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COVID’s Pendulum

By Trevor Smith

Goodbye 2020 and good riddance!!! Though we are not out of the woods yet, I couldn’t help but feel a weight lifted as the ball fell at the stroke of midnight. 2020 started like any other year, with hope and possibility. Many of my friends held high expectations and ambitions for expanding their careers and areas of expertise.

After a few short months away from the landscape, I was ready for the start of another season. There was still that stack of books I never got around to reading, and those Spanish and imaging classes would have to be put on hold…again. Still, I had an excellent offseason teaching Regenerative Land Design and National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP) classes. After all that time in the classroom, I was ready to get dirty again. As February melted into March, I had that familiar “Oh s***!” feeling in my stomach. The anticipation of a new season combined with knowing how crazy things were about to get felt like I was on a rollercoaster about to hit that big drop. All I could do was hold on as the world rushed past. Little did we know that drop would be less like a rollercoaster and more akin to Niagara Falls. 

Overnight COVID went from something to watch out for, like a low spot in a lawn, to an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole. Tumbling head over heels, suddenly the season was canceled, then back on, then maybe, then whoosh….

“Comfortably Connected” Outdoor lounge furniture that gives you the comfort of a chaise with all the healing benefits of connecting with the earth.

Next thing I know, the entire green industry is careening along in what felt more like white water rapids rather than the normal spring rollercoaster. And the momentum kept on and on until June came and went. Then July, then August. It didn’t stop. There was no time to catch your breath. September. Wait, what happened to August??? October. Wait, did I order bulbs? November. Cleanups???? I still have a fall planting…. Happy New Year!!! What the hell just happened?

The fears I had of losing a month initially while the state figured out if the industry was essential or not were quickly lost. I had over 250 consultations between April and November and sent out just under 300 proposals. And it kept on and on from spring into summer, with no time to catch my breath. Our industry saw the largest boom it has ever seen. This season eclipsed (at least for me) the boom after 911 when everyone was nesting. But with this sudden boom came a concerning lack of supplies that only added to the unrelenting sense of urgency. Nursery stock was running out or low. Building materials like lumber were “hopefully arriving sometime next week.” Whoever heard of a paving company running out of stock? Even so, the final balance as the season wrapped up looked very good, especially considering we were planning on taking a loss in April.

The sounds and sites of a backyard water feature give clients a release from staring at screens all day.

The forced summer at home had many people looking at their homes and yards. I proposed more patios this year than the past two combined. Clients told me, “We are using the money we saved on daycare,” or “Well, we obviously aren’t going on vacation this year, so we figured we’d put the money into the house.” With the vaccine rollout creeping along and the new predictions for returning to a new normal pointing to early fall, I expect to see another bumper 2021 season in the landscape industry. 

As the ball drops a year from now and we say goodbye to 2021, the COVID pendulum will begin its descent in the other direction. Everyone’s fervent attention on creating a perfect at-home living space will quickly change to getting the hell out of there. The way I’m looking at it, I think the 2022 season is going to be pretty quiet. Except for maintenance, of course. Everyone on vacation will need upkeep for their brand-new home and garden features. 

Sculpture, texture, and food for monarchs common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has it all.

This is not meant to sound foreboding, and I may be wrong. These are just my musings. These thoughts have come to me now that the world has stopped spinning, and I begin to make sense of what happened. It is our job to look into the future and design for these unforeseen conditions. We need to be aware of the COVID pendulum’s return and watch for its backswing much as we would watch for wires overhead when siting a tree.  For now, I welcome winter’s respite and look forward to all the promise and possibility 2021 has to offer. 

Beauty in nature abounds, it is always present no manner how quickly we think the world is spinning.

About the Author

Trevor Smith is a landscape designer in the Boston area. Trevor specializes in green stormwater infrastructure, such as permeable pavers and rain gardens, as well as in landscapes designed to maximize Earth’s systems while balancing them with the needs and desires of Her human inhabitants. He is passionate about the natural world which inspires his commitment to ecological principles and practices and devoted to creating beautiful landscapes that provide clients with an oasis to reconnect with the natural world. Mr. Smith holds several landscape certifications, including MCH, NOFA AOLCP, LEEDGA, and ICPI, and he is also a past President of the Ecological Landscape Alliance and a current Trustee.


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