Friday, December 07, 2012

Maintenance - The Last Frontier

A long-time landscape architect and green industry professional, Jim Wheat, lectured on landscape maintenance in Phoenix; I used his program's title for this post.

That was about 1999, but it's more appropriate than ever.

What would you think if you designed outdoor spaces, communicated your intents during limited time with the owner or client (and within a tight deadline), and mostly saw this, 2-3 years after completing an installation - for 2 decades? Time for a career and/or place change, perhaps? (it's all game, now)
Apache Plume mass, with ample room to mature

(be not alarmed - the gravel expanse beyond is for future building expansion on the large property)
Blue Sotol or Desert Spoon with ample room to mature

Blue Ranger shrub with ample room to mature

I'm so glad there's a new building addition about to be constructed in this area! Will my 3rd time designing a landscape on this vast commercial medical site be a charm?

Deergrass massing has ample room to mature (and with winter approaching, grasses are best left to develop their dormant blonde forms, since they won't grow for 4+ months) Same with the Giant Sacaton in the background...

Giant Sacaton grouping with ample room to mature (remember a recent post on this plant?)

Where blank areas are near other plantings in each of the photos, there were often plants at one time but that died, were eaten by rabbits, or were wrongly irrigated, but were never replaced.

At least not all is bad...at least so far! These Blue Grama grasses and the young Chinese
Pistache tree, plus a few other plants, are left unscathed and bask in the sunset light.

With that, it's time to drive home. More on this topic and some solutions, soon!

40 comments:

  1. I think this is why I prefer the southwestern Native plants style or Mediterranean look. The style is clean and easier maintenance. Now woodland gardens are okay and northern gardens also, but they can become quickly weedy looking and I don't like that.


    I use a blower in areas where I have rock mulch. Actually works pretty good for keeping them clean of leaves and dirt.


    -

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But why make more work doing things incorrectly, when there's still similar hours - job security - doing correct work? I wonder if my designs are *too-low-maintenance*, that they resort to this? Of course, I don't believe that.

      Delete
    2. Here is a bit of interesting and sad news from your neck of the woods. High country gardens went under! Can't believe it.

      Noverber 2012 - High Country Gardens Catalog and Website Has Closed it's Doors

      Delete
  2. Urgh - what a shame! The plants look lonely and pittiful....a shell of their former selves. :( do you think since they withstand all this abuse if left alone they have a chance at reaching their full potential again? At some point? It is almost like they trim the sotol like that because they think it is a yucca rostrata? And the grass :( Y how do you care for yours? Do you buzz cut in the spring or leave alone?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most can recover...grasses in 6 months, woody shrubs in a year, and trees grow in 1-2 years. Grasses - cut right to ground (nothing left 2" or higher), since that's how they are programmed to regrow from grazing / fire pressure.

      Delete
    2. I hope they let everything recover before butchering it again. Maybe you could print a picture book of every plant mature and how it is to look so they can give to the maintenance guys?
      So just to clarify...(I have several new gulf muhly) cut down early spring right to the ground?

      Delete
    3. I did that on the new building, though not every plant...might be a great idea, though it will take more time.

      Grasses - about what you say, once you see some new growth, then cut back. But you don't have to do it every year - only if they get unusually dormant, or need rejuvenation. Even here, gulf muhleys stay quite green all winter.

      Delete
    4. Great! Thanks David! So if they look tired, do it...if they look decent, leave alone. So not something you HAVE to do...like some perennials....good to know! I always thought it looked SO WEIRD when people leave like a foot of old thatch....but thought, well, I guess that is how it is done. YIKES. Then that spreads and people just do that. Learn from the ones that are not even doing it right! Yikes! There are a lot of bad hack jobs around San Antone right now too :(

      Delete
    5. Exactly - only tasks that are needed, then corresponding with when it's best for the plant's growth cycle (which mostly same as when it looks best to leave alone vs. help out). I'm sure you're right about the vicious cycle of how bad ideas stick...at least we aren't alone out here!

      Delete
    6. Just watched this old CTG show and thought of your questions...the entire episode is good, but the 2nd segment gets into the whens / whys of cutting back grasses!

      http://www.klru.org/ctg/episode/date/2_9_2008/

      Delete
  3. Every landscape design must be prepared for unskilled labor to maintain.

