASCAR

The zoom. The deafening drone of the cars' engines. One bright blur after the other. The overwhelming aroma of burning rubber.

NASCAR inundates your senses from every direction. The best way to describe it is to show it through pictures and video. Thanks very much to Warren and Polly and the rest of the folks behind the GIE Expo for hosting us on Saturday! Amazing!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Surviving the Death Race

Running a business is hard, but it's generally not a life and death experience.

Bruce Allentuck of Allentuck Landscaping recently participated in the Death Race, something that can only be described as one of the most physically and mentally challenging, events ever devised. And Bruce participated not only voluntarily, but eagerly.

Bruce details the experience in his blog here. All we can say is congrats to Bruce for undertaking such a monumental challenge.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

It's things like this that make us all look bad

The city might get the blame, but it's the landscaping industry that looks bad. A news story on which serves Rio Grande Valley, Texas explained how McAllen City contracted landscapers are dumping grass clippings, which get washed down city drains, clogging them, which results in flooding.

The city had been blaming residents for the problem and was quoted as saying: "It gets in the system because it sits in the yards or the parking lots. They'll come through and mow their lawn and blow it into the inlets,” said McAllen Emergency Manager Pilar Rodriguez."

According to one landscaper the KRGV reporter talked to, the only directive workers were given was "keep it out of the streets," so it was being left on the already cut grass next to the roads.

Just wondering who pays the $500 fine if it's the city's workers who are violating the city's ordinance.

You can read the complete story here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A pig in a park

Turns out sheep aren't the only eco-friendly animals to work in the landscaping market. It seems a trio of pigs have joined a Loughborough, England landscaping team to help clean up a local park.

Yeah, that's right: pigs.

Turns out a trio of porcine laborers borrowed from Brooksby Melton College to clear an acre or so of they city's Beacon Hill Country Park, according to

Apparently the young pigs are particularly suited to the job. "The Welsh Pig is an old rare breed which is very hardy and is favoured for its management capabilities," according to the article, which can be read in full here.

New EU pesticide regs will mean loss of popular A.I's there

In Jan. 2009 the European Parliament approved new European Union pesticide regulations. They went into force recently. The UK publication HorticultureWeek reports that the regulations could result in the loss of 19 active ingredients in crop protection products used by the horticulture industry there.

"The new EU legislation is going to have an impact. The potential losses are large and there is a huge degree of uncertainty in the process. We've been working with worst case scenario assumptions and it probably won't be as bad as that, but some products are likely to be lost when we are already at the bare bones. It shows that there is a real problem here," Paul Chambers, Plant Health Adviser of the National Farm Union is quoted in the article.

When the A.I's will be pulled from the market is uncertain.

The following A.I's, some of which most of you will recognize, are not expected to be around when 2020 arrives, according to the article:

Bifenthrin, Esfenvalerate, Bitertanol, Carbendazim, Flusilazole, Quinoxyfen, Cyproconazole, Epoxiconazole, Fenbuconazole, Mancozeb, Maneb, Metconazole, Tebuconazole, Flumioxazine, Glufosinate ammonium, Linuron, Pendimethalin, Amitrole, Ioxynil