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Adjusting to a New Normal

A Season in review; 2021

By Cody Hayo

Throughout 2021 we have struggled to get back to a “New Normal.” Covid-19, which was easily the biggest story of 2020, has not gone away. Vaccinations have eased many pandemic precautions and concerns. However, 2021 has seen new Covid-19 variants and many breakthrough Covid-19 cases (not to mention signs of any respiratory illness) still keeping us on our toes. As it relates to gardening and landscaping work, interest has seemingly grown throughout the pandemic as many people are spending more and more time at home. Labor shortages have added to the challenge of meeting an increasing demand for many services, including gardening and landscaping.

A Shifting Workload

In St. Louis, Missouri, one of the biggest challenges my landscaping firm experienced coming into 2021 was a shifting workload. 

My gardening business, Pretty City Gardens and Landscapes, was founded in 2014.

The “normal” we had grown accustomed to since 2016 involved very active participation with a local stormwater grant program. This program aims to capture stormwater runoff before it reaches our rivers and streams, emphasizing garden-based solutions. The Combined Sewer System (CSS) of St. Louis City is a “priority water pollution concern” of the EPA – one of “nearly 860 municipalities across the U.S. that have CSSs.” The garden projects for this program involve the removal of lawn or other non-permeable surfaces and replacement with native plants. Frequently, rain gardens are included in these designs. Other times these projects are mostly lawn alternatives with many native plants.

Pretty City Gardens has applied for these grants each summer since 2016. Grants are awarded in the fall, then constructed during the fall of the current year or spring of the following year. During the pandemic in 2020, our local stormwater grant program, which is open to residential property owners, hit a major roadblock, and the program did not accept any applications at all. This ultimately left us in an awkward position coming into 2021. We had been unable to capitalize on the increased interest in services that appeared at the start of the pandemic in 2020 due to the volume of work we had received in Fall 2019. By Fall 2020, we were slowing down, and by Spring 2021, we were looking for ways to fill our schedule without this grant program.

An example of a lawn alternative and small rain garden created by Pretty City Gardens and Landscapes in Fall 2017 is also funded by our local stormwater grant program.

Everything Requires Maintenance

Thankfully we had plenty of already constructed projects that required maintenance through 2021 to keep us busy. Visiting our prior garden installations is always such a joy. While regular visits to gardens we have created are always a great experience, I would say they were even more meaningful through 2021 as we lacked the volume of new installation projects we would typically have undertaken. 

Rain Garden construction was underway in Summer 2019.

Rain Garden that has come into full bloom in 2021! Visiting this garden regularly through 2021 for maintenance has been such a joy.

The image above shows a rain garden plus front lawn alternative planting complete in Fall 2018.

The photo above shows the same garden taken at a maintenance visit in summer 2021 ☺

The Fruits of Our Labor and the Benefits of a Good Reputation

Without the new project workload that we have normally experienced since 2016 from the stormwater grant program, it took us some time to regroup. Thankfully, we had built a solid reputation as a firm, and our experience with stormwater management-related garden projects led to other opportunities, including both new projects and staffing opportunities. 

One unexpected surprise of 2021, which began in the summer of 2020, was the opportunity to work with a new staff member, Jack. Jack had been living in St. Louis since 2019 and working for Americorps. Jack was accepted into a graduate program for Ecological Design at a school on the east coast with a planned start date in Fall 2020. However, due to the pandemic, the start of his graduate degree was delayed by one year to Fall 2021. With Jack’s Americorps term coming to an end in Summer 2020, Jack realized he would have a gap year in St. Louis and reached out to us after finding our work online. We were a bit short-staffed in 2020, and bringing Jack on in the summer worked out perfectly. Coming full circle with this article, our connection with Jack ultimately led to us join the Ecological Landscape Alliance!

From July 2020 to July 2021, Jack worked in the field for us, gaining exposure to some of our existing work through maintenance, and he also was given the opportunity to lead some design and estimate work for us. Due to time constraints, we could not install all of the projects Jack worked on before his departure for graduate school. One project we did get to work on that Jack designed was a stormwater basin renovation at a park in Crestwood, Missouri – a municipality of St. Louis County, Missouri. This project came to us by way of our reputation with stormwater management-related work.

Jack (in the background) and Kalo (in the foreground) remove invasive species and organic debris build-up from a stormwater basin in Spellman Park – Crestwood, Missouri, in May 2021.

Days after completing our renovations at Spellman Park, a heavy thunderstorm flooded the stormwater basin. Jack’s design called for removing invasive species and reducing the amount of Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus) that had come to dominate this stormwater basin. We added more seasonal color by planting Shining Bluestar (Amsonia illustris), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), and more. 

Spellman Stormwater Basin after a heavy thunderstorm.

The opportunity to work with Jack, though short-lived, was a wonderful surprise that came out of the circumstances of 2020. It was a rewarding mentorship-like experience. 

A farewell to Jack with the rest of our crew (left to right), Jack, Hannah, Mark, Kalo, Abbey, and Rob.

Getting Back to “Normal”

One of the areas that we have received increased requests for work in 2021 has been hardscaping: More patios – outdoor dining and living space is in high demand. Although we have always taken on a small amount of hardscaping work during the times of the year when we have little other work or find it difficult to plant (mid-summer and late fall), we saw an increased number of hardscaping projects in 2021. Among the most interesting were projects that incorporated stormwater solutions.

Our staff member Dara began demolition of a small St. Louis City backyard in preparation for a new hardscape. This home has a view of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery just across Interstate 55 in the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis City, Missouri.

The completed hardscape project in late June 2021: Two separate triangular-shaped patios surround a rain garden, with adjacent raised beds for vegetable gardening and crushed granite and Fon du Lac stepping stone paths. The rain garden will be planted later, hopefully with funds from the stormwater grant program!

We have also continued designing work for the stormwater grant program that has previously kept us very busy with the intention of continuing to apply for grants in the future. Some clients, however, have decided they would like more control over the project installation timeline, and we have begun to move forward with a handful of stormwater grant-designed projects without applying for grant funding.

Our most recently installed stormwater garden design was completed in late September 2021. We solarized this 1400 square foot lawn on a steep hillside over the summer of 2021 and used stone (sawed top and bottom Eden stone) + gravel to stabilize the hillside. To manage the stormwater on this site, we planted native plants including Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Cliff Goldenrod (Solidago drummondii), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), and more.

Recently, now well into 2021, the stormwater grant program has begun accepting applications again with a few changes to the program, including a rolling application deadline. It is likely a bit late for any work to be completed on new projects before the end of 2021. However, we are looking forward to working with the stormwater grant program in 2022 and beyond. 

Cited Resources:

MSD Small Grants Rainscaping Grant Program;

Combined Sewer Overflows; EPA –

About the Author

Cody Hayo is the sole owner of Pretty City Gardens and Landscapes LLC,which was founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2014. Cody’s initial interest in forming a landscaping business was to get involved in community building and urban beautification. Native landscaping and stormwater management have been the areas his firm has seen the most growth to the point where they now provide those services almost exclusively.



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