    Real World............

    Anyway where would testosterone-on-wheels-mow-blow-go-commodify-all-I-touch be without their 'brand' of maintenance?

    Of course the big box stores are invested in unskilled labor and it's all about SALES.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought I did, but I just can't outsmart the unskilled TOWMB! Maybe it's some blend of higher fees to communicate maintenance during design, additional maintenance consultations post-final completion, and / or less time and fees to design and refine so they still hire me? I'll show some ideas and a maintenance sheet I do if there's enough fees.

      True.

      Delete
    2. David, it sounds like an opportunity for a landscape maintenance firm that caters to the design conscious owner/operator. Would commercial owner/operators pay MORE to have skilled knowledgeable garderners? I used to manage the first privately developed buildings in the Presidio of SF. The landscape design was beautiful but we did not have the budget to maintain it. Over time, it was "simplified" by having more open space (not replacing dead plants or even removing them entirely) that was mulched. The National Park Service initially maintained the property and they did the best of all but when the maintenance fell to the ground lessee, that is when the design was "lost". Property Manager/Owner's focus first on the real property, and second on the landscape. It's a sad reality and I'm not sure how one shifts what is "valued" and worthy of proper maintenance.

      My job today requires that I attend autopsies. The facility where they are performed is next to a cancer treatment center which has a beautiful garden with a stream outside it. After each autopsy, I walk through that garden to clear my mind and regain my balance. The garden is so overgrown and in dire need of maintenance, I wish I could volunteer to get it back into shape. Regardless, the design still does what it is supposed to do - I leave the garden feeling better than when I arrived. CheyDesignGuy

      Delete
    3. Thanks for visiting! I agree it's an opportunity, though it will take education and financial info; poor maintenance is the standard - if you don't overdo it, many will think you aren't doing anything.

      I doubt commercial owners would pay extra for skilled maint; more the domain of high-end private residences, especially on the coasts. Having worked with some "custom" landscape maintenance people for pruning or overall maintenance on my residential designs, I don't buy the assumption it just takes more money. Each under-did it - afraid to prune enough when needed, incomplete work, etc, yet they charged more.

      I think it mostly takes a re-allocation of existing maintenance budgets / manhours, and clearly outlining expected horticultural methods. Involving a designer and paying them might help, so might a maintenance plan. (on the latter, I might post that with some solutions)

      Back to my photos - I'd love to see one high-maintenance aspect, let alone better options.

      Delete
  4. "Every landscape design must be prepared for unskilled labor to maintain.

    Real World............"

    Absolutely right but somewhat depressing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did, can't do much more. Career change...23 years, including 21 here...hmmm!

      Delete
  5. At least they left the ocatillos alone. Reading Tara's quote I thought as you probably did "if native grasses are victims of unskilled labor what's left to plant?". I think you are on to something with the job security issue.

    I am seeing more and more hacked up yucca and agave so it must be catching on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've actually seen some ocotillos topped here in Abq (got taller than the 1 story roof) and a few other places. I thought I was onto something, but job security A-1!!!

      Oh no, but I guess I see that some, too.

      Delete
  6. The unskilled 'gardener' still likes to excercise control as all the other levels do. BUT sadly when there ain't too much left in a landscape to control the end result is this level of crappola ....all in the name of tidiness and a to justify ones wage.......... Please let me off the bus!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a federal project design actually end up getting dictated by a lower level maintenance person who thinks some shrubs need shearing, others not, and no logic behind either. He wanted bermuda grass lawn all around 2' high security bollards, not my more elegant solution of deergrass and medium water perennials (just lawn above it). He actually said in front of all he would end up taking out the grasses and seed lawn back in.

      Delete
  7. Soo sad. I love the sotol, dut damn, that would be disheartening. I'd guerrilla garden that mess!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should find the maintenance people's homes, and seed sotols in like lawn, with some mesquites thrown in. That just might teach 'em!!!

