Jump-starting the Season

What are you doing to get ready for the season that’s just taking off? ELA asked a few members to share their favorite tips for getting the season off to a good start.

From tool repair and website updates to seeking inspiration and education, our members have found a variety of ways to take advantage of the slower off-season. Here’s what our members have been up to.

Jonathan Bransfield, Lead Tree Lover, Bransfield Tree, Stow, Massachusetts

Anyone with painted metal equipment in New England that goes out in winter (trucks, trailers, plows, etc.) knows the pain of watching rust invade under the paint until it bubbles through discoloring the equipment and degrading your professional appearance at dispiritingly rapid rates. Every winter, Bransfield Tree pulls a couple pieces of equipment into the shed to scrape the bubbling rusty paint and treat it with a commercially available “rust converter” called POR 15. This material can be applied to a rusty surface and doesn’t require that the rust be ground out or sandblasted back to immaculate bare metal. Just hit the rust with a normal paint scraper so the big chunks are loosened off, blow it off with some compressed air, and apply the POR 15 with a cheap household paint brush. The product is not cheap, but the simplified preparation and application justify the cost tenfold.

John Hemmerle, Owner/Designer, Our Land Organics, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio

Get updates to your website done (improved copy/navigation/projects) before the season hits! As the season picks up these tasks fall quickly in priority. I also like to send a check-in email to current clients in mid-February to ask what services they are interested in for the coming season. This allows for a lot of schedule filling and discovering of opportunities that I may not have known about had I not asked.

Get inspired. The slower season is a great time to read new books and catch up on all things ecological landscaping. Making sure you catch up with other ecological landscapers is also really rewarding.

Brooke Merriam, Owner, Sunflower Designs LLC, Bristol, Rhode Island

This year I am getting ready for the new season by reflecting on the past season. I am looking at which projects were most profitable and enjoyable, and evaluating why, so I can target those types of jobs and clients this season. I am also looking at which jobs were the least profitable and most painful, to remind myself which jobs I might want to pass on.

I take time in the winter to update my design software and streamline processes and forms like bid sheets and contracts. This year I am making lists of plants that I want to incorporate into more of my designs, so that I don’t fall back on the same old standbys as the season gets crazy.

I am trying to finalize all the elements of designs I’ve been working on over the winter, so we are ready to hit the ground running. I reach out early via email to top past clients and ask if they’d like to schedule a spring consultation or tackle any new projects this year. I always pose it as “I wanted to reach out before the spring rush,” so they don’t call me in April hoping for a May project!

Zachary Navarro, Principal, Essex Horticulture, Danvers, Massachuetts

At Essex Horticulture we start to work on understanding our clients’ desires and expectations well in advance of the growing season. We find using February and March this way helps us to mobilize and initiate our spring projects effectively and achieve a high level of client satisfaction. Gaining positive momentum early in the year allows us to successfully execute our projects and meet contract requirements.

Watching for flowers of acer rubrum offers much needed inspiration after a cold, snowy winter. Photo: Famartin

The most enjoyable part of this process is looking for signs of spring as we get into the field with clients. We like to watch the flower buds of the red maples build into a thick red blur as March moves into early April and the daylight begins to expand into the early part of evening. Walking sites and properties with the people we work with and noticing these subtle changes inspires new vision and reaffirms the plans we have in place.

Lori Silvia, Landscape Designer and Gardener, St. George’s School, Middletown, Rhode Island

I still spend time outdoors in the off-season with storm clean-up and shoveling, winter pruning, raking, and generally keeping the campus looking nice. To prep for spring:

  1. I spend a lot of my winter time doing research about plants or techniques, reading plant test trials, creating plant lists for orders or to buy locally. I enjoy going to conferences like E.L.A. and N.E. Grows to keep current on what is happening in the science realm of landscape design and to look for ecological and inspirational design trends. This always inspires new areas of research for me.
  2. If there is a big design project (around a new building) coming up, I work on master plans, drawings, and LEED intention reports, and create a narratives to present to our Director of Operations, Architects, and Construction teams. I communicate by explaining my vision and inspiration, and use hand drawings to give an impression of what it will look like; not many people can read a flat 2-D site plan and “see” what the landscape will look like in real dimension.
  3. I print new or seasonal photographs in black and white and then draw design notes or sketches on top of them to plan for renovations or create new design plans. The level of quality depends on if they are just for me or if I need to present them, but I have an idea of the goals and what I would like to accomplish in the next year. Sometimes I am the only one who knows what I have “percolating.”
  4. I create a list of possible pet projects that I can do when I have a group of students or spring Student Interns – jobs or projects that will benefit from many hands and some strong backs and that will give students an educational EXPERIENCE requiring them to work hard and get their hands “dirty” while gaining a deeper connection to nature, the environment. Most come away with a deeper respect for the work I do and learn that I approach teaching just like a member of our SG Faculty. Some of these students have never held a tool or used one. I love to teach them how to use their brains and their body together, in work that is good for the soul.
  5. I make sure I have my favorite tools ready to go: Pruners (three sizes) – Felco 310, Felco 160S, and larger long-handled ones; Sumio wire broom hand rake; Wonder Grip Nearly Naked gloves; small pointed shovel; double-sided hand hoe/3 prong I get at Ocean State Job Lot; Felco 600 hand saw; and Dramm brass valve watering wand.
  6. I write articles for our community about ecological gardening techniques and how-to do these things at home.

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