      Delete
  8. David, tell me if I've got something wrong, but to me the building is so bloody ugly that no amount of gardening is going to repair the space.
    I would bulldoze the building. And it's supposed to be a medical clinic? Going there would MAKE me sick.
    With all our new-found material ability to transform the world, we so often transform it into something so much worse than it was.
    It is not a people space. Heck, I can't see any life form except bacteria thriving there. YUCK, YUCK AND MORE YUCK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha! I don't think the main building is that bad, though the other towers are yet to be constructed, which should ground it better. The architect client of mine took cues from the Bhutanese architecture at the nearby University of Texas at El Paso campus, then made it more contemporary with a flair that reminds me of their Dallas metroplex styles.

      But people space concerns - I agree - needed to be more time thinking that out, so it isn't a space for just bloated SUV's........

      Delete
  9. What is the time frame for the landscape fill in for those plantings? I know it has to be disahertening to see that hard work ruined.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The grasses were filled in last year, but now - pow! Some of the other plants were also looking nice, though some died and were not replaced.

      The owner and maintenance people could have spent a similar amount of $ on man-hours to make sure irrigation was properly working and for purchasing / replacing dead plants. Disheartening to say the least!

      Delete
  10. Oh dear. Laughing sadly at the comments about TOWMB and the suggestion to guerilla garden and the yuck yuck and more yuck directed at the building (though I can see some potential with it but it isn't working at the moment).
    Btw interesting to see the Chinese pistachio which is popular in our vastly different landscape.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make me smile - well said! Hopefully I can rescue my part, as the architecture and vast site takes care of itself.

      Pistaches are so tough, and I see them provide color in places that never get to see much change, since they lack winter. This high desert setting really makes them come alive, though.

      Delete
  11. Oh, I just noticed you're on Houzz. Isn't that such a great site!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Houzz and Pinterest, though I'm no longer able to carve out the time to keep writing for Houzz - at least at this time. Yes, Houzz is very helpful!

      Delete
  12. Most people seem to think that hacking plants back is the way to keep them growing. Mowing lawns during a drought, when it's 100 degrees and there are watering restrictions, and not watering the lawn at all after mowing, that sort of thing. Less green matter to be exposed to the sun, I guess.
    Henry Mitchell's little essay "Leave your plants alone" should be required reading for anyone with power trimmers or lawnmowers. Maybe with a side lecture on photosynthesis and its effect on winter dormancy for warm-season grass hackers.
    Do kind of like the leucophyllum confronting the building all by its lonesome, though. One riot, one ranger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, especially trees...but now they are onto succulents! I should hunt my pics of an ocotillo here in Abq, that started getting topped every year, so it wouldn't grow taller than the 1 story house...yep! That ranger is definitely lone taking on the world, at least until the area is demo-ed for the new tower.

      Delete
  13. Replies
    1. I've had a few projects ruined by such practices lately...no LOL for me!

      Delete
  14. Replies
    1. But planning is my business, even though the landscape is the last discipline at the feeding trough!

      Delete
  15. You should show what unbutchered plants look like so non-gardeners who read this know what these plants SHOULD look like. Why or why pineapple the sotol, for instance? Maintenance folks like to pineapple softleaf yuccas here, and the occasional agave, and I don't get that either. I've noticed plenty of butchered grasses here in Austin in recent weeks. So sad, when they could be left to naturally silver over the winter, rustling in the cool breezes, to be cut back only just before spring growth starts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly - sad! Not sure I wrote this in a recent post or comment, but I was planning to post later on what needs to be done (or not done) here. You and Heather win this post's suggestion box! And possibly post a sample maintenance sheet I've prepared for a few projects (when my fees justify).

      I forgot to comment above that I drafted a business plan in '04 for a separate business involving proper maintenance.

      Delete
  16. Unfortunately, I think the maintenance issue is a fact of life in this business. When I design a new garden for a client (primarily residential), I give them a monthly maintenance guide in the hopes of avoiding this situation. Sometimes it helps but sometimes they'll say 'oh, my landscaper said I should really...'. Ugh! All we can do is try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and one that needs to get on the end user / owner radar. I also have a 2 page, front-back maintenance guide - same results as yours'. But some good might happen from that, too?

      Delete